Calm was supposed to prevail in Gaza after Qatar agreed to help civil servants in the Hamas-controlled area. It came after thirty-three weeks of clashes and riots along the border of the Gaza Strip in which more than 200 Palestinians were killed and thousands wounded. It also came after months in which there was rocket fire every few weeks and where tens of thousands of dunams in the Negev were burned by balloons launched from Gaza. On Sunday a serious and developing incident that was still happening at press time, comes after months of Israel and Hamas squaring off against each other.
The situation has brought Israel and Hamas to the brink of conflict several times. In July, Israel launched the largest air raids since 2014. Waves of rockets also were the largest in years. In October, Islamic Jihad, at the behest of Iran, launched a barrage. Each time Israel was able to thwart the rockets, but it was always only a matter of time before something more serious happened. At each juncture Hamas and Islamic Jihad also sought to test Israel. In July, a soldier was killed by sniper fire. The protesters in Gaza also sought to test the ring of security fences.
The crises in Gaza has been further complicated by the conflict between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has held up negotiations and both Qatar and Egypt have put pressure on the PA to try to break the impasse. Similarly Hamas boasts that it has won the day with Israel, getting the Qatari money. Hamas claimed it was getting help to “break the siege,” in a press release on Saturday. It also blamed the PA for the sanctions it has suffered because the PA has starved it of salaries.
In Israel, the complexities also involve anger about the never ending conflict along the border. Communities have protested in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. They want a solution. They want quiet. And it plays into Israeli politics where there is jockeying to see who is the most “tough” on Gaza. What comes out of all of the debates over the last months is that many people want to talk tough, but no one wants a real conflict. Hamas knows that and also doesn’t want a conflict. Even Iran, which supports Hamas and Islamic Jihad, doesn’t want to see its investment squandered by a real war.
But given all of this tension it is always a situation on a knife edge. One false move and a major conflict could develop. It remains to be seen whether the Qatar transfer will bring calm or whether it was the calm before the storm.
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