Analysis |

In Keeping Gaza Truce With Israel, Hamas Shows It Has Much More to Lose

Unlike in previous cease-fires, this time Hamas was quick to rein in small factions in the Gaza Strip, and handled an incident near the border fence with Israel differently than it would have in the past.

The most outstanding difference between this cease-fire with Hamas and those in the past is the speed with which quiet returned to the border with the Gaza Strip. In previous rounds of fighting, there was always an accepted braking distance of a couple of days at least, and the more severe the clash had been, the longer it took Hamas to rein in the smaller factions in Gaza and stop the rocket fire.

But things were different after Operation Pillar of Defense. A few rockets were fired on Wednesday night, during the hours immediately after the cease-fire went into effect. But since then, quiet has been enforced.

Moreover, the Hamas regime in the Strip handled an incident near the border fence east of Khan Yunis on Friday differently than it would have in the past: A group of Palestinian demonstrators tried to push through the fence, ignoring the warnings of the Israel Defense Forces soldiers on the other side. The soldiers eventually opened fire; a 21-year-old Palestinian was killed and 20 more rioters were wounded.

The Palestinian media and senior members of Islamic Jihad argued that by firing, Israel had violated the cease-fire. But there was no return fire - not a rocket, not even a mortar shell - into Israel in retaliation. Hamas made do with a weak protest, announced it would complain to Egypt about a violation of the understandings - and then sent policemen to the scene to forcibly break up the demonstration.

One possible explanation is that Hamas was indeed deterred against another military confrontation with the IDF so soon after the blows it suffered during the eight days of fighting. Another explanation, or perhaps a complementary one, is that Hamas scored a significant diplomatic achievement at the end of the operation: A strengthening of its ties with Egypt and increasing Arab support for its regime in Gaza - an achievement not worth risking in the short term over what it sees as insignificant border skirmishes.

Gaza residents, who of course are not blind to the damage caused by the Israeli bombardments, nevertheless believe that Hamas brought them some measurable achievements at the end of the confrontation. Gazan fishermen were granted the right to fish six miles off the Gaza coast, rather than three, and farmers were promised access to their lands closer to the border with Israel. In the past, senior Israeli defense officials had suggested doubling Gaza's permitted fishing zone but their proposal was rejected. Ironically, it's being implemented now, after a conflict from which Israel insists it emerged victorious.

There are those on the Israeli side who see Hamas' diplomatic gains as a positive result: A more significant realization of its sovereignty in Gaza also increases its responsibility for the territory. Hamas now has more to lose - and the operation certainly proved that Israel can, if it wants to, do it far more damage - and it's possible that, as a result, it will more strictly impose its authority on the smaller factions.

During the coming week, assuming the Strip stays quiet, the focus will shift to the West Bank, where there was a sharp increase in violent incidents, and two Palestinians were killed by IDF fire. Last week's bus bombing in Tel Aviv was also the initiative of a West Bank terror cell.

There will be lots of reasons for the West Bank to return to the center of attention. On Tuesday, Yasser Arafat's grave in Ramallah is to be opened as part of an effort to determine whether the late Palestinian Authority chairman was poisoned. And Thursday is the date of PA President Mahmoud Abbas' planned request to the UN General Assembly to grant non-member state observer status to Palestine. In between, there will be demonstrations of support for Abbas, which are being organized by none other than Jibril Rajoub, the former head of the PA's Preventive Security Service.

Rajoub already organized such a demonstration of 5,000 people in Jericho, but it ended up being held on the day that Israel assassinated Hamas' military chief Ahmed Jabari in Gaza. One can assume, though, that in the coming days Rajoub will succeed in getting more than a few thousand Palestinians out onto the streets.

Palestinian school girls look at destroyed buildings from their school, which witnesses said was damaged in an Israeli air strike, in Gaza City, Nov. 24, 2012. Credit: Reuters

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