Approximately two million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip in a closed prison on all sides. Life in Gaza is unbearable. There is no electricity at all hours of the day, water quality is poor and unemployment is enormous. However, even though the suffering of the Gazans is unjustified, the main blame for their dismal situation is on them.
They voted in the 2006 elections for an extreme alternative in the form of Hamas, a terrorist organization that instead of looking after the welfare of the Palestinians, chose to continue investing all its resources in manufacturing weapons and tunnel digging, with the aim of killing Jews and exhausting Israeli society until its destruction.
Since the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, many in Israel have called for a solution to the Gaza problem. Yet, the painful truth is that there is no immediate solution.
First, despite the claim that the disengagement from the Gaza Strip indirectly led to the Hamas takeover and the firing of rockets at Israel, the fact is that even before the disengagement, rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip. Hence, while the argument above is baseless, the fact is that there is no doubt that the disengagement only strengthened Israel’s long-term situation. Not only did it prevent the unnecessary death of IDF soldiers and settlers, who were under existential threat in the Gaza Strip, but it also hindered any future possibility of annexing the territory with its two million Palestinians, which would have posed an existential threat to the Jewish character of Israel.
Second, the Israeli leadership is at a crossroads regarding the coastal enclave – and it will be in trouble whichever direction Israel decides to turn. On the one hand, if Israel removes the siege on the Gaza Strip, it is reasonable to assume that advanced weapons from Iran will flow in, weapons that could change the balance of power between Israel and Hamas and endanger the citizens of Israel.
On the other hand, should Israel decide to topple the Hamas regime, which can be militarily carried out, Israel will be required to sacrifice quite a few IDF soldiers, according to an Israeli assessments. Moreover, an extensive Israeli military action in the Strip will cause many casualties among the local Palestinian civilian population, which will lead to harsh criticism from the international community, which has already criticized the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Most importantly, there is a reasonable concern that after the fall of Hamas, the Gaza Strip will be controlled by an even more radical Islamic organization, an outcome that will not solve the Gaza problem in the long run.
Third, Hamas’s military capabilities do not constitute an existential threat to Israel, as a nuclear Iran might be. Nowadays, thanks to the Iron Dome defense system, rockets and missiles fired from the Gaza Strip hardly pose a threat.
Therefore, the only thing left for Hamas to do is to send civilians (and militants) to demonstrate near the fence and encourage them to violently attack IDF soldiers guarding the Israeli border, who for their part are forced to defend themselves. Thus, Hamas hopes that this provocation will lead to a large Palestinian death toll that will provoke the international community, which is preoccupied with other conflicts in the world, to intervene and pressure Israel to lift the siege. Hamas is unfortunately not going anywhere. Despite the demonstrations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, protests that the organization does not hesitate to forcefully suppress, the support for Hamas among the Palestinians in Gaza is quite solid.
According to a public opinion poll carried out in December by PCPSR among Gaza Strip residents, if elections were held then, Hamas would win 39%, compared with 31% for Fatah. In addition, 61% of Gaza residents oppose PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s demand that Hamas give up control of the Gaza Strip, with only 37% in favor. And while 58% blame Abbas and the PA for the difficult situation in the Gaza Strip, only 28% blame Hamas. Most importantly, if elections were held for the presidency, Gaza Strip residents would grant Hamas candidate Ismail Haniyeh 62%, compared with only 36% for Abbas.
In conclusion, since the Israeli interest is not to launch a military campaign to overthrow the Hamas regime nor to lift the siege on the Gaza Strip, there is no immediate solution to the Gaza problem. Hence, the only practical solution for the near future is to accept the current situation and to hope that over time, a responsible Palestinian leadership will emerge in the Gaza Strip, one that will agree to its demilitarization in the first stage, and reach a political compromise with Israel in the second stage.
Until then, while preserving the balance of power vis-à-vis Hamas, the Israel leadership – and especially Israeli society, which has proven its strength due to its resilience against Palestinian terrorism – must adapt to the reality that every few years, Israel must launch a limited military operation in Gaza. Such a deterrent operation, similar to Cast Lead (2008), Pillar of Defense (2012) and Protective Edge (2014), would make it clear to Hamas and the Palestinian public in Gaza that the continued rocket fire and terrorism does not pay for them.
Thus, as long as Israel continues to have technological military supremacy, which turns the rocket threat from the Gaza Strip into a controlling menace – combined with a strong Israeli society that knows how to cope and adjust to the situation – Israel will know how to contain the Gaza problem successfully.
The writer is a PhD candidate at the University of South Wales, was a foreign affairs and political adviser to former Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog, former deputy chairman of the Labor Party Youth, and was a candidate on the Labor Knesset list.
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