Two months since Hamas and Fatah leaders hugged in Cairo, where the agreement on reconciliation between the two arch-enemies was announced, life in the Gaza strip largely remains unchanged. The restoration of the demolished buildings moves slowly, the Rafah crossing point remains mostly closed, and Hamas still rules the strip despite the obligation to hand over the administration to PA authorities and to hold elections.
PLO reform and the lifting of PA sanctions from Gaza are stuck. The distrust between the two factions remains immense, and now it also seems that, following Trump’s Jerusalem recognition, the focus of attention is anywhere but in Gaza.
There was no regional tsunami or earthquake following Trump’s speech, and a third intifada didn’t launch despite the pompous Hamas leader’s threats. Yet it’s obvious that the tension in both Gaza and West Bank is on the rise, that the attention of the Egyptians is now focused on the sustainability of fragile relations with the US administration, and that no one is ready to invest much energy in a stalled Palestinian reconciliation.
Not only Gaza, but also Israel is stuck, since the impossible relations with Hamas since it seized power in Gaza 10 years ago has led only to bad choices. During the last two weeks Israel’s southern cities were rocketed a dozen times. Since Operation Protective Edge in 2014, the Hamas terrorists in Gaza refrained from launching rockets at Israel, fearing harsh reactions. The sole rocket firings were mostly made by Salafi organizations or Islamic Jihad and were immediately stopped by Hamas.
This time they fired the dozen missiles with the tacit agreement of Hamas leaders in Gaza. Israel responded in the most restrained fashion possible, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman didn’t even mention Gaza rockets in their public addresses. At some point Liberman said that the government is “ready to deal with the consequences of Trump’s Jerusalem declaration” but never presented his vision on the Gaza situation and its complexities.
Indeed, the options in Gaza are quite limited. A harsh reaction would probably drag Israel to another military operation against Hamas, and it seems that no one is in a hurry to launch one and be held responsible for the deaths of civilians, slowing the economy, paralyzing the international airport and so on.
Also, another military operation will not guarantee the meltdown of Hamas governance in Gaza, just as it didn’t in 2014. Israel will suffer international pressure, endanger the lives of civilians and soldiers and eventually will be back to square one.
A measured reaction would imply that, until there are no civilian deaths as a consequence from a rocket launch, Israel is ready to contain some shelling despite the obvious suffering of the Israeli population in Sderot and other southern border areas.
It will continue playing a cat-and-mouse game with Hamas, whereby Hamas will allow some shooting and then will make some arrests in Gaza to demonstrate who is the master in the house, and Israel will strike Hamas’s empty warehouses in order not to endanger the existing status quo.
As for civilian Gazans, it seems that they are doomed to suffer in each scenario. Another war would be devastating for Gaza, so is the continuation of the status quo, considering the water crisis, the lack of medicine, employment and decent living conditions.
The point is that as long as Hamas stays in power in Gaza, there is no way out – not for Israel nor for the Palestinians in Gaza.
There will be no stability, no reconciliation, no peace initiative, no lifting of sanctions lift while Hamas still clings to power in Gaza.
There will be also no real cease-fire, since every previous cease-fire has been used by Hamas to replace and increase its military arsenal, to make new round more deadly and devastating for Israel.
It’s incredible how such a small terrorist organization with a limited budget and capabilities can gain immense political influence and such a total grip over the situation in both Israel and the PA. This abnormal situation has lasted for too long and has been accepted by the “world” for too long.
Israeli government and its regional and international allies must work out a new strategy on Gaza. A few months ago, when Qatar was forced to banish Hamas and stop funding it and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas introduced sanctions on Gaza, I wrote that Israel must use this opportunity to work out an international strategy on Gaza, aimed at toppling the Hamas regime and bringing back the PA rule to the strip.
The US, EU, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates must be a part of this plan. Gaza is not a state and Hamas is not a recognized government, but rather a terrorist gang that is making the lives of millions of Palestinians and Israelis miserable.
Whether Hamas can be choked financially, or toppled by a military intervention, there must be a decisive plan, a well thought and internationally accepted strategy aimed at liberating Gaza from Hamas, improving its economic situation, and stabilizing the political situation.
These changes should lead to the renewal of negotiations between Israel and the PA based on a widely accepted peace initiative that would included existing formulas and prepositions, such as the Geneva initiative and Arab peace initiative.
There is no room for Hamas in this scenario. It is time to wake up and start working on a new plan that would change the power sharing in Gaza for the sake of all parties, Israelis and Palestinians alike.The writer is an MK of the Zionist Union Party.