Since the May conflict that occurred between Israel and Hamas, Gaza has been experiencing a pretty calm and peaceful ambience, whereas there has been an increasing number of incidents against the Israeli settlers (stabbing, murder) in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It may be felt that the two-situations, mentioned above, may not have any relation, given the fact that Gaza is ruled by Hamas and Palestinian Authority (PA) rules the West Bank. However, this is not the case. The recent terror incident (Dec 19), resulting in the death of 25-year-old Israeli citizen, in Homesh, wherein IDF nabbed four terrorists belonging to the ‘Palestinian Islamic Jihad’ (PIJ), a Gaza-based group, working in tandem with Hamas.
The recent incidents are reminiscence of illusory peace that the Gaza Strip has been experiencing intermittently. While Hamas and PIJ maintains the calm in Gaza, it often orchestrates a series of terrorist and criminal activities in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Notably, the moderate and calm ambience in Gaza over the past few months should not be mistaken for change of ideology by Hamas towards the State of Israel, rather it can be attributed to the economic compulsion in order to stimulate Gaza’s economic recovery that suffered quite a setback due to the May Conflict.
It is important to understand the hypocrisy, Hamas has shown since the post-May conflict with Israel. In Gaza, Hamas is showing an optimistic attitude in its engagement with Israel primarily for the broader objective of arrangement and development of the Strip. Moreover, Hamas is also negotiating with Israel over a swap deal that stipulate the release of large number of detainees from Israeli prisons in exchange for the bodies of two IDF soldiers who lost their lives during clashes in 2014 along with two civilians who are being held captive by the Gaza authorities. Coinciding with these developments, Hamas and PIJ are actively involved in fueling tensions and violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
The tacit support from both the groups led to creation of large-scale terror cells and a series of stabbings and murders of Israeli citizens. Hamas has a history for taking credits for such attacks. The IDF can check such incidents and deter such elements to carry out further terror attacks however, they can succeed in it only to a limited extent, given the moral and local support to Hamas in terms of logistics for such incidents. Adding to this, the media houses also tend to view the conflict from narrow and biased lens rather than providing an unbiased and holistic view of the incident. There is no dearth of foreign and regional digital/print medias that are full of reports, putting the onus of violence solely on Israeli settlers while turning the blind eye to the indirect support from groups like Hamas and PIJ. Furthermore, many Palestinian groups and activists have warned that a new ‘intifada’ may re-erupt if Israel continue with its ‘unacceptable’ practices and settlers from Israel continue their “assaults” against Palestinians in the West Bank. On its part, Israel has been diligently and honestly providing more access to resources for Gaza and also increasing its financial/development assistance for the reconstruction of the Gazan economy. However, the same has not been reciprocated even remotely by Gaza. On the contrary, Hamas and PIJ has increased its involvement in perpetrating violence across the West Bank and Jerusalem.
It is high time that Israel take a considered view of the situation and sent a blunt message to Hamas that it is increasingly loosing its patience and if the propagation of violence is not halted, retaliation could be an option. In this context, Foreign Minister of Israel Yair Lapid visited (December 10) Egypt, mediating between Israel and Hamas, to convey it’s growing impatience over the recent violence. Notably, earlier, Egypt has played a significant role in stopping the May conflict and has been trying hard to broker an agreement through negotiations between the two sides with regard to prisoners swap and set up a larger arrangement framework for Gaza.
Meanwhile, in the backdrop of Egypt’s efforts to reduce the tensions between Hamas and Israel, the IDF has been conducting simulation exercises anticipating escalation in violence by Hamas. Simultaneously, Hamas is also busy planning the same in its own territory. This preparation indicates that both sides are to some degree aware that the ongoing sham peace will not last long, hence both sides would like to gain an edge over each other if the violence were to erupt in near future.
Since May, Hamas has worked rigorously to overhaul and strengthen its armed wing and consolidate support for it’s cause. It is also continuing efforts for building a large terror infrastructure, with covert assistance from external elements with vested interests, to escalate and fuel tensions in West Bank and Jerusalem. However, in order to prevent the terror outfits to achieve their objectives, Israel’s domestic intelligence ‘Shin-Bet’ and Palestinian Authority (PA) are working in tandem and have enhanc their intelligence cooperation. PA is benefitting from this cooperation, as it is toiling hard to hold on to its decreasing increasing influence in West Bank and prevent Hamas from gaining upper hand, owing to people’s sympathy. Israel too, would prefer that PA supplements its efforts in curtailing the increasing support for Hamas in West Bank, which could have disastrous consequences for Israel’s security.
Apart from Israeli assistance, Gaza has been receiving significant aid from Egypt and Qatar as well. While, Egypt has been providing significant materials in the form of construction equipments and building vehicles like cranes, dump trucks etc via the Rafah Crossing, Qatar has been providing Gaza with $350 million annually. Apart from this, Qatar has been providing $10 million to Egypt to purchase fuel, which in turn is sold to Gaza without any cost for day-to-day activities in Gaza and sustainability of civilian regime there. Qatar also provides $10 million per month to nearly 100,000 needy Gazan families via the bank accounts and sends additional $10 million for maintenance power plants in Gaza. This assistance provides an assurance to Hamas that in any unforeseen event/emergency in future it would have Qatar as a reliable donor/partner for requisite assistance. On its part, Qatar has been showcasing itself as an all-weather friend of Palestinians, Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood to the world.
The last four months has witnessed a dramatic halt in the violence, notorious arson balloons, murders and other violent incidents in Gaza. This indicates the fact that how influential Hamas is in controlling the overall affairs of Gaza, its military wing and the peace narrative with Israel. In other words, it is Hamas which is the ultimate authority to determine whether a peaceful move with Israel is more conducive to the present situation or when and how violence should be adopted as a strategy, ultimately putting the lives of Gazans in jeopardy.
Hence, it is high time for Israel to understand that the ongoing peaceful ambience in Gaza is temporary as Hamas is unlikely to give up its hawkish idea of destruction of Israel anytime soon. Hamas does possess a significant tactical strategy and its history of conducting unplanned attacks has been advantageous to the group in the past. Hence, it is important that the IDF, intelligence agencies along with the local police authorities assess the growing violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem closely and pragmatically and cooperate with the Palestinian Authority to restrict the escalation of violence in other major cities.