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The incident in which two Israeli soldiers and one Palestinian militant were killed in Gaza on Friday, was a painful reminder of the problem everyone is trying to forget exists: The Gaza Strip. Until Friday, it was convenient for Israel to ignore the harsh reality in Gaza and the ticking bomb it has become.

The Palestinian Authority and the United States have been acting as though the only problem that has thus far threatened the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians is the settlement issue.

However, the real situation is slightly different. 1.4 million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, under strenuous economic conditions. Hamas controls Gaza and it will not agree to evacuate the area anytime soon, even if Israel and the PA sign a peace agreement tomorrow. So in the context of these "as if" games, the government can continue to imagine an agreement on the basis of "two states for two nations," but in practice, there is still not solution to the Gaza problem.

The timing of the incident was ideal for Hamas. On a day before the opening of the Arab League summit in Libya, which had no Hamas representatives, Arab states received a painful reminder to the existence of the organization, and Arab media outlets even gave more attention to what happened in Gaza than to the Arab summit.

The recent clashes, however, do not mean that Hamas is interested in inciting war. There is no doubt that Hamas is satisfied with the renewed attention the media has given to an area that has ceased to interest the world, but it does not appear that, at this point, there is a will in Hamas to begin a real escalation. The organization is mainly interested in reminding Israel, the PA, and the United States, that it still exists.

One of the problems confronting Hamas today is that it has almost nothing to offer the residents of Gaza, except perhaps Jihad and Istishhad (an act of martyrdom). It isn't even certain that it was Hamas who succeeded in striking Israel Defense Forces soldiers near the border, since four different Palestinian organizations took responsibility for the act. However the mere fact that Hamas took credit for the incident portrays its need to extricate itself from the lack of international interest in Gaza.

It was saddening on Saturday to see the photos that came via satellite from Gaza. Several hundreds of north Gaza residents were marching with deadpan faces toward the house of assassinated Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, apparently "celebrating" the enormous military "achievement" which was the killing of two Israeli soldiers. That is all that's left for them to celebrate in Gaza.

Posted by Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel, March 28, 2010

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