Sinwar: new round of fighting between Hamas & Israel in no one's interest

Israel cannot crush Hamas without retaking the Gaza Strip and assuming responsibility for another two million Arabs.

Palestinian protesters wave flag at recent events (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian protesters wave flag at recent events
(photo credit: REUTERS)
You have to admit Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar has a point when he argues that a new round of fighting between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip is in no one’s interest.
“We cannot prevail in a confrontation with a nuclear power,” he said in an interview with Italian journalist Francesca Borri, published over the weekend by Yedioth Ahronoth. “But likewise, [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu would have nothing to gain from a new war: This would be the fourth war, and they cannot deliver the same results they delivered with the first, the second, the third. Eventually, they would have to reoccupy Gaza.”
Which is why, for all Netanyahu’s talk of a “very harsh response” should Hamas step up its attacks on Israel, neither he nor Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman are rushing to launch a new campaign on Israel’s southern border. What would be the IDF’s goal in such an operation? Crushing Hamas? And how would that be achieved without Israel retaking control of the Gaza Strip? As Sinwar noted in his interview, “I don’t think Netanyahu would want [to be responsible for] another two million Arabs.”
Indeed. Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett can rant and rave as much as he likes, calling Liberman a leftist (the most damning curse word de jour in our political environment) for failing to implement the heavy hand that right-wing voters expect from their government. But the objective truth is that there is no simple solution to the crisis in Gaza. The maxim “If brute force doesn’t work, you’re not using enough,” has never been less applicable.
Netanyahu seems to believe that the key to relieving the pressure in Gaza lies in Ramallah. In his press conference last week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the prime minister argued that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was responsible for the dire conditions in Gaza – no electricity, lack of medicines, massive unemployment – because Abbas had closed off the flow of funds from the Palestinian Authority to Gaza.
Furthermore, Netanyahu accused Abbas of actively interfering in United Nations attempts to ease the plight in Gaza because of the political clash between the Fatah movement headed by Abbas and Hamas. As a result of the pressures created by this choking off of funds, continued the prime minister, Hamas attacks Israel in effort to let off steam.
There is more than a smidgen of truth in Netanyahu’s claims. Intra-Palestinian rivalry is playing a major role in the suffering in Gaza. Hamas is keen to enter into an “arrangement” with Israel (not an “agreement,” which would imply official recognition of Israel), negotiated via the United Nations, the United States and Egypt but, crucially, bypassing the Palestinian Authority. Such a move would boost Sinwar’s status and that of Hamas within the Palestinian body politic, something which Fatah, unsurprisingly, wants to block as the two movements gear up for the post-Abbas era.
However, Israel cannot simply pass the buck of Gaza onto Ramallah. With Israel imposing a closure on the Strip, both in terms of the materials allowed into the area and preventing the freedom of movement of Gazans, the responsibility for the wellbeing of Gaza residents also lies firmly with Jerusalem.
The Israeli military establishment is well aware of this. Earlier this year, the coordinator of government activities in the territories came up with a plan for improving the situation in Gaza, which included a proposal to build a desalination plant, a sewage treatment plant, a garbage collection facility, improvement of the Erez Industrial Zone and other elements, at a total estimated cost of $1 billion. While this would be funded by the international community, the plan also proposed that Israel would contribute knowhow and technology to the projects and be more flexible regarding the import to Gaza of “dual-use” materials, which could also be used for terrorism.
So far, nothing has come of this plan and both Netanyahu and Liberman have made it clear that they do not believe humanitarian relief by itself will lead to Hamas changing its spots, renouncing terrorism and ending its quest to re-arm. To be clear, in his interview with the Italian journalist, while Sinwar promised quiet in return for quiet on Israel’s side and the lifting of the closure, he made no commitment to recognize Israel’s right to exist and end the Palestinian armed struggle.
Nobody should be fooled into believing that, on the basis of one interview, peace is about to break out on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, but there are signs of Hamas pragmatism. The question is how Israel intends to respond to this window of opportunity. Another round of fighting in Gaza will take us nowhere.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.