“Hamas is Islamic State and Islamic State is Hamas” Netanyahu said defiantly in Tel Aviv, two days before the ceasefire agreement brokered by Egypt between Israel and Gaza was accepted by two parties. Despite Netanyahu’s comments, it is clear that Hamas is no ISIS, and his empty rhetoric did not resonate with the public. The goals Netanyahu set for the operation in Gaza reflect his bleak world view according to which neither toppling Hamas nor trusting Abbas will bring long-term quiet.
In the first place, the Israel Gaza conflict was in part worsened by the stubbornness of both Israel and Hamas personnel. The refusal of Hamas’ political chief Khaled Meshal to accept the long term ceasefire proposed in the early stages of the conflict, coupled with the uncompromising and cynical stance of Netanyahu, caused this gridlock. The ideal point at which Israel would have exited Operation Protective Edge was after the destruction of Hamas’ attack tunnels, built under the Israeli border. But the other side didn’t cooperate. And Israel then discovered that it didn’t have a strategy beyond that point.
These frustrations were compounded by earlier policies by both Israel and Egypt. According to Haaretz’s analyst Amos Harel, Israel could possibly have avoided the escalation in the first place by being more generous – like allowing easier passage at border crossings. He feels, however, that Egypt has to take his share of the blame as “It was actually the Egyptian siege and the Egyptian pressure on Gaza which caused Hamas to break and start this military conflict”
As the conflict draws to a temporary close, one who tries to decipher the code of Netanyahu’s leadership would acknowledge that hesitation and caution aren’t necessarily his defining traits. A hesitant leader wouldn’t have withstood public pressure to expand the operation, and he surely wouldn’t have dared to face off with the U.S. administration over the peace process, much less isolate his own cabinet in the process. On another note, a cautious leader wouldn’t have been capable of leading significant economic reforms, as Netanyahu did during his term as finance minister, in defiance of the wishes of a significant portion of his electorate. He has kept a distance from any attempt to influence or change the surrounding Middle East.
His ongoing defiance, coupled with recurring reports of poor Palestinian children being devastated by the war, stirred international displeasure, even amongst its usually staunch partner in the US. Analysts have since conjectured that the delay of missile shipment to Israel was a small diplomatic maneuver to warn Israel that it could have gone too far in the conflict. In fact, prior to the truce agreement on the 26th, the U.S. State Department confirmed that in light of the fighting in Gaza, it had decided to take extra precautions with regard to arms shipments to Israel. Marie Harf, the department’s deputy spokeswoman, said the U.S. was worried by the civilian casualties in Gaza, and “Due to the crisis in Gaza we took additional care like we would take in any crisis … We wanted to look at things a little bit harder.”
The current disappointment stems from the fact that Israelis, who want to get on with their lives already, justifiably have less patience than the weaker side, which is already used to being worn down by life. But Hamas was definitely battered militarily, and the fact that in contrast to previous wars, no mass victory celebrations have been staged in Gaza indicates that its ties with Gaza’s civilians have also been undermined. When the war ends, Netanyahu will yet achieve quiet in the south – a quiet that’s prolonged, but laden with pessimism.
Terms of agreement
Under the latest truce, border crossings between Israel and Gaza are to be opened for the transfer of humanitarian aid and reconstruction supplies. The accord also calls for the immediate extension of Gaza’s fishing zone from three to six nautical miles, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said.
More broad-reaching demands by both sides are to be negotiated within a month. The Palestinians are seeking the construction of an airport and seaport in Gaza, the widening of the fishing zone to 12 miles and the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. Israel wants the disarmament of all Palestinian armed groups in Gaza.
Israel has said that it will link reconstruction to the dismantling of Hamas and other militant groups of their weapons. In a news conference on Wednesday evening, Mr. Netanyahu acknowledged that his primary goal of the offensive—stopping rocket fire—wasn’t ensured. “I can’t say for certain the goal of prolonged calm was achieved,” he said.
The Palestinian Authority and the U.N. say one of the major efforts of the reconstruction will be building tens of thousands of new housing units for families whose homes were either completely or partially wrecked during the fighting.
Amid the rebuilding, Palestinians will be trying to rebuild ties between Hamas and Fatah, which still have a far way to go before achieving an agreement on holding elections, overhauling Palestinian politics and merging two politicized bureaucracies. Doubts remain that the reconstruction process will help unity, especially when the Palestinian Authority continues to uptake a mere symbolic role with little space to maneuver and implement its policies.
Going forward, there is still little cause for optimism, even if one disregards the morose comments from Netanyahu. As echoed by U.N. Spokesman Stephane Dujarric,”A brighter future for Gaza and for Israel depends on a sustainable ceasefire… Gaza must be brought back under one legitimate Palestinian Government adhering to the PLO commitments; the blockade of Gaza must end; Israel’s legitimate security concerns must be addressed.”
The current disappointment stems from the fact that Israelis, who want to get on with their lives already, justifiably have less patience than the weaker side, which is already used to being worn down by life. But Hamas was definitely battered militarily, and the fact that in contrast to previous wars, no mass victory celebrations have been staged in Gaza indicates that its ties with Gaza’s civilians have also been undermined. When the war ends, Netanyahu will yet achieve quiet in the south – a quiet that’s prolonged, but laden with pessimism. As far humanitarian aid is concerned, the easing of the blockade – now in place for seven years – may allow Gaza’s economy to improve, although at present, according to Oxfam, more than 40% of people in Gaza – nearly 50% of youth – are now unemployed and 80% of people receive international aid. Many key industries, such as the construction industry, have been decimated as essential materials are not allowed into Gaza. Exports are currently at less than 3% of their pre-blockade levels, with the transfer of agricultural produce and other goods to the West Bank and exports to Israel entirely banned
The blockade left people reliant on tunnels from Egypt to bring in goods. The Egyptian government’s closure of these tunnels in mid-2013 has severely worsened the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Massive fuel shortage had led to daily power cuts of 12-16 hours – leaving hospitals, schools and small businesses struggling to keep going, and water and sanitation systems often failing.
At the moment, the prime minister also has no reason to move up elections and thereby risk facing internal party pressures that are far from simple. Netanyahu needs time. Time for rehabilitation and rebuilding.
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