A Palestinian man inspects the scene of an Israeli air strike on a Hamas security forces site in the southern Gaza Strip October 17, 2018.
(photo credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA / REUTERS)
The “March of Return” that began in Gaza on March 30 as a civil society initiative has gone on way beyond its initially planned climax on Nakba Day on May 15.
Despite more than 220 (mostly young) Palestinians killed by IDF snipers, the weekly demonstrations along the Israel-Gaza border have increased their intensity in numbers, locations and frequency. Although the official title of the demonstrations is about the right and the dream of Palestinian refugees in Gaza to return to their homes now inside of Israel, the real impetus and power driving them is the more than reasonable demand of two million people to end the Israeli-Egyptian siege on Gaza and to enable them to live a normal and decent life.
Putting the rhetoric aside, even the leaders of Hamas state that their primary goal is the end of the siege and the implementation of the understandings that were reached at the end of the summer war of 2014. Those understandings included the opening of borders for the movement of people and goods (after comprehensive security checks by Israel and Egypt), and launching discussions to advance the construction of an airport and seaport in Gaza in exchange for a cessation of attacks by Hamas and Israel against each other.
The 2014 understandings were never implemented and the failure of the reconciliation process between Hamas and Fatah, sponsored by the Egyptians, has led to a deterioration of the situation in Gaza. The already horrendous humanitarian situation in Gaza – with unclean water for two million people, more than 60% youth unemployment, three hours of electricity daily (on good days), no hope and no future – has worsened as the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority has increased sanctions on Hamas and Gaza for failing to agree to the PA’s dictates to transfer all authority to Ramallah.
Israel has been more than a passive participant in enabling the situation in Gaza to deteriorate. Senior Israeli officials have argued that making a separate deal with Gaza and Hamas would weaken Mahmoud Abbas and the PA. This argument is laughable at best. Israel has done everything in its power to keep a weakened PA in power since the end of the Second Intifada in 2006. Israel’s strategic goals have also included keeping a weakened Hamas in power in Gaza.
The increased separation between Gaza and the West Bank authorities is exactly what the governments of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have desired, planned for and implemented. Netanyahu, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have never hidden their agenda on the divide-and-rule modus operandi of Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinians.
Israel has no desire to conquer Gaza and dismantle the Hamas regime. Israel has no desire to conquer and dismantle the PA. Israel has no real desire to unify the Palestinian people and to negotiate a peace treaty with them that would cost Israel the need to withdraw from territory in the West Bank and allow Palestinians in Gaza to enjoy a normal life of freedom and a chance of hope for a better future.
IT IS EASY to place the blame on the other side and to make speeches that say if the Palestinians would recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, or if they would lay down their weapons and accept Israeli control over their borders, and a number of other Israeli demands, then Israel would open the borders and embrace them as good neighbors. The lessons of the failed peace process have demonstrated that this is not true and that Israeli intentions are not to allow for a reasonable free Palestinian state to ever be established – at least, not under the watch of Netanyahu and the right-wing religious camp in Israel.
There is no doubt that reaching understandings for a cease-fire with Hamas – including the return of the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul and the return of the alive civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham Al-Sayed in exchange for several hundred Palestinian prisoners (of the almost 6,000 in Israeli jails) – would empower and strengthen Hamas. The strengthening of Hamas is also undoubtedly at the expense of Fatah and the PA, and that is why Abbas is opposed to any separate Israel-Hamas understandings.
Abbas has appealed to the Egyptians to not enable Hamas to reach separate understandings with Israel that do not go through Ramallah. Abbas is right from his perspective, and from a wider Israeli view that the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank would create better conditions for a possible renewed peace process. From the point of view of the current Israeli government, there is no real interest in a renewed peace process. The majority of the members of the Israeli coalition, including those from the Likud, are opposed to Palestinian statehood and therefore, to paraphrase former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, “We are opposed to negotiations with the PLO not because they are terrorists, but because those negotiations could lead only to a Palestinian state.”
The situation in Gaza continues to worsen, as demonstrated by those who knowing that they are likely to die and who continue to challenge Israel’s complete closure of Gaza. Life has little value for those young people in Gaza, so they will continue to find value in their death. Mr. Liberman can use the mighty forces of the IDF to hit hard once again on the people of Gaza. It will not produce five years of quiet. The change that is required in Gaza is not another war, more destruction and more death. Deterrence cannot be created in a place where so many people are willing to die because their lives are so bad and meaningless. Palestinians in Gaza will not surrender, their will to resist will only increase.
Without any genuine Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in sight; with the view that another round of war in the South must be prevented, knowing that it would not lead to any strategic changes on the ground; and out of sincere concern for the welfare of Israel’s two million Palestinian neighbors in Gaza, the urgency of reaching Israel-Hamas understandings far outweigh the reasons not reach such agreements.
That is how to bring back the calm and security to the South. There is no military option that can erase normal people’s desire to live with dignity and with hope of a better future.The writer is the founding co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information.