Analysis

As Gaza Deal Comes Within Grasp, Israel Looks for Ways to Pump Money Into the Strip

After a week of relative calm in Gaza, Israel is cautiously optimistic about the possibility of achieving a long-term ceasefire. However the possibility of local incident leading to a new outbreak still looms

A restaurant on the Gaza coast, earlier this week. Reports of increase in supply in electricity in the enclave.
AFP

Unusual photographs from the Gaza Strip have been surfacing on social media in recent days. Palestinian residents report, to their surprise, about a change in daily living brought on by an increase in the supply of electricity to as much as 12 to 16 hours a day.

It’s the longest daily power supply for Gazans since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, and more than double the daily average for the past year, ever since the Palestinian Authority imposed sanctions against Hamas.

>> Following reports of a Gaza deal, Hamas says it will pay officials' salaries ■ Gazans are bending Israel and Hamas to their will – all the way toward a deal | Analysis ■ Why Netanyahu is willing to pay a political price for keeping Gaza talks alive | Analysis

The change was achieved thanks to a steady supply of fuel to Gaza paid for by Qatar. The supply had been delayed a few times by negotiating difficulties and Israeli responses to the violent protests along the border fence. The relative calm along that border in the past week permits fuel trucks to enter Gaza on a daily basis through Kerem Shalom.

The security cabinet debated the situation in Gaza on Sunday. Headlines from that discussion went to the routine disputes among Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and some of his colleagues. Education Minister Naftali Bennett has initiated another attack on Lieberman, accusing him of being weak against terrorism and demanding he step down. But Bennett, for reasons of political expediency, ignores the real process taking place, which was reinforced by the security cabinet: Israel, under a clear policy led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is seeking long-term compromise with Hamas. It intends to allow further steps by Qatar and Egypt to transfer large sums of money to Gaza to pay civil servants’ wages. The person responsible for this is Netanyahu, not Lieberman, who has already voiced his objections to it (yet still remains at his job).

Demonstrations along the Gaza border, November 2, 2018.
Eliyahu Hershkowitz

Despite the leaks from the Palestinian Authority, which claim the opposite, the Israeli defense establishment anticipates that Egypt will approve the plan to transfer the money for the salaries. The momentum for achieving a deal has returned – and it’s bringing a certain degree of optimism in terms of preparedness. The danger, as always, is that a local violent incident could overshadow efforts to achieve a deal and lead to another round of bloodshed, despite Israel and Hamas’ desire to achieve a long-term ceasefire.

The indirect talks between the sides continue apace through all channels, with the in-depth involvement of United Nations Secretary General’s envoy Nikolay Mladenov. In Israel, the head of the National Security Council, Meir Ben-Shabbat, holds the “Gaza portfolio” on the prime minister’s behalf, and is leading the search for a deal, to Lieberman and Bennett’s chagrin (and irrespective of the political infighting between them).

Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday that the situation in the Palestinian arena is unstable, and that Gaza fluctuates between the possibility of military conflict erupting and the chance of finding a solution to ease the humanitarian crisis. Argaman devoted most of his remarks at the start of the meeting, which was open to media coverage, to issuing warnings against a “misleading calm” in the West Bank and the possibility of seeing an outbreak there, rather than in Gaza.

A tanker at the Kerem Shalom crossing, July, 2018.
Eliyahu Hershkowitz

Traditionally the Shin Bet is the most conservative agency in the security establishment regarding the easing of conditions for the Palestinians, due to its focus on preventing terrorism and the fear that any leniency can be exploited to launch attacks. But recently, against the backdrop of contacts aimed at achieving a solution for Gaza, the Shin Bet is also showing signs of softening its position, after rejecting the possibility of letting any Palestinians from Gaza work in Israeli border communities. Perhaps if a deal is reached, the Shin Bet will agree to take another look at the issue by running a “pilot” program to allow a small group of Palestinians in for work.

Despite the leaks by the Palestinian Authority, which claim the opposite, the Israeli defense establishment believes that Egypt will approve the plan to transfer the salaries.

Hamas sources said the sides are close to an agreement. The risk, as in the past, is that a local incident could overshadow the efforts toward a deal and renew the cycle of bloodshed, despite the signs of a desire on the part of Israel and Hamas to achieve a long-term ceasefire.