by Prof. Eyal Zisser
The reality in Gaza has persisted for decades, perhaps dating back to the first Intifada and the subsequent Oslo Accords, which effectively shut the door on Gazans seeking to work in Israel.
The Gaza Strip dominated the headlines this week. At the beginning of the week, the State Comptroller issued his report criticizing the political and military leadership's handling of Operation Protective Edge. Then, IDF Military Intelligence Directorate commander Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi said Gaza was on the verge of an economic collapse that could lead to renewed hostilities along the border. The week ended with Hamas' military wing declaring its determination to answer any Israeli action by retaliating, even if that retaliation is limited in scope, and even if it ends up drawing the sides into all-out conflict.
Interestingly, the comptroller's report on Gaza only created waves in the Israeli media -- in the Arab world, the report was largely ignored. A stark contrast to the Winograd report on the Second Lebanon War, which was appropriated by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah who still uses it as proof of Hezbollah's "divine victory" over Israel. In this case, Hamas never even tried presenting Protective Edge as a victory or an achievement for the organization.
The important question from Israel's perspective, however, isn't of course what transpired on the Gaza border three years ago, but what could transpire in the coming months. It was in this context that Halevi voiced his concern over Gaza's dire economic situation.
In this regard, it should be noted that the harsh reality in Gaza is not the outcome of the past few months, or even years. The reality in Gaza has persisted for decades, perhaps dating back to the first Intifada and the subsequent Oslo Accords, which effectively shut the door on Gazans seeking to work in Israel. The Gaza economy largely relies on broad financial aid from the United Nations, and more recently from Qatar as well. It goes without saying that Israel, too, gives Gaza water and electricity. Things are indeed dismal, but the situation in Gaza is better than in parts of the Arab world, certainly better than disaster areas such as Syria; and Gazans have it better than the millions of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.
It is also worth mentioning that Hamas is fighting on more than one front, and that its conflict with Israel might not even be its top priority at the moment. To its south, there is Egypt, which does little to conceal its desire to settle a score with Hamas. Their relationship can only be described as one of mutual distrust. Alongside its clashes with Israel and Egypt, Hamas is also coping with jihadist-Salafi groups in Gaza that want to undermine and replace it. These groups are responsible for the lion's share of recent rocket attacks against Israel.
Hamas is currently being steered by a new leadership lacking in experience. The movement's current leaders hail from Hamas' military wing, which rushed to issue a warning this weekend that if Israel continues to strike Hamas targets in retaliation for rocket attacks, Hamas will feel free to force an equation like the one between Israel and Lebanon, where Israel's hands are effectively tied against Hezbollah. This declaration is undeniably disconcerting, because it indicates the direction Hamas wants to pursue, even if it appears to be trying to preserve calm along the border for the time being.
Ultimately, Operation Protective Edge teaches us that both sides can be dragged into a fight that neither side wants. For Israel, the Gaza war didn't happen because it failed to pursue diplomatic alternatives, of which Hamas can never be a part, but because it misunderstood the actions of the other side.
Prof. Eyal Zisser
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