Israeli Army Fears New Election Will Kill Opportunity for Gaza Deal

A month after the latest escalation in Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces fears that the opportunity created for a long-term agreement with Hamas will again be missed.

In recent weeks the army has seen an opening for oexpediting the indirect talks being conducted with Hamas, which could lead to a lengthy break in fighting. But the contacts haven’t seen enough progress, and meanwhile, a new political agenda arising from another election is liable to disrupt the formulation of understandings. 

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 52

Killing Palestinians isn’t Israel’s goal. Killing Palestine is. Listen

The last Gaza flare-up began on November 13 with the targeted killing of senior Islamic Jihad commander Bahaa Abu al-Ata. It lasted for two days, during which nearly 500 rockets were fired at Israel. Some 35 Palestinians were killed in Israeli air strikes, more than 20 of them Islamic Jihad operatives. The defense establishment, especially the army, believed that there was an opportunity to reach an arrangement because of two factors – the blow delivered to Islamic Jihad, and the decision by Hamas' leaders to stay out of the fighting.

Palestinian youth who was injured in a demonstration he sits on a chair by his home in Gaza City on December 10, 2019. MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

Al-Ata’s death got the man considered the greatest obstacle to an agreement out of the way. Israeli intelligence officials described Hamas’ decision to stay on the sidelines as a strategic shift, in which the organization has made its top priority an urgent change in Gaza’s economic and infrastructure situation, even at the expense of the important ideological principle of anti-Israel resistance.

Against this backdrop, the IDF and the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories recommended that efforts to reach an agreement be intensified. The General Staff expressed support for a series of relief measures for Gaza, like moving forward large water, power, and sewage infrastructure projects, establishing an industrial zone and increasing the number of permits for Gaza laborers to work in Israeli communities near the Strip. The Shin Bet security service strongly objected to that last recommendation, fearing that the entrance of thousands of workers would allow terror factions in Gaza to plan attacks in Israel.

Nevertheless, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett showed support for the relief measures if they would ensure calm. Defense officials hoped that approving the measures would lead to greater stability and subsequently allow talks to resume on returning the two Israelis and two soldiers’ bodies being held in Gaza.

A Palestinian girl hangs clothes out to dry on a line outside her home in Gaza City on December 10, 2019. AFP

Last week Haaretz reported that despite another round of rocket fire, the two sides continued the discussions. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed to reporters accompanying him in Portugal that talks were continuing about a long-term cease-fire.