Once again, Hamas may be coming to Israel’s rescue
Reaching an agreement with Hamas means that Israel can avoid entering into peace talks – and at a cheap price.
By Zvi Bar’el, Ha’aretz
June 10, 2015
It’s hard to explain how the gossip columnists have missed the love story of the year: Israel and Hamas are back together. True, we know Hamas is attracted to Israel for the money, and Israel is mostly enamoured by the military insights that Hamas demonstrates, but the dream is already being worked out: a tahdiya, a long-term cease-fire of five or maybe even 10 years, the opening of the Gaza border crossings for incoming construction materials, the construction of a port and perhaps permission to operate an airport.
What could be better than such a marriage of convenience, particularly now that Egypt has given Hamas, although not its military wing, its stamp of approval. “We need to talk to Hamas,” a lot of people are saying. Such remarks are being carefully directed, calling for talks with Hamas and not the Palestinians in general; not Mahmoud Abbas and not the Palestinian Authority that he heads. After all, they are not partners to anything.
But those calling for talks with Hamas, bypassing the peace process, are forgetting what happened when Israel carried out its unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. Here’s a reminder: It’s not Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza that spurred Hamas to shoot rockets at Israel. Hamas was doing so, and committing attacks against Israeli settlers, even before the disengagement from Gaza. Such acts caused the Israel Defence Forces to pour troops onto the streets of Gaza until it almost didn’t have the freedom to carry out any other operations.
The Israeli public at the time was sick of a situation in which the task of protecting 7,000 Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip was consuming the attention of entire brigades. Ultimately Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw from the Strip, not in an effort to establish a preliminary model for an independent Palestinian state, but so that he could hold onto the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
It was a unilateral move, taken without negotiations with Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. And after that, Israel boycotted the joint Palestinian government formed following the 2006 Palestinian election that included Hamas, just as it later boycotted Abbas when he set up a consensus government after a reconciliation with Hamas. As long as Abbas doesn’t manage to control Hamas, Israel ruled, there could be no talk about peace. It was a convincing bluff. As if Israel would have been prepared to map out its final boundaries, uproot the settlements or divide Jerusalem if Abbas did manage to “control” Hamas, but Hamas was a nice excuse.
Now Hamas may again get the role of coming to Israel’s rescue. Thanks to Hamas, Israel can avoid entering into peace talks and at a cheap price, because when it comes to Hamas, there is no need to talk about evacuating settlements or withdrawing from territory. Hamas won’t turn to the International Criminal Court, the expanding boycott of Israel doesn’t affect it one way or another, and more generally, Hamas isn’t at all excited about any kind of peace agreement with Israel. Hamas and Gaza will get quiet and in return, Israel can declare that there is finally quiet in Gaza — and no urgency in advancing the peace process.
That’s the core of the lie over talking with Hamas, but in such an idyllic situation, it’s important to remember that the organization is playing the role here of the battered wife. She is imprisoned in a ghetto surrounded by electrified fencing. The residents of Gaza are not allowed to freely travel to the West Bank. Exports from Gaza are small, and mostly wither in the fields. The international aid that was promised Gaza in October 2014 is mostly still firmly in place in the pockets of the donor countries. Trucks with merchandise from Israel don’t even supply a quarter of the consumption of the residents of Gaza, more than half of whom are unemployed. University students can’t finish their studies and tens of thousands of Gazans are still homeless thanks to Israel’s Protective Edge military operation last summer, which accomplished only the first step in urban renewal — tearing down without rebuilding.
Israel is ignoring all of this. It only gauges the extent to which it is quiet in Gaza based on the number of rockets fired from there. That is a measurement based on mutual deterrence, with Israel convinced that the mutual threat is stronger than the mutual despair. But quiet in Gaza doesn’t have a life of its own. It requires a foundation that will ensure its existence, and is not a substitute for an overall peace process
Israel, Hamas need each other
Elements within the Israeli security establishment propose to negotiate with Hamas and enable Gaza to benefit from Israeli distillation facilities, electricity services and employment opportunities, while assuring Israel a certain degree of calm.
By Ben Caspit, trans. Sandy Bloom, Al Monitor / Israel Pulse
June 04, 2015
And meanwhile, Gaza: The truth is, few people take an interest in Gaza anymore. While the Gaza Strip had attracted much world attention during and after the Protective Edge campaign last summer, it has now been pushed to the sidelines. According to data from the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), the index of world interest in Gaza has declined to a historic low. Now that the Gaza Strip isn’t burning, it has stopped being a topic of interest. Instead, the world is focused on the nuclear negotiations with Iran, in the wars in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, in the wild expansion of the Islamic State (IS) and perhaps also in the events unfolding in Yemen and Libya. Gaza has been forgotten.
That doesn’t mean that dramatic changes aren’t happening on the Gaza front. Not long ago, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, a member of the ideological right, was asked his opinion on whether Israel ought to conduct negotiations with Hamas. Rivlin answered, “I’m not opposed to talking with anyone who is willing to talk.” Under normal circumstances, this would be a dramatic statement. But in the current climate, when public attention is focused on other fronts, this declaration almost went under the radar.
Behind that statement looms a large diplomatic-security drama. First, it’s important to note that Israel and Hamas conduct an extended and multi-faceted, but indirect, communication channel via Qatar. Yes, the same Qatar whose mediation offer was scornfully rejected by Israel in the early stages of the Protective Edge campaign, in favour of Egypt. Yes, the same Egypt that now does not want to hear about Gaza. But that is just the beginning.
Another entity that mediates between Israel and Hamas is the United Nations. Until recently, this role was filled by Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry. These mediation activities continue now as well, through Maj. Gen. Yoav “Poli” Mordechai, the co-ordinator of government activities in the territories.
The following examples also testify to the very strange nature of the relations between Israel and Hamas: It is a fact that Israel permitted German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to enter Gaza June 1 to explore the area, when Israel had always previously categorically rejected the demands of Western diplomats to enter Gaza. It is also a fact that when a senior officer in the Southern Command talked to the residents of the Gaza envelope, he said that Israel knows how to “work with” Hamas and is interested in having an organized address in Gaza. Finally, every time there are sporadic rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israel, IDF Chief of Staff Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon and his spokespeople hurry to explain that these are not from Hamas but from “rogue organizations,” etc.
A lively debate is now underway in Israel’s diplomatic system around what to do with Hamas and whether direct, open negotiations should begin in spite of Israel and most of the Western world defining Hamas as a terrorist organization, with all that implies. The IDF is in favour of negotiations. Yes, according to the military, Israel’s national interests require that it open up channels of negotiation with Hamas and even come to understandings not quite reaching a peace agreement, but more developed and detailed than a truce.
Here is the reasoning behind this startling rationale: Hamas has come to understand, according to Israeli intelligence analyses, that its struggle against Israel is futile at this stage. Six years and three rounds of fighting have not improved the situation of the Gaza Strip. The contrary is true. Thousands of homes were destroyed, thousands of people were killed, tens of thousands wounded, its economy is in shambles, its outlook for the future is poor and the world is apathetic. Even the blockade is still in effect, although construction materials and equipment to rebuild Gaza now enter relatively easily. Maybe the time has come to change direction.
Watchtowers and barbed wire mark the Egypt-Gaza border. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90
There’s more: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has made a strategic decision to quickly and aggressively disengage from the Gaza Strip. He is sending Gaza to hell and refuses to touch it with a 10-foot pole. Sisi loathes Hamas, and levelled a wide strip of Egypt’s Rafah to create a separation between it and the Gaza side. He blocked up thousands of tunnels, halted the smuggling and is conducting an all-out war against the terrorists, Hamas agents and ISIL in Sinai. Sisi doesn’t want to hear about Gaza. So the only thing left for Gaza is Israel.
There are those in Israel who are willing to rise to this strange challenge.
Let us take a moment to analyze their prospects. In another six to seven years, not a drop of water will remain in the Strip. They are drying out. The aquifer on which they live has become salty. They currently have four to five hours of electricity a day, a situation that may soon see slight improvement. Unemployment is assessed at about 44%. Last week, the [UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration] publicized 200 teaching positions in the Strip. Do you know how many people offered their candidacy? Twenty-seven thousand. The Gazans have lost all hope.
Israel has exactly what Gaza needs
Twenty-five kilometres [15 miles] north of Gaza is a seawater desalination facility, one of the largest in the world. We could, with the snap of our fingers, solve the water problem in the Gaza Strip. We could rebuild their electrical system. If the situation changes, we could help them with their unemployment problem. There is potential here that both sides recognize.
Senior Israeli officer well versed in the Gaza scene to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity.
Now we get to the weak link in this conception: The state of mind described here apparently typifies the Gaza population and also prevails among the diplomatic leadership of Hamas, inside and out. But the military wing is another story. It still believes that Israel only understands strength. This internal conflict between the diplomatic and military wings within Hamas can sometimes yield very strange results. Israel keeps close tabs on the Hamas issue but also copes with the domestic-Israeli side of the coin because here, too, opinions are still divided, despite Rivlin joining those in favor of direct negotiations with Hamas. We have to remember what happened only six years ago: At the conclusion of the Cast Lead campaign, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood on the outskirts of Gaza and publicly stated that when he rose to power, he would topple the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip once and for all.
The forbidden relationship between Israel and Hamas is taking place deep underground, while above ground it’s business as usual. A few days ago on May 26, the quiet was disrupted: A rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip and landed on an open field in southern Israel. On June 3, another two rockets also landed without causing damage or inflicting casualties.
The real damage from rocket fire is on the public at large. The million Israeli civilians who live in the south hoped to enjoy peace and quiet after Operation Protective Edge and to not have to conduct their lives in constant worry over air raid sirens and sprints to the shelters. Now we get the impression that they are starting to adjust to this reality. Several times this week, Ya’alon declared that Israel “will not allow sporadic rocket fire from Gaza to resume” nor this situation to continue. But statements are one thing, and reality is another. In the two most recent incidents, the air force attacked what it labeled as “terror infrastructure” targets in the Gaza Strip. But within Israel, these assaults were dubbed “real estate attacks” because they had no effect and no deterrence value.
The rockets were fired from Gaza by “rogue groups,” mainly Salafists associated with IS who are challenging Hamas rule in Gaza. This puts Israel in a dilemma common to the Middle East, placing the responsibility on Hamas because it has no alternative. Hamas is the sovereign entity in the Gaza Strip. On the other hand, Israel is not interested in toppling Hamas because in its absence, IS might take control. Therefore, Israel has no real defense against the sporadic rocket fire beyond its recurrent threats against Hamas. And Hamas needs no reminders, because the organization is painfully aware of its unstable position in Gaza and the creeping expansion of the extremists.
As strange as it seems, Hamas is becoming Israel’s ally in Gaza. “What we need in Gaza,” said a senior officer this week in a briefing to the Israeli media, “is a clear-cut address.” This address, at least for the time being, is Hamas. While this is a problematic, unruly, violent and unpredictable entity, all the parties are well aware that any change of address will make the situation even worse.
Why no one is talking about Gaza ’rounds’ anymore
Analysis: The main achievement of Operation Protective Edge is concealed in the fact that Israel and Hamas have discovered no one is going to help them and they will have to get along on their own.
By Alex Fishman, Ynet
May 29, 2015
The flare-up following the Grad rocket fired at Israel on Tuesday night [May 26th] was “terminated” in a quiet dialogue between Israel and Hamas. Not through an Egyptian, Swiss or Qatari mediator, and not through a UN emissary. And this is, basically, the significant change taking place vis-à-vis Hamas, far from the public eye.
It was publicly reported that Israel and Hamas relayed messages to each other through a Palestinian source. We may assume that this Palestinian source came from Gaza, just like we may assume that Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon didn’t examine him thoroughly to make sure that he isn’t hiding a Hamas membership card.
There have been direct talks between the IDF and Hamas in the past in regards to tactical incidents on the fence, but this time it’s fundamentally different.
For the past six months, Hamas has been conveying a real desire for a direct dialogue with Israel on a long-term tahadiya (lull).
The political Israel is unprepared for public talks with Hamas on a long-term agreement, but the security and military Israel – mainly the coordinator of the government’s activities in the territories and the IDF chief of staff – sees the advantage concealed in it, and it should be said in the defence minister’s favour that he is not preventing it.
The fruits of this hidden dialogue are already being reaped on both sides, although in a small amount.
It’s not that Hamas has suddenly developed the wings of an angel. The organization is still arming itself, and it’s very possible that in the event of an internal deterioration in Gaza, the fire against Israel will be resumed. But Hamas is today in its worst political situation ever.
It is yearningly watching its traditional connection with Qatar going through the Kirya Base in Tel Aviv, the Egyptians continuing to turn a cold shoulder and the relations with the Palestinian Authority continuing to deteriorate.
Hamas security forces search for rocket launchers, May 27th. While Israel’s political echelon is unprepared for public talks with Hamas on a long-term agreement, the military echelon sees the advantage concealed in such a dialogue. Photo by Reuters
Israel, unlike Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, is actually helping rebuild Gaza, and Hamas is paying Israel with coins of calm.
Moreover, Israel has carried out a few other tiny but significant steps, for example allowing students to leave from the Gaza Strip to Jordan instead of through Egypt.
It’s true that there are no exports from Gaza yet and that there are no labourers leaving for Israel – but these steps are brewing slowly.
The Grad rocket was fired at Israel by members of the Islamic Jihad. The background was an internal conflict, not necessarily a provocation against Hamas.
Disputes over budgets, respect, appointments, etc, often end with rockets being fired on Israel in order to demonstrate who’s in charge.
Since Tuesday’s rocket fire, Hamas has been making every effort to show Israel that it is handling the incident, and the search for the rocket launchers was carried out publicly and with a lot of noise.
Hamas’ main enemies in the Gaza Strip are the radical Salafi organizations, which are making an effort to stir up a war with Israel, while Hamas is arresting their members and preventing their activity.
The Islamic Jihad is an opposition to Hamas, but all in all it accepts its authority. The battle between these two organizations is over Iran’s attention, but this rivalry appears to have been decided too: The Iranians likely stopped transferring funds to Hamas’ military wing two months ago in response to the Hamas leaders’ statements about the invasion of Yemen.
So Hamas is losing tens of millions of dollars which have been flowing in from Tehran since Operation Protective Edge.
Another term which no longer appears in the firing dialogue between the Gaza Strip and Israel since Operation Protective Edge is that no one is talking about “rounds” anymore.
Rocket fire from the Strip towards Israel is answered with a proportional airstrike, and that’s the end of it. There is no response to a response to a response.
Still, Gaza was and remains the most explosive area. With all the criticism over the management of Operation Protective Edge, the main diplomatic achievement is concealed in the fact that Israel and Hamas have discovered that no one is going to help them and that they will have to get along on their own, and opportunities have indeed been created. But if we don’t play the cards that we currently have in our hands right, we will find ourselves in new rounds again.
See also Inside Israel’s Secret Talks With Hamas by J.J. Goldberg, Jewish Forward.
Multiple efforts to get Hamas-Israel talks,
Hamas wants calm and prosperity says IDF General