8/10/18 Another Almost War- What to do about Gaza
Yesterday, the questions on everybody’s mind in Tel Aviv was simple — are we about to go to war or not? This morning, we know the answer to that question is “No” … at least for this week.
Between Wednesday night and Thursday night over 150 rockets were fired at southern Israel. However, damage in Israel was minimal, with only two people being injured (Iron Dome intercepted most of the missiles that would have hit Israeli population centers); while in response, Israel launched 140 attacks on Hamas targets in Gaza, causing 2 deaths and injuring 40.
A ceasefire was reached because it was in neither side’s interest to go to war. Hamas knew continuing their attacks would just bring more suffering to its people. In the past, Hamas could at least hope to receive the sympathy of the world, but after the Assad government slaughtered as many of 500,000 people — including an estimated 10-20,000 Palestinians — Hamas could not count on the world to pay attention.
The Israeli government, currently led by people who screamed for years — just give us a chance and we will take care of the Hamas once and for all, also concluded that a war with Hamas is likely to accomplish little. Israel could reconquer the Gaza area in a matter of days. However, what would happen after that? Former Prime Minister Barak stated on Thursday night that years ago he had explored whether either the Palestinian Authority or the Egyptians would be willing to administer the area after an Israeli victory — both said no. So what would happen if Israel defeated Hamas? It would have to station thousands of troops in Gaza to maintain order and control and directly administer two million more Palestinians — not a very enticing option.
Unfortunately having momentarily put off another war does not solve the problem. Hamas remains committed to the destruction of Israel, and most of the two million people living under its rule were born in Gaza, and still dream of the houses their grandparents or great-grandparent left 70 years ago, to which they will never return.
Until the second Intifadah (2000-2002), tens of thousands of Gaza residents entered Israel every day to work. They were able to support their families and the economic situation in Gaza was sustainable. That is no longer the case. There are few, if any, jobs in Gaza. The Strip is quickly running out of potable waters and it's been years since residents received electricity 24 hours a day.
The policy of Israel, and much of the world has been simple — the strip is run by a terrorist organization and if we put enough pressure on the people, they will overthrow Hamas. Unfortunately, there are no signs that will ever happen. Hamas is certainly not popular among its own people, but as Assad proved, if you are willing to kill your own people, you can maintain control indefinitely.
When last week began, there was talk of working out a long-term truce with Hamas. In the first stage, Hamas would stop all of the violent demonstrations on the border and the barrage of fire balloon it is sending into Israel, in return for a loosening of the crossing restriction, to allow a greater flow of people and goods. Then, in a second stage, the matter of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers Hamas has been cynically holding on to and the freedom of two Israeli civilians who accidentally ended up in Gaza would be negotiated, as would the long-term rehabilitation of the Strip (electricity, water, and possibly a port).
However, the above-mentioned scenario became toxic, when the parents of the two soldiers whose bodies are being held, appeared at a press conference on Sunday, demanding Israel not enter into any agreement that did not include the return of the bodies. At the same time, they accused Prime Minister Netanyahu of lying to them. As a result, Netanyahu will have political difficulty entering into any short-term agreement that does not include the return of the bodies. Unfortunately, an agreement over the bodies is going to be difficult to reach, as Hamas is demanding the release of a significant number of live terrorists in return.
It is easy to blame Hamas for the situation in the Gaza Strip— for they are indeed responsible. However, since they are not going away, it is up to Israel to develop a strategy that will bring medium-term peace to southern Israel, while providing a ray of hope for the people of Gaza. Many plans have been presented over the past few years, unfortunately, the Israeli government has decided, time and time again, not to decide. The status quo is not maintainable for long.