Reports of Hamas’ willingness to enter negotiations with Israel over a long-term cease-fire and an exchange of prisoners have so far not yielded any official response by Hamas or Israel. If there is any substance to these reports, they may attest to the existence of a diplomatic channel having the potential to manage the crisis in Gaza.
Israel and Hamas are locked in a violent confrontation, expressed in recent weeks as a series of demonstrations held on the Gazan border, probably peaking in the coming week. Beyond Hamas’ intention of marking 70 years since the Palestinian Nakba, or catastrophe, the current confrontation has resulted from the dire economic situation in the Gaza Strip, and from what seems like Israel’s and the international community’s indifference to the terrible suffering of 2 million Gazan residents.
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Israel cannot neutralize the symbolism of these demonstrations but it can and must dispel their root cause. The IDF warned for months of the anticipated results of the economic crisis and encouraged the government to implement a significant easing of the closure that has been imposed on Gaza for the last 11 years. It’s not only security challenges that require the resolution of this crisis. Even though the chief of staff rejects defining the situation in Gaza as a humanitarian crisis, there is no other way of describing the struggles of residents who cannot live normal lives and support themselves. The efficacy of the closure from a security perspective is questionable, given the periodic fighting the IDF has been engaged in over the years while the closure has been in place. The secondary goal of the closure – toppling the Hamas government through a civil uprising – has not been attained either.
Israel cannot rely on the apathy of Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, or emulate the policy embraced by Egypt, to justify its conduct in Gaza. The problem is on Israel’s border and the unrest will continue as long as there is no significant improvement. The international community also regards Israel as directly responsible for the situation in Gaza even though it does recognize its security needs. Thus, Israel is required to initiate steps that relieve Gaza’s residents of their status as despairing, totally impoverished hostages.
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Steps taken in coordination with Hamas do not require paying any political price such as withdrawing from territories, or recognition of Hamas’ status as a representative of the Palestinian people. At the same time, Israel sees Hamas as responsible for anything taking place in Gaza and is willing to indirectly negotiate with the organization about exchanging bodies. It does not object to Egyptian attempts to bring about inter-Palestinian reconciliation.
It is now time to examine the possibility of managing the crisis in Gaza together with Hamas, and abandoning the failed policy that has not released Israel from the burden of being Gaza’s de facto ruler.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.