August 2, 2014

WHY HAMAS HAS NOTHING TO LOSE:

Hamas's Chances (Nathan Thrall, 8/21/14, London Review of Books)

The current war in Gaza was not one Israel or Hamas sought. But both had no doubt that a new confrontation would come. The 21 November 2012 ceasefire that ended an eight-day-long exchange of Gazan rocket fire and Israeli aerial bombardment was never implemented. It stipulated that all Palestinian factions in Gaza would stop hostilities against Israel, that Israel would end attacks against Gaza by land, sea and air - including the 'targeting of individuals' (assassinations, typically by drone-fired missile) - and that the closure of Gaza would essentially end as a result of Israel's 'opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods, and refraining from restricting residents' free movements and targeting residents in border areas'. An additional clause noted that 'other matters as may be requested shall be addressed,' a reference to private commitments by Egypt and the US to help thwart weapons smuggling into Gaza, though Hamas has denied this interpretation of the clause.

During the three months that followed the ceasefire, Shin Bet recorded only a single attack: two mortar shells fired from Gaza in December 2012. Israeli officials were impressed. But they convinced themselves that the quiet on Gaza's border was primarily the result of Israeli deterrence and Palestinian self-interest. Israel therefore saw little incentive in upholding its end of the deal. In the three months following the ceasefire, its forces made regular incursions into Gaza, strafed Palestinian farmers and those collecting scrap and rubble across the border, and fired at boats, preventing fishermen from accessing the majority of Gaza's waters.

The end of the closure never came. Crossings were repeatedly shut. So-called buffer zones - agricultural lands that Gazan farmers couldn't enter without being fired on - were reinstated. Imports declined, exports were blocked, and fewer Gazans were given exit permits to Israel and the West Bank.

Israel had committed to holding indirect negotiations with Hamas over the implementation of the ceasefire but repeatedly delayed them, at first because it wanted to see whether Hamas would stick to its side of the deal, then because Netanyahu couldn't afford to make further concessions to Hamas in the weeks leading up to the January 2013 elections, and then because a new Israeli coalition was being formed and needed time to settle in. The talks never took place. The lesson for Hamas was clear. Even if an agreement was brokered by the US and Egypt, Israel could still fail to honour it.

Yet Hamas largely continued to maintain the ceasefire to Israel's satisfaction. It set up a new police force tasked with arresting Palestinians who tried to launch rockets. In 2013, fewer were fired from Gaza than in any year since 2003, soon after the first primitive projectiles were shot across the border. Hamas needed time to rebuild its arsenal, fortify its defences and prepare for the next battle, when it would again seek an end to Gaza's closure by force of arms. But it also hoped that Egypt would open itself to Gaza, thereby ending the years during which Egypt and Israel had tried to dump responsibility for the territory and its impoverished inhabitants on each other and making less important an easing of the closure by Israel.

In July 2013 the coup in Cairo led by General Sisi dashed Hamas's hopes. His military regime blamed the ousted President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, its Palestinian offshoot, for all of Egypt's woes. Both organisations were banned. Morsi was formally charged with conspiring with Hamas to destabilise the country. The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and hundreds of Morsi's supporters were sentenced to death. The Egyptian military used increasingly threatening rhetoric against Hamas, which feared that Egypt, Israel and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority would take advantage of its weakness to launch a co-ordinated military campaign. Travel bans were imposed on Hamas officials. The number of Gazans allowed to cross to Egypt was reduced to a small fraction of what it had been before the coup. Nearly all of the hundreds of tunnels that had brought goods from Egypt to Gaza were closed. Hamas had used taxes levied on those goods to pay the salaries of more than 40,000 civil servants in Gaza.

Hamas's former allies and primary supporters, Iran and Syria, would not help it unless it betrayed the Muslim Brotherhood by switching its support in the increasingly sectarian Syrian war to the Alawite Bashar al-Assad against what had become an overwhelmingly Sunni opposition. Hamas's remaining allies had their own problems: Turkey was preoccupied with domestic turmoil; Qatar was under pressure from its neighbours to reduce its support for the Brotherhood, which the other Gulf monarchies perceive as their primary political threat. Saudi Arabia declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation; other Gulf states continued to repress it. In the West Bank, Hamas couldn't wave a flag, hold a meeting, or give a speech without facing arrest by Israel or the Palestinian Authority's security forces.

With pressure mounting and no strong ally to turn to, Gaza's descent was quick. 
Posted by at August 2, 2014 3:29 PM
  
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