Palestinians supporting Hamas take part in a rally marking the 30th anniversary of Hamas' founding, in Gaza City December 14, 2017.
(photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS)
Despite the Gaza border crisis, Hamas has no interest in fighting Israel and wants a state like other nations, but needs to lower its demands to get there, former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Director Yoram Cohen last week.
Hamas is asking itself: “How can it get Israel to change its blockade policy? It wants to be a state like any other state… It has no interest in fighting Israel. It knows it cannot conquer us,” but that its terms for relations with Israel are unrealistic, he told Army Radio.
The openness to viewing Hamas as theoretically not wanting to fight Israel anymore was surprising coming from Cohen, who has made few public appearances to date and is usually viewed as hawkish on security issues.
Cohen said that Hamas is at its lowest point and feels like it is out of military options, all of which Israel has blocked.
At the same time, he said, Hamas is frustrated with the desperate economic situation in Gaza and knows that its stability is potentially in jeopardy until it provides jobs and some normalcy to its people.
He said Israel “has been the central actor” to facilitate rehabilitating Gaza, but that the ongoing conflict has limited that rehabilitation.
However, the former Shin Bet chief said that when Hamas sends Israel messages about a long-term truce, it demands the immediate opening of seaports and airports as well as complete open access to Israel – which are completely unrealistic as long as the group is armed and committed to Israel’s destruction.
He explained that even though the group is at such a weak point, any dialogue via third parties has resulted in Hamas being unwilling to be more humane about releasing Israeli captives or remains, and about what it can realistically get in the absence of real peace.
While not ruling out the possibility of direct talks with Hamas, he was very hesitant about the idea and seemed more focused on suggesting practical ways to improve the situation.
Cohen did say that there is already a cease fire of sorts, with no major military operations since the Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in the summer of 2014. If Hamas “created a better atmosphere,” Israel could consider allowing “shuttles of Gazans straight to Jordan… through Israel,” without having to go through the West Bank.
He added that this has been done on a limited basis in the past, but could be broadened substantially.
Moreover, he said that Israel should avoid annexing areas or any other acts that would prejudice future talks or create more tension.
Regarding the current Gaza-border crisis, he said that the IDF had no choice but to use the tactics it used to defend the border, while recognizing that “having so many dead is a problem.”
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