Hamas officials have managed to smuggle more than $66 million in cash through the Rafah border crossing in the past eight months, a member of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, sources close to the PA government claimed that Hamas representatives recently held talks with officials from the US Democratic Party at an undisclosed location.
The sources told the Bethlehem-based Maan News Agency that Hamas representatives had also held secret talks with officials of European governments, including Britain and France.
PA Planning Minister Samir Abu Aisheh of Hamas said the cash brought in from Egypt by Hamas officials was handed over to the PA Finance Ministry. He also said the Hamas-led government has managed to pay the PA’s 160,000 civil servants 69 percent of their salaries due during the last eight months.
The Palestinians have received a total of $318m. in international aid since Hamas took over in March despite international sanctions imposed on the PA, Abu Aisheh said, noting that most of the money was channeled through the office of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
This is the first time that a senior Hamas official has disclosed the total sum of money – $66m. – that has been smuggled into the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing. Several Hamas ministers, legislators and officials have managed to smuggle suitcases full of millions of dollars through the border crossing.
The most recent instance occurred last week, when PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar returned from a 14-day tour of Arab and Islamic countries carrying $20m. in cash. A week earlier, two Hamas legislators arrived at the Rafah border crossing carrying $2m. in cash each.
The report of contacts between Hamas representatives and American and European officials comes after the breakdown of coalition negotiations between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah party.
According to the sources, Hamas has convinced European officials to accept the Islamist movement’s plan for a long-term hudna (truce) as a substitute for recognizing Israel’s right to exist.
The report quoted sources close to Hamas as saying the Europeans have accepted the idea of solving the Israeli-Arab conflict on the basis of a hudna rather than the principle of land for peace.
The sources claimed that many European governments have shown interest in “flexible” statements from some Hamas leaders lately, including remarks by Syria-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal to the effect that his movement was prepared to offer Israel a hudna in return for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the entire West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
In another development, Abbas appears to have retracted his threat to dismiss the PA government and call early elections. Days after he announced that the talks with Hamas had reached a dead end, Abbas sent a message to Hamas expressing his desire to pursue efforts to establish a new coalition.
PA Deputy Prime Minister Nasser Eddin Shaer of Hamas said Wednesday that Abbas’s message was relayed to Hamas through the director of the PA chairman’s bureau, Rafik Husseini.
Shaer said Hamas was prepared to resume the talks with Abbas from the point where they stopped. “We don’t want to go back to square one,” he said. “We want to move forward with the talks, not 10 steps backward. All what’s left now is to name the members of the new cabinet.”