Israelis in communities near the Gaza border are anxiously awaiting the new government’s spin. Will a rhetorical finesse be found to allow financial aid into the Strip without it being considered aid to Hamas?
No magic formula emerged from last week’s talks in Cairo between Israeli officials and Egyptian intelligence chiefs. Hamas is adamant about separating the Qatari aid – about $30 million a month for a year – from negotiations on the return of two Israeli civilians and the remains of two Israeli soldiers. For its part, the government has hobbled itself by linking the actions.
The deadlock has already led to threats and warnings from Yahya Sinwar. The Hamas leader in Gaza told Israel to brush up its latest battle plans in the Strip. Hamas-run coastal enclave. The prior transfer mechanism, which began in 2018 and ended with last month’s war, was agreed with Benjamin Netanyahu, who was harshly criticized over it, but the government of his successor, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, doesn’t have a better solution.
The funds, it should be noted, are earmarked not for reconstruction, but rather for salaries and aid to families. The aim of the arrangement was to end the daily border clashes between Gazans and Israeli forces, and it followed talks among Israel, Egypt and Hamas. Its resumption would be expected to snuff out the fuse of the time bomb that has already begun to burn.
Israel opposes fund transfers via the Palestinian Authority, because it can’t keep the money from reaching Hamas, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi has proposed that the PA create a mechanism for direct payments to Gazans.
Kochavi’s proposal put him at odds with the prior stance of Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who at a media briefing about one month ago said: “The way is to try hard to strengthen the alliance of the moderates, to include the U.S. and the European Union as much as possible, to recruit as many countries as possible from the moderate axis and Qatar, to operate via the PA” through mechanisms with oversight.
But the rediscovery of Ramallah and the generous willingness to view it as an intermediary won’t change the result. That’s true even with the possibility, now being explored, of having United Nations agencies allocating the funds to ensure their use in humanitarian projects. The money will ultimately reach Hamas, if only indirectly.
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More important, even if there were a pneumatic tube system to deliver the money into the homes of needy families, untouched by human hands, it couldn’t meet Israel’s demand for the return of the civilians and the soldiers’ bodies. The operating assumption of the government, the army and the public must be that Hamas will insist on the release of Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel in exchange. The money, in that case, is an essential but insufficient condition.
The transfer or failure to transfer Qatari financial aid doesn’t constitute policy. At most, it involves sloganeering that the government is floating to distinguish itself from the Netanyahu government – presenting itself as tough and flexing its muscles. But they won’t pass the test if the government really wants to achieve the desired goal.
Holding back the assistance won’t weaken or strengthen Hamas – an organization that, despite the draconian sanctions against it, has been running the lives of about 2 million Gazans for the past 14 years, that has been successful in four wars with Israel and continues to be the only address when it comes to an arrangement for long-term calm along the border or when it comes to a flare-up in the south.
The bypass channels that Israel has sought to pursue to have it both ways – transferring funds but not to Hamas, releasing the prisoners, but without addressing Hamas’ demands – are a deception and not only that. They will soon converge down a single path ultimately leading toward a violent confrontation, which this time is also liable to cost the new Israeli government its own life.