Report: Likelihood of Israeli-Hamas War Greater Than That of Multiyear Cease-fire

Chances of new round of violent conflict in Gaza also greater than that of reconciliation deal between rival Palestinian factions, NGO says.

Reuters

The chances are greater of a new war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas than of a medium-range cease-fire between them. The likelihood of a new war is also greater than that of success in reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas, based on resolution of the salary crisis among civil servants or on lifting the closure of the Strip.

These are the findings of a report by the conflict-resolution NGO International Crisis Group. The report was released Tuesday on the first anniversary of the cease-fire that ended the 50-day war in Gaza.

According to the report, neither side is interested in war, but the root causes for last year’s war are still there: siege of Gaza, economic and financial crisis, and Hamas-Fatah rivalry. The report also summarizes the tangle of opposing interests and frictions between Hamas and Israel and Hamas and the Palestinian Authority and Egypt.

Residents of the Strip is living in conditions of unprecedented distress and feels that Palestinian political leaders have abandoned it, the report notes, adding that per capita income in the Gaza Strip is 31 percent less than it was in 1994.

Based on conversations over the past year with officials from all sides, the report concludes that under circumstances of economic and social stagnation, Israeli restrictions on movement and the internal Palestinian disconnection, war might serve Hamas as an outlet in facing internal challenges such as attacks by Muslim Salafists, the collapse of government services and social protests. A war would allow Hamas to gather its strength, reestablish its military credibility and perhaps ease the closure on the Strip by means of a new cease-fire agreement.

A report published more than a year ago by the group foresaw the outbreak of the previous war, the current report notes.

According to the report, Israel and the Western donor nations to the Palestinian Authority do not actually support internal Palestinian reconciliation, which for the Palestinian public is the key demand and the only way to put an end to the disconnect between Gaza and the West Bank. The report concludes that the international community supports the semblance of PA control in Gaza, which would show itself mainly in PA presence on the border so that the donor countries could deliver the promised aid that Gaza needs to rebuild. However, the PA has shown little enthusiasm for this arrangement, the report says.

Senior PA officials told the International Crisis Group that they want to go back to the Gaza Strip only if they have full control, which Hamas is not prepared to give them. The PA is certain that partial control would saddle it with the economic difficulties and it would be blamed for a worsening of the security situation.

The report notes that the internal Palestinian reconciliation agreement, signed in Cairo in May 2011, included terms and conditions that go against the essence of the ties between the PA and Israel (that is, it would require an end to security cooperation between Israel and the PA, and permission for armed Palestinian activity by what is known as resistance to the occupation).

The reconciliation agreement also cannot be implemented, the authors say, because Hamas and Fatah are each certain that the other’s days are numbered. And Egypt, for its part, is not willing to ease restrictions at the Rafah crossing into Gaza as long as it does not receive assurances from Israel that the connection between Gaza and the West Bank will be restored, and thus the fear will be lifted of ever-greater numbers of Gazans moving into Sinai. That is a promise that Israel is not prepared to give, and because the chance of war seems distant to Israel in the meantime, it has not acted to launch indirect negotiations with Hamas, as the cease-fire agreement after last year’s war called for.

International Conflict Group, which offers analyses and research on various conflict areas, states that it is committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflicts. In this spirit, it has suggested various steps, for example, indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas, a sea corridor to Cyprus and a land corridor to the Allenby Bridge and allowing Hamas to collect taxes in the Gaza Strip and to export its products.