Showing posts tagged as "Hamas"

Showing posts tagged Hamas

18 Jul
How the West Chose War in Gaza | Nathan Thrall
Nathan Thrall is a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group covering Gaza, Israel, Jordan and the West Bank.
As Hamas fires rockets at Israeli cities and Israel follows up its extensive airstrikes with a ground operation in the Gaza Strip, the most immediate cause of this latest war has been ignored: Israel and much of the international community placed a prohibitive set of obstacles in the way of the Palestinian “national consensus” government that was formed in early June.
That government was created largely because of Hamas’s desperation and isolation. The group’s alliance with Syria and Iran was in shambles. Its affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt became a liability after a July 2013 coup replaced an ally, President Mohamed Morsi, with a bitter adversary, Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Hamas’s coffers dried up as General Sisi closed the tunnels that had brought to Gaza the goods and tax revenues on which it depended.
Seeing a region swept by popular protests against leaders who couldn’t provide for their citizens’ basic needs, Hamas opted to give up official control of Gaza rather than risk being overthrown. Despite having won the last elections, in 2006, Hamas decided to transfer formal authority to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah. That decision led to a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization, on terms set almost entirely by the P.L.O. chairman and Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel immediately sought to undermine the reconciliation agreement by preventing Hamas leaders and Gaza residents from obtaining the two most essential benefits of the deal: the payment of salaries to 43,000 civil servants who worked for the Hamas government and continue to administer Gaza under the new one, and the easing of the suffocating border closures imposed by Israel and Egypt that bar most Gazans’ passage to the outside world.
Yet, in many ways, the reconciliation government could have served Israel’s interests. It offered Hamas’s political adversaries a foothold in Gaza; it was formed without a single Hamas member; it retained the same Ramallah-based prime minister, deputy prime ministers, finance minister and foreign minister; and, most important, it pledged to comply with the three conditions for Western aid long demanded by America and its European allies: nonviolence, adherence to past agreements and recognition of Israel.
Israel strongly opposed American recognition of the new government, however, and sought to isolate it internationally, seeing any small step toward Palestinian unity as a threat. Israel’s security establishment objects to the strengthening of West Bank-Gaza ties, lest Hamas raise its head in the West Bank. And Israelis who oppose a two-state solution understand that a unified Palestinian leadership is a prerequisite for any lasting peace.
Still, despite its opposition to the reconciliation agreement, Israel continued to transfer the tax revenues it collects on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf, and to work closely with the new government, especially on security cooperation.
But the key issues of paying Gaza’s civil servants and opening the border with Egypt were left to fester. The new government’s ostensible supporters, especially the United States and Europe, could have pushed Egypt to ease border restrictions, thereby demonstrating to Gazans that Hamas rule had been the cause of their isolation and impoverishment. But they did not.
Instead, after Hamas transferred authority to a government of pro-Western technocrats, life in Gaza became worse.
Qatar had offered to pay Gaza’s 43,000 civil servants, and America and Europe could have helped facilitate that. But Washington warned that American law prohibited any entity delivering payment to even one of those employees — many thousands of whom are not members of Hamas but all of whom are considered by American law to have received material support from a terrorist organization.
When a United Nations envoy offered to resolve this crisis by delivering the salaries through the United Nations, so as to exclude all parties from legal liability, the Obama administration did not assist. Instead, it stood by as Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, called for the envoy’s expulsion on the grounds that he was “trying to funnel money” to Hamas.
Hamas is now seeking through violence what it couldn’t obtain through a peaceful handover of responsibilities. Israel is pursuing a return to the status quo ante, when Gaza had electricity for barely eight hours a day, water was undrinkable, sewage was dumped in the sea, fuel shortages caused sanitation plants to shut down and waste sometimes floated in the streets. Patients needing medical care couldn’t reach Egyptian hospitals, and Gazans paid $3,000 bribes for a chance to exit when Egypt chose to open the border crossing.
For many Gazans, and not just Hamas supporters, it’s worth risking more bombardment and now the ground incursion, for a chance to change that unacceptable status quo. A cease-fire that fails to resolve the salary crisis and open Gaza’s border with Egypt will not last. It is unsustainable for Gaza to remain cut off from the world and administered by employees working without pay. A more generous cease-fire, though politically difficult for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would be more durable.
The current escalation in Gaza is a direct result of the choice by Israel and the West to obstruct the implementation of the April 2014 Palestinian reconciliation agreement. The road out of the crisis is a reversal of that policy.
ORIGINAL COMMENTARY (New York Times)
Photo: Israel Defense Forces/flickr

How the West Chose War in Gaza | Nathan Thrall

Nathan Thrall is a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group covering Gaza, Israel, Jordan and the West Bank.

As Hamas fires rockets at Israeli cities and Israel follows up its extensive airstrikes with a ground operation in the Gaza Strip, the most immediate cause of this latest war has been ignored: Israel and much of the international community placed a prohibitive set of obstacles in the way of the Palestinian “national consensus” government that was formed in early June.

That government was created largely because of Hamas’s desperation and isolation. The group’s alliance with Syria and Iran was in shambles. Its affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt became a liability after a July 2013 coup replaced an ally, President Mohamed Morsi, with a bitter adversary, Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Hamas’s coffers dried up as General Sisi closed the tunnels that had brought to Gaza the goods and tax revenues on which it depended.

Seeing a region swept by popular protests against leaders who couldn’t provide for their citizens’ basic needs, Hamas opted to give up official control of Gaza rather than risk being overthrown. Despite having won the last elections, in 2006, Hamas decided to transfer formal authority to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah. That decision led to a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization, on terms set almost entirely by the P.L.O. chairman and Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel immediately sought to undermine the reconciliation agreement by preventing Hamas leaders and Gaza residents from obtaining the two most essential benefits of the deal: the payment of salaries to 43,000 civil servants who worked for the Hamas government and continue to administer Gaza under the new one, and the easing of the suffocating border closures imposed by Israel and Egypt that bar most Gazans’ passage to the outside world.

Yet, in many ways, the reconciliation government could have served Israel’s interests. It offered Hamas’s political adversaries a foothold in Gaza; it was formed without a single Hamas member; it retained the same Ramallah-based prime minister, deputy prime ministers, finance minister and foreign minister; and, most important, it pledged to comply with the three conditions for Western aid long demanded by America and its European allies: nonviolence, adherence to past agreements and recognition of Israel.

Israel strongly opposed American recognition of the new government, however, and sought to isolate it internationally, seeing any small step toward Palestinian unity as a threat. Israel’s security establishment objects to the strengthening of West Bank-Gaza ties, lest Hamas raise its head in the West Bank. And Israelis who oppose a two-state solution understand that a unified Palestinian leadership is a prerequisite for any lasting peace.

Still, despite its opposition to the reconciliation agreement, Israel continued to transfer the tax revenues it collects on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf, and to work closely with the new government, especially on security cooperation.

But the key issues of paying Gaza’s civil servants and opening the border with Egypt were left to fester. The new government’s ostensible supporters, especially the United States and Europe, could have pushed Egypt to ease border restrictions, thereby demonstrating to Gazans that Hamas rule had been the cause of their isolation and impoverishment. But they did not.

Instead, after Hamas transferred authority to a government of pro-Western technocrats, life in Gaza became worse.

Qatar had offered to pay Gaza’s 43,000 civil servants, and America and Europe could have helped facilitate that. But Washington warned that American law prohibited any entity delivering payment to even one of those employees — many thousands of whom are not members of Hamas but all of whom are considered by American law to have received material support from a terrorist organization.

When a United Nations envoy offered to resolve this crisis by delivering the salaries through the United Nations, so as to exclude all parties from legal liability, the Obama administration did not assist. Instead, it stood by as Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, called for the envoy’s expulsion on the grounds that he was “trying to funnel money” to Hamas.

Hamas is now seeking through violence what it couldn’t obtain through a peaceful handover of responsibilities. Israel is pursuing a return to the status quo ante, when Gaza had electricity for barely eight hours a day, water was undrinkable, sewage was dumped in the sea, fuel shortages caused sanitation plants to shut down and waste sometimes floated in the streets. Patients needing medical care couldn’t reach Egyptian hospitals, and Gazans paid $3,000 bribes for a chance to exit when Egypt chose to open the border crossing.

For many Gazans, and not just Hamas supporters, it’s worth risking more bombardment and now the ground incursion, for a chance to change that unacceptable status quo. A cease-fire that fails to resolve the salary crisis and open Gaza’s border with Egypt will not last. It is unsustainable for Gaza to remain cut off from the world and administered by employees working without pay. A more generous cease-fire, though politically difficult for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would be more durable.

The current escalation in Gaza is a direct result of the choice by Israel and the West to obstruct the implementation of the April 2014 Palestinian reconciliation agreement. The road out of the crisis is a reversal of that policy.

ORIGINAL COMMENTARY (New York Times)

Photo: Israel Defense Forces/flickr

17 Jul
LINK

Concessions required for resolution to Gaza Crisis

ABC’s Jim Middleton speaks with Nathan Thrall, a senior analyst with the Middle East program of the International Crisis Group, about the ongoing violence in Gaza.

14 Jul
Gaza and Israel: New Obstacles, New Solutions
Jerusalem/Gaza City/Brussels  |   14 Jul 2014
To break the violent impasse, Israel must change its policy toward Hamas and work toward a lasting ceasefire, recognising how much its own stability depends on the stability of Gaza.
After rounds of pyrrhic victories and weak ceasefires, Israel and Hamas are again locked in combat, with at least 168 Palestinian deaths, mainly civilian, in less than a week and Israeli civilians seeking shelter from rocket salvos. The policy of isolating Hamas has proved counterproductive and made reviving Gaza not just a humanitarian necessity but a requirement for calm and stability. In its latest briefing, Gaza and Israel: New Obstacles, New Solutions, the International Crisis Group examines scenarios that could result from the fighting and outlines the conditions necessary to ensure a more stable cessation of violence.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
Anchoring a ceasefire in a political framework is the only way to prevent it from unravelling as fast as previous ones. No lasting arrangement can be reached without Egypt. Despite Hamas’s poor relations with Egypt, the sooner Cairo accelerates its role, the sooner the conflict can end. 
Israel should give the reconciliation agreement signed in April by Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) a chance to work. If implemented, it offers the best chance of alleviating Gaza’s misery and therefore reducing Hamas’s incentives to fight. The U.S., along with the European Union and regional allies, should encourage the Palestinian Authority (PA) to return to the Gaza Strip and assume the responsibilities of governance. 
Hamas should ensure, in tacit cooperation with the new government, acceptance and maintenance of the ceasefire by all Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip. 
The PA should help arrange for payment of the roughly 43,000 Gaza government employees hired under Hamas who are not receiving their salaries. PA security forces should be deployed at border crossings to facilitate the movement of goods to Gaza and of people to Israel and Egypt. 
The U.S. should continue to support the reconciliation government, and Israel should cooperate with it to resolve Gaza’s most pressing problems, including energy, water and sanitation.
“Given the choice between being slowly squeezed to death and going down fighting, and that between waiting for Israel to eliminate the stockpiles on the ground or shooting them into Israel, Hamas will take the latter both times. Knowing that it cannot best Israel militarily, it has opted for a psychological war of attrition”, says Nathan Thrall, Middle East Senior Analyst.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu is caught between Realpolitik and electoral considerations. Realpolitik dictates a controlled escalation followed by a renewed ceasefire, but any concession he makes to Hamas will be used against him by competitors to his right, who advocate a more extensive campaign and more ambitious objectives in Gaza”, says Ofer Zalzberg, Senior Analyst for Israel/Palestine.
“The policy of trying to topple or weaken Hamas was misguided when designed and remains so”, says Robert Blecher, Middle East and North Africa Acting Program Director. “The sooner it is reversed, the sooner Gazans can resume something like a normal life, Israelis can come out of bomb shelters and Palestinians can repair their internal affairs and prepare to enter a reformed peace process”.
FULL REPORT

Gaza and Israel: New Obstacles, New Solutions

Jerusalem/Gaza City/Brussels  |   14 Jul 2014

To break the violent impasse, Israel must change its policy toward Hamas and work toward a lasting ceasefire, recognising how much its own stability depends on the stability of Gaza.

After rounds of pyrrhic victories and weak ceasefires, Israel and Hamas are again locked in combat, with at least 168 Palestinian deaths, mainly civilian, in less than a week and Israeli civilians seeking shelter from rocket salvos. The policy of isolating Hamas has proved counterproductive and made reviving Gaza not just a humanitarian necessity but a requirement for calm and stability. In its latest briefing, Gaza and Israel: New Obstacles, New Solutions, the International Crisis Group examines scenarios that could result from the fighting and outlines the conditions necessary to ensure a more stable cessation of violence.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are:

  • Anchoring a ceasefire in a political framework is the only way to prevent it from unravelling as fast as previous ones. No lasting arrangement can be reached without Egypt. Despite Hamas’s poor relations with Egypt, the sooner Cairo accelerates its role, the sooner the conflict can end. 
  • Israel should give the reconciliation agreement signed in April by Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) a chance to work. If implemented, it offers the best chance of alleviating Gaza’s misery and therefore reducing Hamas’s incentives to fight. The U.S., along with the European Union and regional allies, should encourage the Palestinian Authority (PA) to return to the Gaza Strip and assume the responsibilities of governance. 
  • Hamas should ensure, in tacit cooperation with the new government, acceptance and maintenance of the ceasefire by all Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip. 
  • The PA should help arrange for payment of the roughly 43,000 Gaza government employees hired under Hamas who are not receiving their salaries. PA security forces should be deployed at border crossings to facilitate the movement of goods to Gaza and of people to Israel and Egypt. 
  • The U.S. should continue to support the reconciliation government, and Israel should cooperate with it to resolve Gaza’s most pressing problems, including energy, water and sanitation.

“Given the choice between being slowly squeezed to death and going down fighting, and that between waiting for Israel to eliminate the stockpiles on the ground or shooting them into Israel, Hamas will take the latter both times. Knowing that it cannot best Israel militarily, it has opted for a psychological war of attrition”, says Nathan Thrall, Middle East Senior Analyst.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu is caught between Realpolitik and electoral considerations. Realpolitik dictates a controlled escalation followed by a renewed ceasefire, but any concession he makes to Hamas will be used against him by competitors to his right, who advocate a more extensive campaign and more ambitious objectives in Gaza”, says Ofer Zalzberg, Senior Analyst for Israel/Palestine.

“The policy of trying to topple or weaken Hamas was misguided when designed and remains so”, says Robert Blecher, Middle East and North Africa Acting Program Director. “The sooner it is reversed, the sooner Gazans can resume something like a normal life, Israelis can come out of bomb shelters and Palestinians can repair their internal affairs and prepare to enter a reformed peace process”.

FULL REPORT

11 Jul

CNN’s Becky Anderson spoke with Issandr El Amrani, Crisis Group’s North Africa Project Director, about the domestic limitations that the Sisi government in Egypt is facing when formulating policy in Gaza.

10 Jul
Egypt Silent as Neighbors Wage Battles | Kareem Fahim
Again and again over decades, Egypt has leapt in to play the role of mediator during hostilities between the Palestinians and the Israelis, including the time two years ago when Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, helped broker a cease-fire after eight days of bloodshed in the Gaza Strip.
But in the latest battle, the Egyptians appear to be barely lifting a finger, leaving the combatants without a go-between as the Palestinian death toll mounts.
Officials with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement in Gaza, said on Wednesday they had seen almost no sign of an Egyptian effort to defuse the crisis, in sharp contrast to previous conflicts under Mr. Morsi and President Hosni Mubarak. Making matters worse, according to Palestinian officials, Egypt continued to keep its side of the border all but sealed on Wednesday, barring even humanitarian aid.
FULL ARTICLE (New York Times)
Photo:  Yuen-Ping/flickr

Egypt Silent as Neighbors Wage Battles | Kareem Fahim

Again and again over decades, Egypt has leapt in to play the role of mediator during hostilities between the Palestinians and the Israelis, including the time two years ago when Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, helped broker a cease-fire after eight days of bloodshed in the Gaza Strip.

But in the latest battle, the Egyptians appear to be barely lifting a finger, leaving the combatants without a go-between as the Palestinian death toll mounts.

Officials with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement in Gaza, said on Wednesday they had seen almost no sign of an Egyptian effort to defuse the crisis, in sharp contrast to previous conflicts under Mr. Morsi and President Hosni Mubarak. Making matters worse, according to Palestinian officials, Egypt continued to keep its side of the border all but sealed on Wednesday, barring even humanitarian aid.

FULL ARTICLE (New York Times)

Photo:  Yuen-Ping/flickr

7 Jul
Israel’s Hamas Challenge: The Third Way | Ofer Zalzberg
Ofer Zalzberg is the senior Middle East analyst of the International Crisis Group’s Arab-Israeli project.
The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli yeshiva students — and the extensive Israeli military campaign against Hamas, members of which Israel presumes to have perpetrated the act – illustrate the urgency of revisiting Israel’s policy options toward the Islamist group. Largely ignored since the last outbreak of violence, the issue is today again on the public agenda. How should Israel deal with Hamas?
The three principles set out by the Quartet (the EU, US, UN and Russia) – that Hamas renounce violence, recognize Israel, and accept previous PLO agreements – are unlikely to prompt a reexamination within Hamas — not only because they are theologically unacceptable, but because the Islamist group believes the PLO’s acting in accordance with them failed to deliver anything meaningful to Palestinians. Hamas’s own proposal of a decades-long term hudna is considered a non-starter by Israel; not only would it not end the conflict, but it is conditioned on Israel accepting an array of impossible demands: Palestinian statehood based on the 1967 borders and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, without any land swaps and with unqualified choice for all Palestinian refugees whether to return to their original homes or villages.
PM Netanyahu’s most likely course of action is to seek a respite from violence through what he calls “quiet for quiet”. More ambitiously, there are two alternative approaches, advanced by members of his cabinet, that would seek to fundamentally transform the conflict with Hamas. The first, advocated by FM Avigdor Lieberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett — dubbed “Let the IDF Win” — is for the Israeli army to retake Gaza for a sustained period in order to “dismantle the terrorist infrastructure”. This would involve directly confronting Hamas militants, arresting the movement’s leadership, confiscating weapons, eliminating production capacities, closing down its associations and charities and either enthroning another Palestinian ruler or continuing direct Israeli military rule. PM Netanyahu and the Israeli defense establishment believe the costs of this option are too high.
The second approach, supported by self-defined centrists like Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, also in effect envisions Hamas’s ultimate disappearance from Palestinian life, by cooperating with those she identifies as moderates – such as Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas — while striking Hamas. The Palestinian public would then, the argument goes, come to see that the moderates as the only ones who can deliver. But to date, they have delivered little more than limited material-economic benefits, far less than necessary to defeat Hamas. What would be required to see whether this strategy could succeed are gains truly appreciated by their society – viable Palestinian statehood in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem – which would require that the Israeli government give up much more than it is willing to, certainly in advance of a final status agreement. Nor are Hamas’s roots and infrastructure – which are not physical or organizational but societal, religious and emotional – likely to disappear from a conservative society.
A third approach is needed. While protecting Israel’s civilian population militarily, Israel should try to catalyze Hamas’s ultimate transformation to an unarmed political party in a Palestinian state. For theological reasons, even in a best case scenario Hamas will remain at arm’s length from a final status agreement. So it should be brought to accept, post-facto, what others will have accepted for it explicitly and de jure.
This strategy could include the following three components.
- Israel could encourage Palestinians – for instance, by welcoming PLO reform – to establish a legal ratification mechanism for a final status agreement that would commit Hamas to abide by the majority’s decision even where it is not to the movement’s liking (for example, even should, hypothetically, the State of Palestine accepts the Quartet principles or recognizes Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people).
- Israel could reply positively to the Arab Peace Initiative, possibly with minor and negotiable reservations, to lay the basis for a peace agreement supported by Hamas’s sponsors (e.g. Qatar and Turkey), strategically critical neighbors (Egypt) and countries representing an important Islamic voice (e.g. Saudi Arabia) that Hamas would find hard to brush away.
- In the Islamic arena, Israel could promote interreligious dialogue and cooperation with Islamic groups that, unlike Hamas, do not consider Israel’s existence a violation of Islamic law or principles. The southern branch of Israel’s own Islamic movement, members of which serve in Knesset, could perhaps be a relevant interlocutor. Its founder, Sheikh Nimr Darwish, supports the two-state solution and the Arab Peace Initiative. Rather than blocking all Islamist factions from activity on the Holy Esplanade, might publicly or tacitly granting a consultative role there for the southern branch lead to positive cooperation with Israel? Could Jordan’s or Egypt’s Grand Mufti be a relevant interlocutor on the esplanade’s management or on other issues? Are there potential partners in the non-Arab Islamic world? Palestinians, including the many varieties of Islamists among them, will need to establish their national movement’s positions toward Israel, but Israel could help shape this debate by encouraging engagement with Muslims not theologically opposed to its existence.
Taken together – ultimately combined, of course, with progress in negotiations toward a Palestinian state — these and other steps could help transform Hamas within a (likely non-militarized) State of Palestine, which, after its establishment, would collect and store Hamas’s weapons in internationally monitored depots within or outside its territory.
Netanyahu’s government is likely to muddle through, and eventually fight another round, rather than pursue any of these three options. But now is the time for Israelis to rethink. Hamas, with its regional position greatly weakened, might be open to considering new paths. With violence likely to increase, the recent kidnappings and murders should prod all seeking the well being of Israelis and Palestinians to re-visit long held assumptions in order to head off future tragedies .
ORIGINAL ARTICLE (Times of Israel)
Photo: Synne Tonidas/flickr

Israel’s Hamas Challenge: The Third Way | Ofer Zalzberg

Ofer Zalzberg is the senior Middle East analyst of the International Crisis Group’s Arab-Israeli project.

The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli yeshiva students — and the extensive Israeli military campaign against Hamas, members of which Israel presumes to have perpetrated the act – illustrate the urgency of revisiting Israel’s policy options toward the Islamist group. Largely ignored since the last outbreak of violence, the issue is today again on the public agenda. How should Israel deal with Hamas?

The three principles set out by the Quartet (the EU, US, UN and Russia) – that Hamas renounce violence, recognize Israel, and accept previous PLO agreements – are unlikely to prompt a reexamination within Hamas — not only because they are theologically unacceptable, but because the Islamist group believes the PLO’s acting in accordance with them failed to deliver anything meaningful to Palestinians. Hamas’s own proposal of a decades-long term hudna is considered a non-starter by Israel; not only would it not end the conflict, but it is conditioned on Israel accepting an array of impossible demands: Palestinian statehood based on the 1967 borders and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, without any land swaps and with unqualified choice for all Palestinian refugees whether to return to their original homes or villages.

PM Netanyahu’s most likely course of action is to seek a respite from violence through what he calls “quiet for quiet”. More ambitiously, there are two alternative approaches, advanced by members of his cabinet, that would seek to fundamentally transform the conflict with Hamas. The first, advocated by FM Avigdor Lieberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett — dubbed “Let the IDF Win” — is for the Israeli army to retake Gaza for a sustained period in order to “dismantle the terrorist infrastructure”. This would involve directly confronting Hamas militants, arresting the movement’s leadership, confiscating weapons, eliminating production capacities, closing down its associations and charities and either enthroning another Palestinian ruler or continuing direct Israeli military rule. PM Netanyahu and the Israeli defense establishment believe the costs of this option are too high.

The second approach, supported by self-defined centrists like Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, also in effect envisions Hamas’s ultimate disappearance from Palestinian life, by cooperating with those she identifies as moderates – such as Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas — while striking Hamas. The Palestinian public would then, the argument goes, come to see that the moderates as the only ones who can deliver. But to date, they have delivered little more than limited material-economic benefits, far less than necessary to defeat Hamas. What would be required to see whether this strategy could succeed are gains truly appreciated by their society – viable Palestinian statehood in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem – which would require that the Israeli government give up much more than it is willing to, certainly in advance of a final status agreement. Nor are Hamas’s roots and infrastructure – which are not physical or organizational but societal, religious and emotional – likely to disappear from a conservative society.

A third approach is needed. While protecting Israel’s civilian population militarily, Israel should try to catalyze Hamas’s ultimate transformation to an unarmed political party in a Palestinian state. For theological reasons, even in a best case scenario Hamas will remain at arm’s length from a final status agreement. So it should be brought to accept, post-facto, what others will have accepted for it explicitly and de jure.

This strategy could include the following three components.

- Israel could encourage Palestinians – for instance, by welcoming PLO reform – to establish a legal ratification mechanism for a final status agreement that would commit Hamas to abide by the majority’s decision even where it is not to the movement’s liking (for example, even should, hypothetically, the State of Palestine accepts the Quartet principles or recognizes Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people).

- Israel could reply positively to the Arab Peace Initiative, possibly with minor and negotiable reservations, to lay the basis for a peace agreement supported by Hamas’s sponsors (e.g. Qatar and Turkey), strategically critical neighbors (Egypt) and countries representing an important Islamic voice (e.g. Saudi Arabia) that Hamas would find hard to brush away.

- In the Islamic arena, Israel could promote interreligious dialogue and cooperation with Islamic groups that, unlike Hamas, do not consider Israel’s existence a violation of Islamic law or principles. The southern branch of Israel’s own Islamic movement, members of which serve in Knesset, could perhaps be a relevant interlocutor. Its founder, Sheikh Nimr Darwish, supports the two-state solution and the Arab Peace Initiative. Rather than blocking all Islamist factions from activity on the Holy Esplanade, might publicly or tacitly granting a consultative role there for the southern branch lead to positive cooperation with Israel? Could Jordan’s or Egypt’s Grand Mufti be a relevant interlocutor on the esplanade’s management or on other issues? Are there potential partners in the non-Arab Islamic world? Palestinians, including the many varieties of Islamists among them, will need to establish their national movement’s positions toward Israel, but Israel could help shape this debate by encouraging engagement with Muslims not theologically opposed to its existence.

Taken together – ultimately combined, of course, with progress in negotiations toward a Palestinian state — these and other steps could help transform Hamas within a (likely non-militarized) State of Palestine, which, after its establishment, would collect and store Hamas’s weapons in internationally monitored depots within or outside its territory.

Netanyahu’s government is likely to muddle through, and eventually fight another round, rather than pursue any of these three options. But now is the time for Israelis to rethink. Hamas, with its regional position greatly weakened, might be open to considering new paths. With violence likely to increase, the recent kidnappings and murders should prod all seeking the well being of Israelis and Palestinians to re-visit long held assumptions in order to head off future tragedies .

ORIGINAL ARTICLE (Times of Israel)

Photo: Synne Tonidas/flickr

20 Jun
Whose Palestine? | Nathan Thrall
For a moment in early June, it seemed to many Palestinians that their political leadership was on the verge of making a historic shift. On June 2, seven years of political division—between the unelected government in the West Bank dominated by Fatah, and the elected government in Gaza controlled by the Islamist party Hamas—formally came to an end. Hamas ministers in Gaza resigned, surrendering their authority to a new government of national consensus that would rule over both Gaza and the West Bank. More important, the new government pledged to adhere to the three principles long demanded by the US and its European allies as conditions for receiving vital Western aid: non-violence; adherence to past agreements; and recognition of Israel.
FULL ARTICLE (New York Review of Books)
Photo: Flickr/World Economic Forum

Whose Palestine? | Nathan Thrall

For a moment in early June, it seemed to many Palestinians that their political leadership was on the verge of making a historic shift. On June 2, seven years of political division—between the unelected government in the West Bank dominated by Fatah, and the elected government in Gaza controlled by the Islamist party Hamas—formally came to an end. Hamas ministers in Gaza resigned, surrendering their authority to a new government of national consensus that would rule over both Gaza and the West Bank. More important, the new government pledged to adhere to the three principles long demanded by the US and its European allies as conditions for receiving vital Western aid: non-violence; adherence to past agreements; and recognition of Israel.

FULL ARTICLE (New York Review of Books)

Photo: Flickr/World Economic Forum

26 Mar
The Next Round in Gaza
Middle East Report N°149 | 25 Mar 2014
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
The ceasefire between Israel and Gaza has eroded during the past several months and recently threatened to come to an abrupt end. The day after three members of Islamic Jihad were killed by Israel in a border clash on 11 March 2014, the group, apparently in coordination with Hamas, launched the largest salvo of rockets toward Israel since the last major escalation (known in Israel as Operation Pillar of Defence), in November 2012. In a little over a day’s mediation, Egypt restored quiet. But with Hamas’s fortunes declining and Gaza suffering its worst isolation and economic constriction in years, it is likely a matter of time until a flare-up escalates to major conflagration – unless the sides reach an understanding to extend a fragile quiet. Given Hamas’s isolation and worsening relations with Cairo, it is hard to imagine full implementation of the ceasefire Egypt brokered to end the 2012 fighting. But a rump deal, comprised of that ceasefire’s core elements, still could lessen the chance that Hamas and Israel will be dragged into a conflict neither currently desires, while helping both to secure advantages beyond the Gaza-Israel theatre.
Periodic escalations between Israel and Gaza militants are the rule, not the exception. Their shared border has witnessed regular, low-scale violence punctuated by short, intense escalations, typically when one or both sides feel the implicit rules of engagement have been undercut. Hamas and Israel have been headed toward such a clash since 3 July 2013, when Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was deposed, and Cairo, as part of its campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi-jihadis in Sinai, initiated a push to further isolate Gaza by closing the tunnels under its border with Egypt. Among Hamas’s limited tools for dealing with its downward spiral is directly participating in a military escalation in the hope that a new crisis would bring about at least temporary alleviation of the closure; call the world’s attention to the resultant economic distress; increase sympathy for the territory in Egypt and elsewhere; and embarrass Egypt’s leaders about their role in immiserating Gaza.
For the time being, Hamas has rejected this option, as it cannot afford a new round of hostilities. It is politically isolated and in severe economic distress. It can neither count on Egypt’s sympathies nor easily rearm during or after a future crisis. Hamas is hamstrung by the burdens of governance and by the fact that it would bear the brunt of any Israeli offensive. As a result, it chose a softer and less risky alternative this month: giving greater leeway to other factions that wish to attack Israel.
Islamic Jihad, with its massive retaliation for the killing of its militants, saw an opportunity to push to the forefront of the national struggle. In contrast with Hamas, it demonstrated continuing fidelity to the principle of resistance, and, by negotiating a ceasefire directly with Egypt, emerged from Hamas’s shadow, positioning itself as a regional player. Hamas too saw an advantage in the escalation: sending a message that Gaza would not remain passive in the face of isolation and misery.
Hamas leaders reasoned, accurately, that so long as they stayed out of the conflagration and the rocket fire was limited in distance and duration, a major operation would be avoided. Israel also calculated correctly, calibrating its pressure on Gaza so as to signal its seriousness to Hamas, but not strike it so hard as to provoke a much larger confrontation or threaten its control, to which Israel sees no desirable and realistic alternative. Such assessments are fraught with risk. Neither side currently wants a large-scale confrontation, and both hope to maintain or at least extend a fragile equilibrium, but the two major Israeli operations in the past six years, and numerous mini-escalations in between, demonstrate the likelihood of an eventual miscalculation.
If neither side wants to fight, neither do they intend to press for peace. Both are convinced the next round is coming, so will not take militarily disadvantageous steps. But while far from a robust ceasefire, they could unilaterally implement a more limited arrangement that satisfies core, short-terms needs. Gaza has three. What passes for normal life requires sufficient fuel, particularly diesel for electricity; building materials that enable economic activity and maintain basic infrastructure; and a reliably open Gaza-Egypt crossing at Rafah, for entry and egress of persons (goods are provided by Israel). For Israel, the key is stopping rockets. Neither side can get all it wants: Gazans likely will continue to find the border area off limits, fishing zones constricted and, most important, imports restricted and exports blocked – as they have been, increasingly, since the second intifada. Israel, under any scenario except an unlikely Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, cannot completely stop rockets that have been falling on its territory for nearly as long. However, both sides can regain what they in the past have demonstrated a willingness to live with.
A realistic assessment requires acknowledging that military operations will continue on both sides. The question, for now, is how to keep these within relatively narrow bounds, thus saving lives and creating space for dealing with broader political issues. The more Hamas can provide a semblance of Gaza’s basic needs, the better it will be able to enforce a political consensus among the factions to stop the vast majority of rockets and halt entirely the firing of those with the longest ranges and heaviest payloads. Its police can handle much of the rest, though they cannot prevent every freelancer attempting an attack without factional approval.
Meanwhile, Palestinians, Israelis and the international community can lay the groundwork for Palestinian reconciliation and rebuild the fundamentals of a peace process in which both sides have long since lost hope. More broadly, what is good for Gaza, and even Hamas, could turn out to be good as well for Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. With the U.S. looking to extend Israeli-Palestinian negotiations past April, Abbas could demand steps to ease Gaza’s closure and improve its economy as a condition. That would improve his standing in Gaza, especially important now that his detractors within Fatah, particularly those from Gaza, are openly campaigning against him. Israel, should it accept Abbas’s demands, could earn credit for taking action that reduces the risk of a new escalation, while lowering the other costs it might have to pay to extend talks.
In all things Israeli-Palestinian, even modest goals are highly ambitious, and in Gaza, doubly so. Within a fluid and evolving region, Gaza is a venue where various states and actors play out their allegiances and rivalries, including Salafis of several stripes; Egypt; the Muslim Brotherhood in the form of its local affiliate, Hamas; Iran; Hizbollah; the Gulf states; and claimants to power within Fatah. It is a central impediment to a more durable ceasefire agreement that while neither Israel nor Hamas now has what it wants, both have what matters most to them in the short term. Israel has a ceasefire, albeit imperfectly upheld; Hamas has control of Gaza, even if under difficult conditions. Neither wishes to give even a little more for what it already has. But if they do not, both could lose what they now possess.
Jerusalem/Gaza City/Brussels, 25 March 2014
FULL REPORT
Photo: amillionwaystob/flickr

The Next Round in Gaza

Middle East Report N°149 | 25 Mar 2014

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The ceasefire between Israel and Gaza has eroded during the past several months and recently threatened to come to an abrupt end. The day after three members of Islamic Jihad were killed by Israel in a border clash on 11 March 2014, the group, apparently in coordination with Hamas, launched the largest salvo of rockets toward Israel since the last major escalation (known in Israel as Operation Pillar of Defence), in November 2012. In a little over a day’s mediation, Egypt restored quiet. But with Hamas’s fortunes declining and Gaza suffering its worst isolation and economic constriction in years, it is likely a matter of time until a flare-up escalates to major conflagration – unless the sides reach an understanding to extend a fragile quiet. Given Hamas’s isolation and worsening relations with Cairo, it is hard to imagine full implementation of the ceasefire Egypt brokered to end the 2012 fighting. But a rump deal, comprised of that ceasefire’s core elements, still could lessen the chance that Hamas and Israel will be dragged into a conflict neither currently desires, while helping both to secure advantages beyond the Gaza-Israel theatre.

Periodic escalations between Israel and Gaza militants are the rule, not the exception. Their shared border has witnessed regular, low-scale violence punctuated by short, intense escalations, typically when one or both sides feel the implicit rules of engagement have been undercut. Hamas and Israel have been headed toward such a clash since 3 July 2013, when Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was deposed, and Cairo, as part of its campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi-jihadis in Sinai, initiated a push to further isolate Gaza by closing the tunnels under its border with Egypt. Among Hamas’s limited tools for dealing with its downward spiral is directly participating in a military escalation in the hope that a new crisis would bring about at least temporary alleviation of the closure; call the world’s attention to the resultant economic distress; increase sympathy for the territory in Egypt and elsewhere; and embarrass Egypt’s leaders about their role in immiserating Gaza.

For the time being, Hamas has rejected this option, as it cannot afford a new round of hostilities. It is politically isolated and in severe economic distress. It can neither count on Egypt’s sympathies nor easily rearm during or after a future crisis. Hamas is hamstrung by the burdens of governance and by the fact that it would bear the brunt of any Israeli offensive. As a result, it chose a softer and less risky alternative this month: giving greater leeway to other factions that wish to attack Israel.

Islamic Jihad, with its massive retaliation for the killing of its militants, saw an opportunity to push to the forefront of the national struggle. In contrast with Hamas, it demonstrated continuing fidelity to the principle of resistance, and, by negotiating a ceasefire directly with Egypt, emerged from Hamas’s shadow, positioning itself as a regional player. Hamas too saw an advantage in the escalation: sending a message that Gaza would not remain passive in the face of isolation and misery.

Hamas leaders reasoned, accurately, that so long as they stayed out of the conflagration and the rocket fire was limited in distance and duration, a major operation would be avoided. Israel also calculated correctly, calibrating its pressure on Gaza so as to signal its seriousness to Hamas, but not strike it so hard as to provoke a much larger confrontation or threaten its control, to which Israel sees no desirable and realistic alternative. Such assessments are fraught with risk. Neither side currently wants a large-scale confrontation, and both hope to maintain or at least extend a fragile equilibrium, but the two major Israeli operations in the past six years, and numerous mini-escalations in between, demonstrate the likelihood of an eventual miscalculation.

If neither side wants to fight, neither do they intend to press for peace. Both are convinced the next round is coming, so will not take militarily disadvantageous steps. But while far from a robust ceasefire, they could unilaterally implement a more limited arrangement that satisfies core, short-terms needs. Gaza has three. What passes for normal life requires sufficient fuel, particularly diesel for electricity; building materials that enable economic activity and maintain basic infrastructure; and a reliably open Gaza-Egypt crossing at Rafah, for entry and egress of persons (goods are provided by Israel). For Israel, the key is stopping rockets. Neither side can get all it wants: Gazans likely will continue to find the border area off limits, fishing zones constricted and, most important, imports restricted and exports blocked – as they have been, increasingly, since the second intifada. Israel, under any scenario except an unlikely Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, cannot completely stop rockets that have been falling on its territory for nearly as long. However, both sides can regain what they in the past have demonstrated a willingness to live with.

A realistic assessment requires acknowledging that military operations will continue on both sides. The question, for now, is how to keep these within relatively narrow bounds, thus saving lives and creating space for dealing with broader political issues. The more Hamas can provide a semblance of Gaza’s basic needs, the better it will be able to enforce a political consensus among the factions to stop the vast majority of rockets and halt entirely the firing of those with the longest ranges and heaviest payloads. Its police can handle much of the rest, though they cannot prevent every freelancer attempting an attack without factional approval.

Meanwhile, Palestinians, Israelis and the international community can lay the groundwork for Palestinian reconciliation and rebuild the fundamentals of a peace process in which both sides have long since lost hope. More broadly, what is good for Gaza, and even Hamas, could turn out to be good as well for Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. With the U.S. looking to extend Israeli-Palestinian negotiations past April, Abbas could demand steps to ease Gaza’s closure and improve its economy as a condition. That would improve his standing in Gaza, especially important now that his detractors within Fatah, particularly those from Gaza, are openly campaigning against him. Israel, should it accept Abbas’s demands, could earn credit for taking action that reduces the risk of a new escalation, while lowering the other costs it might have to pay to extend talks.

In all things Israeli-Palestinian, even modest goals are highly ambitious, and in Gaza, doubly so. Within a fluid and evolving region, Gaza is a venue where various states and actors play out their allegiances and rivalries, including Salafis of several stripes; Egypt; the Muslim Brotherhood in the form of its local affiliate, Hamas; Iran; Hizbollah; the Gulf states; and claimants to power within Fatah. It is a central impediment to a more durable ceasefire agreement that while neither Israel nor Hamas now has what it wants, both have what matters most to them in the short term. Israel has a ceasefire, albeit imperfectly upheld; Hamas has control of Gaza, even if under difficult conditions. Neither wishes to give even a little more for what it already has. But if they do not, both could lose what they now possess.

Jerusalem/Gaza City/Brussels, 25 March 2014

FULL REPORT

Photo: amillionwaystob/flickr

18 Feb
Palestinians in Gaza Strip resent being left out of peace talks | Kate Linthicum
Like many Palestinians, Marwan Hissi has closely followed reports of peace negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
An unemployed father of five living in a refugee community in the Gaza Strip, Hissi says he has a question for American negotiators leading the talks: “Where’s Hamas?”
The Islamic militant movement, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, has been excluded from the process as U.S. officials work out a preliminary agreement on key issues in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel, the United States and the European Union refuse to engage with Hamas, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and which they consider a terrorist group.
While all eyes are trained on Netanyahu and Abbas as U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry prepares to present a deal, the issue of Hamas, which could make or break the implementation of any agreement, looms uncomfortably in the background.
FULL ARTICLE (L.A. Times)
Photo: J McDowell/flickr

Palestinians in Gaza Strip resent being left out of peace talks | Kate Linthicum

Like many Palestinians, Marwan Hissi has closely followed reports of peace negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

An unemployed father of five living in a refugee community in the Gaza Strip, Hissi says he has a question for American negotiators leading the talks: “Where’s Hamas?”

The Islamic militant movement, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, has been excluded from the process as U.S. officials work out a preliminary agreement on key issues in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel, the United States and the European Union refuse to engage with Hamas, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and which they consider a terrorist group.

While all eyes are trained on Netanyahu and Abbas as U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry prepares to present a deal, the issue of Hamas, which could make or break the implementation of any agreement, looms uncomfortably in the background.

FULL ARTICLE (L.A. Times)

Photo: J McDowell/flickr

2 Dec
U.S. Challenges in a Changed Middle East | Council on Foreign Relations
by Bernard Gwertzman
The events in the Middle East continue to rapidly unfold, providing difficulties for U.S. policy in the region, whether it is the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine, the rise of Islamists, the conflict in Syria, or tensions with Iran. Middle East expert Robert Malley says, “With Islamists in power in Egypt, with Hamas more powerful than it was the last time it was at war with Israel [2008-09], the United States is trying to figure out its place in a region that is no longer the one it was accustomed to.” And in Syria, although a negotiated end to Bashar al-Assad’s regime is preferable, “unfortunately, it almost certainly is not the most likely” way the conflict will end. He says the United States is conflicted over accepting Egyptian help in ending the recent Israel-Hamas attacks while it is also uncomfortable with the domestic policies of the Muslim Brotherhood.
FULL ARTICLE (Council on Foreign Relations)
Photo: Talk Radio News Service/Flickr

U.S. Challenges in a Changed Middle East | Council on Foreign Relations

by Bernard Gwertzman

The events in the Middle East continue to rapidly unfold, providing difficulties for U.S. policy in the region, whether it is the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine, the rise of Islamists, the conflict in Syria, or tensions with Iran. Middle East expert Robert Malley says, “With Islamists in power in Egypt, with Hamas more powerful than it was the last time it was at war with Israel [2008-09], the United States is trying to figure out its place in a region that is no longer the one it was accustomed to.” And in Syria, although a negotiated end to Bashar al-Assad’s regime is preferable, “unfortunately, it almost certainly is not the most likely” way the conflict will end. He says the United States is conflicted over accepting Egyptian help in ending the recent Israel-Hamas attacks while it is also uncomfortable with the domestic policies of the Muslim Brotherhood.

FULL ARTICLE (Council on Foreign Relations)

Photo: Talk Radio News Service/Flickr