Gaza City's Sheikh Radwan neighborhood
A digger removes debris of a home destroyed in an Israeli air strike on Gaza City's Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, August 20, 2014. Photo by AFP
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Mohammed Deif, the head of Hamas’ military wing in Gaza, was rightly considered a bitter enemy of Israel. Deif was responsible for numerous attacks that killed Israeli civilians and soldiers, and he also brought disaster down upon the Palestinians. Nevertheless, the Tuesday night attempt to assassinate him is of little value beyond the image war, part of the “victory picture” that is ostensibly needed to end the current fighting.

Practically speaking, Deif’s death would be irrelevant to Hamas’s power. Experience has taught Israel that assassinations have a limited impact, and this impact isn’t always positive. The assassination of Yasser Arafat’s operations officer, Abu Jihad, deprived Arafat of an important partner during the Oslo process. The killings of Ahmed Yassin, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, Salah Shehadeh and Ahmed Jabari punished them for their involvement in terror but didn’t restrain or weaken Hamas; they simply promoted Deif to public prominence.

The attempted assassination of Deif didn’t change any of the basic facts. Israel still needs a smart policy that will enable the fighting with Hamas to end and will also have real value for the future.

Despite the secrecy surrounding the details of the indirect negotiations that Israel and Hamas have conducted via Egyptian mediation, it’s self-evident that they revolved around the blockade of Gaza. Contrary to the views of some cabinet ministers, removing this blockade is not just a Palestinian interest but also a salient Israeli interest. The more Israel improves the lot of Gaza’s population — by agreeing to open the border crossings, supporting the reconstruction of Gaza and, later, even permitting construction of a port there — the more it will reduce both the anger and violence against it and Hamas’ power.

These steps must be part of a broader diplomatic process, whose first step is recognizing the Palestinian unity government. This government, which will bring Hamas into a formal political framework to which it will have to subordinate itself, will enable Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to play a key role in the agreement. Only by involving Abbas can Israel avoid signing a deal with Hamas that will be nothing more than a cease-fire agreement with a limited life span.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must come to his senses. The damage he has done to relations with the Americans is liable to relegate Israel to diplomatic isolation that will have severe consequences. The only way out of this situation is the diplomatic way. And the key to this route lies in seeking an agreement with the Palestinian unity government.