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March 18, 2019 8:58 am

Israel’s Intensifying Dilemma Vis-à-Vis the Gaza Strip

avatar by Gershon Hacohen


Palestinians protest against Hamas in Gaza. Photo: Twitter Screenshot / Israeli Prime Minister’s Arab Media Spokesman.

JNS – It is too soon to assess the potential of the demonstrations in the Gaza Strip over the past few days to take a sharp turn. Even without knowing how things might develop, it’s clear to everyone that as of now, the extent of the demonstrations and the civilians’ daring indicate the cumulative distress of the population in Gaza.

Eight years after the initial shock of the Arab Spring,  the Hamas government in Gaza understands the potential threat that could turn into an actual one as the rage among the public increases.

As of now, even if the fury of the Gazans isn’t leading towards a direct threat to Hamas rule in Gaza, it certainly demands that the Hamas leadership recognize that it must find a solution, even a symbolic one, for the mass distress.

From that perspective, recent events can shed new light on the various considerations that come to bear on the Israeli government’s measured military responses to provocations from Gaza.

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Over the past year, in deciding on policy and actions regarding Gaza, Israel has had to grapple with the basic question of whether a war to defeat the Hamas regime in Gaza is in its own interests.

Events of recent days have added another aspect to the deliberations. When he was defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman repeatedly explained that Israel should bide its time until the people of Gaza rose up against Hamas, which is responsible for their hardships.

Now, as we see the first glimpses of mass popular protests, Israel’s dilemma is thrown into sharp relief: should it continue the money transfers to the Hamas government, thus helping it secure its rule there, or do the opposite — block the transfer of funds, hoping that the popular distress will cause the situation to shift in Israel’s favor?

At this strategic watershed moment, the policy that has apparently guided the Netanyahu government for the past decade—the view that it is in Israel’s interest for Hamas to remain in control in Gaza — becomes clearer.

The choice not to take decisive action against Hamas, which played out in Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014 and in all the major decisions the Israeli government has made this past year, apparently stems from a concrete strategic approach.

As 40 years is being marked since Israel and Egypt made peace, it’s worth remembering that then-President of Egypt Anwar Sadat was politically savvy enough to leave the Gaza Strip in Israel’s hands. The burden of finding a solution to the Palestinian problem in Gaza, as well as in Judea and Samaria, became Israel’s alone to bear.

The cutoff between Gaza and Ramallah that the terrorist group Hamas initiated also worked to Israel’s benefit. For now, it gives Hamas a kind of immunity, but in the long term, it will allow Israel to reach a better arrangement for the region.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen is a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

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