In this round of the battle for Gaza Israel has already lost. And this time it is a strategic loss of major impact: We have lost our freedom of action vis-a-vis Gaza because we have given up on the peace process with the Palestinian Authority and as a result the international community is unlikely to sanction further moves, especially not a ground offensive. We have been singularly unable to stop the rocket barrages and every day that our campaign continues we will strengthen international enmity against Israel and support for Hamas in the Arab world who are fed the videos of carnage in Gaza 24/7. At this time we have no means to negotiate with Hamas since the Egyptians are not interested, Abu Mazen is presently keeping his distance and worst of all it is patently clear that Hamas will come out of this exchange a winner: Hamas has understood what Abu Mazen has known in his heart but has been in denial about: Israel will not compromise on anything unless it is subjected to considerable force. Hamas’ force will now bring Israel to the negotiating table.
Abu Mazen has been non-violent for years, has just negotiated for almost one year with Israel and other than an incomplete prisoner release has nothing to show for it whatsoever. Hamas by launching dozens of rockets has put enough pressure on Israel to make major developments in the area inevitable and even Likud stalwarts like Tzachi Hanegbi are now talking about a major economic make over of the Gaza strip that must be part and parcel of any agreement (!).
Hamas has completely upstaged Abu Mazen’s PA and the only way that Israel can do anything to try and help the Palestinian Authority to regain some footing is by making a deal on the West Bank – a real deal and the sooner the better. The way to Gaza may well be through Ramallah and the West Bank. Netanyahu is beginning to understand this and that’s why he is dragging his feet desperately looking for alternatives because the last thing he wants is to negotiate over the West Bank under pressure. He will soon find himself in an unenviable situation where the international community will pressure for a solution of the conflict involving both, the West Bank and the Gaza strip. This will require cooperation of the PA, Hamas, Egypt and Jordan. Supporters of Hamas like Quatar and Saudi Arabia may be interested to participate – the Saudi initiative may enter through the back door.
It would of course be great if as a result of the present exchange of fire with Gaza the conflict with the Palestinians as a whole would return to the negotiating table, now with added urgency and a lot more international pressure. It’s highly doubtful if that is what Netanyahu had intended when he decided to go for Hamas in the West Bank. And the bottom line ? Hamas will likely win the Palestinian elections as well.