Even After Weekend Violence, Israel and Hamas Moving Toward Long-term Gaza Calm

Israeli and Hamas authorities are still inclined toward reaching an arrangement. Even after a pretty violent weekend on the Gaza border – a Palestinian teenager killed by army fire at a demonstration near the fence, rockets intercepted in the western Negev skies, a false alarm in Ashkelon – Israel and Hamas continue to hold indirect discussions on a long-term agreement. Hamas spokesmen are already referring to it as a tahadiyeh (long-term calm), rather than just a cease-fire. The Israel Defense Forces are even speaking of a “broad tahadiyeh.”

– Haaretz Weekly Episode 51

Haaretz Weekly Episode 51Haaretz

Things could still get fouled up, as has happened plenty of times in the past. A lot depends on local developments. The killing of the teenager on Friday, contrary to the IDF’s declared goal to finish the weekend with no deaths, led as expected to rocket fire, apparently by Islamic Jihad activists. There are enough factions in the Strip that are seeking to renew the fire and Hamas doesn’t always go out of its way to restrain them.

Nevertheless, there are several signs that the goal continues to be an arrangement:

  • The construction of a field hospital near the Erez crossing. Hamas is advancing the project, which is led by an American nonprofit that had previously operated a similar facility on the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights. Hamas is ignoring the claims in the territories that this is actually an American-Israeli intelligence-gathering scheme. Leila Khaled of the Popular Front, who Israelis may remember for her role in airplane hijackings, warned recently against the initiative, as has the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry in the West Bank. But Hamas is insisting on moving forward, presumably because the thousands of wounded from the fence demonstrations have simply overwhelmed Gaza’s health system.
  • In a ceremony inaugurating another hospital, in Rafah, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh spoke about the need to carry two flags, the flag of resistance and the flag of development. Haniyeh is scheduled to leave Monday for Cairo for talks with Egyptian intelligence about a possible arrangement. Meanwhile, Hamas is being relatively restrained in its use of force; first by not firing rockets at Israel during the fierce exchanges with Islamic Jihad that began November 12, and later by canceling the fence demonstrations for the third weekend in a row. (The teenager was killed during a spontaneous demonstration.)
  • A letter written by Chief of General Staff Aviv Kochavi to IDF commanders, excerpted in the Hebrew Haaretz last week, describes Hamas several times as a stabilizing factor in Gaza and hints that Israel must help it strengthen the Strip’s governability. An arrangement is mentioned a few times as an Israeli goal, with Islamic Jihad portrayed as a disruptive force. 
  • Both the IDF brass and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett have expressed support for advancing infrastructure projects in Gaza as part of the agreement process. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz has resumed talking about building an artificial island off the Gaza coast. At the same time, the heads of the regional councils in the Gaza border area presented plans for establishing industrial zones along the border to Yedioth Ahronoth. The plan is for Palestinians from the Strip to work there, similar to plans being discussed by the security establishment.

Bennett worries IDF brass  

Bennett is working like someone who has come to the Defense Ministry for a limited time and is planning to utilize every minute of it. Here is a partial list of announcements and decisions he’s made since assuming the post on November 12: An announcement on intensifying the policy of responding to aggression from Gaza and Syria; setting a goal of removing all of Iran’s military presence from Syria; halting the return of terrorists’ bodies to the Palestinians; calling on computer experts to help Israel create an alternative online connection for Iran after the regime there cut the population off from the internet during the recent riots; and on Sunday he instructed the coordinator of government activity in the territories to advance construction plans for settlers in the wholesale market district in Hebron.