Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

After the Gaza Whirlwind, Voices

As became clear almost two weeks ago, when the violence on the Gaza border abruptly died down, Egypt has begun playing an assertive role about the Strip. Qatar is involved, and apparently, Jordan is, too: King Abdullah was suddenly in Cairo yesterday, meeting with Sisi.

We are hearing talk yet again of “hudna,” a long-term cease fire. There are clearly negotiations going on, surely also with US involvement. Netanyahu’s right-wing, highly ambitious nemesis, head of the Bayit Yehudi party, Naftali Bennet, was at the Gaza border yesterday, saying that Israel has no objection to alleviating conditions in Gaza but it will be humanitarian act for humanitarian act: the mentally ill Israeli civilians who crossed into Gaza years ago and have not been heard from since will be returned to Israel, as will the remains of two Israeli soldiers. Or no deal.

The Transportation Minister, Yisrael Katz, was on radio yesterday about this, too. He has been an advocate of an offshore port for Gaza and pooh-poohed yet again, as he has in the past, security concerns about what might pass through such a port into Gaza. Israel has the means to handle that, he said. And he, unlike Bennet, is Bibi’s man, or at least, is in Bibi’s party, so if he’s out talking about this–. Voices in the IDF have long supported the idea of such a port. It takes years to build such a thing, they argue. Abused, and the air force could take it out in a few minutes. What’s the risk?

So, stuff is going on.

There are clear limits to what Israel will agree to. I can’t see anything like the huge release of Hamas prisoners, terrorists guilty of murder, that happened in the Shalit deal. Too much more Israeli blood has been spilled by those released then. I see absolutely no political cover for a recurrence of such a trade, not from or for this government, or any other. There will be immense pressure on Netanyahu — there already is, from the parents of Hadar Goldin, z”l, and others — to refuse any exchange of Hamas prisoners for Israelis, living or dead, in Gaza. The Goldins have been pressing for maximum pressure on Hamas, not for any payoff to them, as the means to bring their son home for burial. We’ll see what Avera Mengistu’s beleaguered, anguished parents, with whom I’ve sat outside Netanyahu’s house, want done to get him released. But they, and the parents of Juma Ibrahim abu Ghanima, have far less visibility and clout than the Goldins.

Hamas wants payoff for all the people it sent to die and get maimed these last weeks. After all, bettering its position was the point of this unspeakable manipulation. Israel is in the very sensitive position of negotiating a deal in which there is minimum payoff to Hamas, whose position is very weak, far weaker than it was at the time of the Shalit deal, but which still holds high value cards where Israel is concerned. There’s been much criticism of Netanyahu for the Shalit deal, and Bennet is not even in the wings but already out about this. Still, Israel will be under great pressure to accept an agreement which significantly improves the untenable state of civilian life in Gaza.

Israel will likely cede on the demand that Gaza be de-militarized, which would mean the end of Hamas — not something Hamas will accept (and which would signify not hudna but surrender). But Israel is not the only one who will make that demand: everyone is saying that the PA has to get back into Gaza. And Abbas has made clear that he will not take over a civilian disaster area while Hamas retains weapons (which are used against the PA, too, not only Israel). Abbas is also 83 and ill. But no one else in his/her right mind would take that deal, either. So the pressure will be on Hamas about this, their do or die issue. And the PA’s position may help Israel’s hand, and vice versa—not the first time that has happened.

My money is on Egypt as the pivotal player in all this. That is also my hope and I may be confusing the two. But, perhaps not.

The current regime in Cairo, unlike the former one, detests Hamas. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, banned as illegal in Egypt since the coup that ousted Morsi. Egypt threatened to take out Hamas’ leaders last week if they didn’t can the violence; Israel did, too. That’s when it stopped. Egypt has a crossing into Gaza from Sinai, which it has kept largely closed; it has made the gesture, now during Ramadan, of keeping it open (kind of them), to ease the humanitarian situation. Clearly, it is engaging Hamas, not just threatening its leadership.

Turkey’s Erdogan is Muslim Brotherhood, so don’t look for Turkish involvement in any of this. Israel, to its shame, is just now on the brink (finally), of recognizing the Turkish genocide of the Armenians. That is happening now only because the Turks behaved abominably about the Gaza riots, but there is overwhelming support for the move in the Knesset. Its Speaker, former Soviet prisoner of conscience, Yuli Edelstein, (Likud, and another Netanyahu nemesis), is leading the charge. Turkey under Erdogan is a major backer of Hamas, allowing Hamas to operate there and making Turkey a conduit for Iranian and other funds to Hamas in Gaza. None of the players in hudna talks, therefore (except of course, Hamas), are going to want the Turks in on anything. Turkey  tried last week to insinuate itself into things and was decisively rebuffed by Egypt and Israel alike.

So, the players are: Egypt; Jordan; Qatar; the US; Hamas; the PA; Israel. In that list, Hamas has no friends.

Good news for Israel? For the possibility of a deal that will allow the rebuilding of civil and civilian life in Gaza, for the shelters on the Israeli side of the border to gather dust, and incinerated fields and forests to grow again? We can hope.

Who needs a deal more? We will see where pressure is applied, and who blinks first.

About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus is a professor of Jewish history and an award-winning author of books on Jewish modernity and on Jewish women's history.
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