An explosion is seen following an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip July 20, 2018.
(photo credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA / REUTERS)
No one wants a fourth war in Gaza. But preventing a flareup has been difficult, despite the involvement of numerous states in the region and voices in Washington. Mohammed al-Emadi, Qatar’s senior emissary to Gaza, said that he had an understanding from Jerusalem and Gaza to reduce tensions just days before sniper fire killed Givati Brigade infantryman Aviv Levi on Friday.
Al-Emadi, in an interview with Al-Jazeera on July 17, said, “There is an understanding between Hamas and Israel not to commit to killing from each side.”
He noted that in mid-July Israel had struck 60 targets in Gaza. This was in retaliation for rocket fire. “Hamas installations and locations [were struck], but no Hamas members were killed. It is clear that Hamas evacuated their installations and Israel waited until Hamas sites were empty,” he said.
The interview sheds light on the international and regional context behind the recent deadly tensions in Gaza that have led Israel to the brink of war. Over the last weeks, numerous milestones – in terms of the largest number of rockets and air strikes, have been crossed – since 2014’s Israel–Gaza conflict known as Operation Protective Edge. Yet Qatar and Egypt, as well as Washington and UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov
, have scrambled to stop a conflict, the Qatari emissary claimed. He spoke of a five-year cease-fire but warned that Israel “wants to change the dynamics with Hamas.”
Since March, Hamas has been trying new strategies against Israel. It began with the “Great Return March,” which resulted in thousands of casualties on the Gazan side, as tens of thousands of people approached and attempted to breach the border fence. This culminated on May 14 when dozens were killed in Gaza at the same time as the US was moving its embassy. Then Hamas launched the wave of incendiary kites and balloons hoping to scorch southern Israel.
All of these actions illustrate that Hamas is weakened from years of political and military isolation. Its rockets are smaller than in the last war, starved of material after Egypt cut its tunnels to Sinai. Israel stymied its tunnel threat as well. Al-Emadi, however, thinks Hamas still has a deterrent in its rocket arsenal, which he claims is “50 times more than what they had in 2014.”
The Qataris have been investing heavily in Gaza over the last decade, and Qatar has sought a role as a mediator. However, Egypt has been playing the main role in seeking to stop tensions between Israel and Hamas, and has brokered cease-fires over the last several months. Qatar has sought to quietly compete with Egypt in this regard. Al-Emadi says, “The trust between Hamas and Egypt is lost. On the other hand, the messages we were delivering between Hamas and Israelis are the right messages. Qatar is credible with both sides.”
Meanwhile, Washington is seeking a “deal of the century”
in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Various parts of that deal have been leaked to the media, including suggestions of transferring four east Jerusalem neighborhoods and visionary ideas of Egypt building a port on the Sinai coast. In mid-July, the Trump administration sought to focus on Gaza again, according to a report in The Washington Post
. Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, authored an op-ed with Jared Kushner and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on July 19 asserting that “help is at hand for Palestinians. It’s all up to Hamas.” Greenblatt tweeted in Arabic that Gaza could live in peace with its neighbors and become a tourist destination, but Hamas is preventing it from moving forward.
Although it appears that Egypt, Qatar and Washington are all waiting for an answer from Hamas, the reality is that while they are all pressuring the Gaza Strip rulers, Hamas’s only response has been to continue its terrorism campaign in different forms. Hamas hasn’t signaled its readiness to accept any of the proposals put forward by the regional and international players.
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