In the wake of a botched raid in Gaza and the resignation of his defense minister, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has succeeded in preserving his right-wing coalition. In the ebb and flow of the Israeli-Hamas standoff, we can say that strategy won the day over tactics.
The tactic is the temporary victory of Hamas.
The strategy is twofold: to preserve the strength of Hamas in Gaza, thus averting chaos in the strip and dulling the threat to Israel’s southern borders, and on the other hand to maintain the Palestinian divide – between Hamas-ruled Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank – thus allowing for long-term truces between Israel and Hamas and, more ambitiously, US President Donald Trump’s so-called “deal of the century.”
It is no coincidence that Netanyahu kept the defense portfolio to himself after the resignation of Avigdor Lieberman over the Gaza ceasefire. According to Lieberman, he was the only one concerned about maintaining the status of the Israeli security apparatus and military and the Likud party which Netanyahu leads.
Hamas, in turn, is expected to practice extreme caution in the coming period and not respond to Israeli provocations.
The Qatar conundrum
A new war at this juncture would likely mean Israel seeking to wipe out key Hamas leaders and institutions.
On another front, a Qatari grant of $15 million cash last month created a fresh controversy for the rulers in Gaza.
Some observers see the cash transfer as an embarrassment for Netanyahu, but it was equally embarrassing for Hamas as the money entered through the state of Israel.
The cash injection was aimed at paying civil servants and saving the Hamas government from collapse amid deteriorating economic conditions in the strip, which residents say has reached unbearable levels.
More than half of Gazans are living in poverty despite humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations. An Israeli blockade of the Gaza coastline, airspace, and land crossings has been in place now for more than a decade.
And yet, many Palestinian factions and parties criticized the move by Hamas to accept Qatari cash, arguing that it was “political money” that would come with a price to be paid later.
Several Palestinian newspapers reported that protesters hurled stones at the convoy of Qatari Ambassador Mohamed al-Amady during his visit to Gaza. Several political factions also boycotted a meeting he held on November 9.
A separate peace
The Gaza ceasefire may hold for weeks or months. Meanwhile, Israel is also trying to maintain a second truce in the West Bank. In that context, what would a settlement with Hamas look like?
And would Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas bless any long-term deal concluded by Hamas while Israel is trying, through this deal, to separate Gaza from the West Bank? And do the authorities in Ramallah have options?
The Egyptian mediators, given their non-objection to the entry of the Qatari money, appear to be leaning toward a restored reconciliation deal to cement a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
The financial benefits of maintaining peace on the borders currently outweigh the negatives for all involved.
Only when there is a risk of losing those benefits may the time be ripe for a reconciliation agreement between rival Palestinian factions – to rescue Gaza from further humanitarian degradation and stave off a split that could undermine the Palestinian cause in its entirety.