Once Again, Hamas May Be Coming to Israel's Rescue

Reaching an agreement with Hamas means that Israel can avoid entering into peace talks - and at a cheap price.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Top Fatah and Hamas officials hold hands after announcing a reconciliation agreement in Gaza City. April 23, 2014.
Top Fatah and Hamas officials hold hands after announcing a reconciliation agreement in Gaza City. April 23, 2014.Credit: Reuters
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

It’s hard to explain how the gossip columnists have missed the love story of the year: Israel and Hamas are back together. True, we know Hamas is attracted to Israel for the money, and Israel is mostly enamored by the military insights that Hamas demonstrates, but the dream is already being worked out: a tahdiya, a long-term cease-fire of five or maybe even 10 years, the opening of the Gaza border crossings for incoming construction materials, the construction of a port and perhaps permission to operate an airport.

What could be better than such a marriage of convenience, particularly now that Egypt has given Hamas, although not its military wing, its stamp of approval. “We need to talk to Hamas,” a lot of people are saying. Such remarks are being carefully directed, calling for talks with Hamas and not the Palestinians in general; not Mahmoud Abbas and not the Palestinian Authority that he heads. After all, they are not partners to anything.

But those calling for talks with Hamas, bypassing the peace process, are forgetting what happened when Israel carried out its unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. Here’s a reminder: It’s not Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza that spurred Hamas to shoot rockets at Israel. Hamas was doing so, and committing attacks against Israeli settlers, even before the disengagement from Gaza. Such acts caused the Israel Defense Forces to pour troops onto the streets of Gaza until it almost didn’t have the freedom to carry out any other operations.

The Israeli public at the time was sick of a situation in which the task of protecting 7,000 Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip was consuming the attention of entire brigades. Ultimately Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw from the Strip, not in an effort to establish a preliminary model for an independent Palestinian state, but so that he could hold onto the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

It was a unilateral move, taken without negotiations with Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. And after that, Israel boycotted the joint Palestinian government formed following the 2006 Palestinian election that included Hamas, just as it later boycotted Abbas when he set up a consensus government after a reconciliation with Hamas. As long as Abbas doesn’t manage to control Hamas, Israel ruled, there could be no talk about peace. It was a convincing bluff. As if Israel would have been prepared to map out its final boundaries, uproot the settlements or divide Jerusalem if Abbas did manage to “control” Hamas, but Hamas was a nice excuse.

Now Hamas may again get the role of coming to Israel’s rescue. Thanks to Hamas, Israel can avoid entering into peace talks and at a cheap price, because when it comes to Hamas, there is no need to talk about evacuating settlements or withdrawing from territory. Hamas won’t turn to the International Criminal Court, the expanding boycott of Israel doesn’t affect it one way or another, and more generally, Hamas isn’t at all excited about any kind of peace agreement with Israel. Hamas and Gaza will get quiet and in return, Israel can declare that there is finally quiet in Gaza — and no urgency in advancing the peace process.

That’s the core of the lie over talking with Hamas, but in such an idyllic situation, it’s important to remember that the organization is playing the role here of the battered wife. She is imprisoned in a ghetto surrounded by electrified fencing. The residents of Gaza are not allowed to freely travel to the West Bank. Exports from Gaza are small, and mostly wither in the fields. The international aid that was promised Gaza in October 2014 is mostly still firmly in place in the pockets of the donor countries. Trucks with merchandise from Israel don’t even supply a quarter of the consumption of the residents of Gaza, more than half of whom are unemployed. University students can’t finish their studies and tens of thousands of Gazans are still homeless thanks to Israel’s Protective Edge military operation last summer, which accomplished only the first step in urban renewal — tearing down without rebuilding.

Israel is ignoring all of this. It only gauges the extent to which it is quiet in Gaza based on the number of rockets fired from there. That is a measurement based on mutual deterrence, with Israel convinced that the mutual threat is stronger than the mutual despair. But quiet in Gaza doesn’t have a life of its own. It requires a foundation that will ensure its existence, and is not a substitute for an overall peace process.

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