The current state of non-war in Gaza is untenable

Hamas found the state of non-war suitable for consolidating its presence in Gaza.
Saturday 10/11/2018
Inertia. A Palestinian man looks out a window as a funerary procession passes by in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza strip, last March. (AFP)
Inertia. A Palestinian man looks out a window as a funerary procession passes by in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza strip, last March. (AFP)

Observers of the Palestinian cause are no longer hearing attractive discourse about settlement initiatives. In any case, they are following developments in the Gaza Strip and the various efforts to prevent war from breaking out there.

Egypt, in particular, is exerting strenuous efforts to prevent such an event from happening because it would hurt Arab interests and benefit the political agendas of other parties in the region.

The political results of the prospect of the Trump administration’s “Deal of the Century” were mostly negative. The initiative itself has almost vanished because of the more urgent regional issues. Instead of making adjustments that might provide a platform for negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, Washington has invited debate on side issues, as if its idea had been designed to keep some parties busy and not think of war and without seriously searching for tools to improve the chances of peace.

The Trump’s administration leaked vague notions about the deal without officially announcing it, then simply dropped the idea and focused on other concerns. In the meantime, Washington kept various Palestinian forces busy noisily debating a dead initiative.

One manifestation of the dispute between Fatah and Hamas is that the former accuses the latter of being involved in the implementation of the Deal of the Century. Washington no longer needs to officially announce the initiative because its central clauses are being implemented. Of course, everybody responded to and discussed these accusations, resulting in the marginalisation of other Palestinian issues.

For the Israeli government, the Gaza front was the perfect opportunity to entomb any talk about a negotiated political settlement. It was perfect for feeding divisions among Palestinians and for easing the internal pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Talk of war is attractive to many Israeli leaders and allows them to vie for the lead in political extremism. Moderation and peace have no place in those circumstances.

Approaches that brought some to consider a negotiated settlement are no longer attractive. A quarter of a century after the signing of the Oslo Accords and the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin for signing them, the prospects of peace have almost disappeared and the choice of war, or at least waving it, became more useful to many elites in Israel.

This scenario has repeated itself at least four times in the region. Each time Palestinian-Israeli negotiations were about to achieve a breakthrough, there was someone or some party that would undermine the talks and turn them into wars, so much so that efforts exerted in the prevention of war far outweigh those exerted in burying it and moving on towards a final settlement.

The situation of non-war has become the new normal and the search for peace has become a temporary means. Such a situation is comfortable to Israel, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas and to many other regional and international powers concerned with the Palestinian cause because it affords them the luxury of avoiding a difficult equation requiring each party to sacrifice and pay a political bill.

Israel says that its control over vast areas of Palestinian territories, its expansion of settlements, its concealment of border and refugee issues and the Palestinian right of return, plus the consecration of having Jerusalem recognised as its capital are among the greatest gains it has ever dreamed of achieving. All were achieved either by war or by non-war. There still exist Israeli leaders who are convinced that peace represents a strategic loss to Israel.

There are no coercive factors that could force Israel to engage in a peace process because it is in a position to achieve the impossible without having to pay the heavy price of a political settlement.

Hamas has also made gains by lifting arms, not peace. It seized the Gaza Strip through a military coup against the Palestinian Authority and does not hesitate to wave it whenever it finds itself under intense political pressure.

Hamas found the state of non-war suitable for consolidating its presence in Gaza. So why should it give in to the inevitable restrictions brought by its reconciliation with Fatah or resort to accepting openly a peace that would deprive it of the weapon of resistance? The latter is a major source of different types of benefits for Hamas.

The Fatah Movement (and, of course, with it the Palestinian Authority) is not very different from Israel or Hamas. It doesn’t mind the hint of war on Gaza since that will be one way of weakening Hamas and of avoiding talking directly about the sorry state of the Palestinian cause. War or its prospects spares Fatah the embarrassment of talking about democracy, internal reforms, post-Abbas leadership and a long package of other entitlements.

Considering these delicate facts, preventing war has taken precedence over bringing peace. Egypt is doubling its efforts to reach a state of relative calm (and not a long truce) between Hamas and Israel because it is aware of the disastrous repercussions of war on the Palestinian cause, which is beginning to lose much of its former lustre. A new war would bring whatever is left of the edifice crashing down.

Egypt realises that waving the threat of war is for the moment a mere manoeuvre that serves the goals of all parties involved. That manoeuvre, however, may get out of hand and turn into a reality that would be difficult to control. The availability of factors encouraging war can lead to it, even if some say they can control the degree of heating or cooling of tensions.

Russia, France, Britain, Germany and most of the powers historically concerned with a peace deal between the Arabs and Israel wish nothing more than to maintain a limited degree of calm. Being comfortable with the state of non-war has become a model formula for dealing with both sides of the conflict.

To move beyond this, a national consensus on a comprehensive political vision, free of any narrow personal or group agendas, must be reached. If there are Palestinian forces comfortable with the current situation, they need to realise that whatever symbolic advantages they may find in it will soon vanish because developments in the region and new arrangements being cooked up for it are not making any room for the Palestinian cause on the settlement table.