Gaza Will Remain a Powder Keg, Qatari Cash or Not
Three months after the end of the May conflict between Israel and Hamas, it appears as if the Egyptian-mediated talks between the two sides are moving in an extremely limited manner toward the goal of reaching a post-conflict arrangement to stabilize the ceasefire and reach a long-term calm. Qatar and the United Nations are also involved in mediation efforts.
There appears to have been some progress toward finding a solution on how to inject Qatari financial assistance for the needy, with a mechanism enabling $10 million dollars to reach 100,000 families per month.
Egyptian General Intelligence Service chief Abbas Kamel recently met with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to push this initiative toward completion.
However, the remainder of the arrangement designed to boost Gaza’s recovery and decrease tensions hinges on the completion of a deal in which Hamas releases the remains of two IDF soldiers killed in the 2014 war with Israel, and two Israeli civilians who crossed into Gaza in recent years. On that front, it appears as if there is no concrete progress.
Even the issue that does appear to be making some progress, the Qatari assistance, has seen deep divisions between Hamas and Israel. Israel, fearing the money would reach Hamas’ military wing, called for the cash to be transferred to the families through the UN’s food assistance program to Gaza. Hamas rejected this call. A workaround solution appears to have been found, involving the allocation of special debit-type cards to the families, who can then withdraw the money from Gazan cash machines. Under this proposal, the money would be transferred under UN supervision.
Israel has insisted on strict supervision of this money to ensure it goes to needy families alone, and that the list of recipients does not include Hamas members, or other terror operatives.
In recent weeks, banks located in the West Bank rejected a proposal to get them involved in the Qatari cash’ transfers, fearing that this would expose them to legal action over terror financing violations.
Hamas, for its part, gave up on its earlier demand to be the one that allocates the assistance funds. The new mechanism, if finalized, would see an end to past practices of suitcases full of cash entering Gaza, carried by Qatar’s special envoy to the Strip.
Hamas is keen to reach an arrangement on this money as soon as possible, and to this end, it green lighted the release of arson balloons toward Israeli communities near Gaza in recent weeks, while threatening to repeat this action if progress remains stuck — an action that could quickly lead to an escalation.
As part of Israel’s attempts to prevent a new escalation, it recently authorized the entry of 1,000 Gazan merchants and 350 business people into Israel.
The Strip’s factions, however, agreed to restart open demonstrations against Israel along the border starting on August 21. This decision appears aimed at sending an immediate and unequivocal message — particularly to the Egyptian mediators — to fast-track progress on the Hamas-Israel arrangement.
An additional signal was sent by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) during meetings held between their leaders – Ismail Haniyeh and Ziad Nakhaleh – and the new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. The meeting symbolizes the positioning of Hamas firmly within the Iranian camp, with PIJ already being a well-established Iranian proxy.
Additional issues that appear no closer to resolution include salary payments for 30,000 Hamas government employees — officials appointed by Hamas after its violent takeover of Gaza in 2007. These officials are not recognized by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank, and Hamas fears that the PA could drag its feet over sending money for them.
Other central issues that the sides seem very far apart on include the critical question of a deal that would see Israel release security prisoners in exchange for the release by Hamas of its captive civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham Al-Sayed, and the remains of its MIA personnel, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul. Hamas has resolutely rejected Israel’s attempts to link financial assistance to Gaza with progress to a deal for their release, or the attempt to link an increased flow of goods into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom Crossing to progress on such a deal.
Hamas insists on separating the issues; Israel rejects that approach completely. This disagreement is blocking progress on the core pillars of any future arrangement.
Meanwhile, Hamas’ leaders are using the conflict with Israel to beef up their internal political credentials. Yahya Sinwar, who was voted in March 2021 to a second term as head of Hamas’ political bureau in Gaza in internal Hamas elections, has tightened his political grip on power in the Strip following the May conflict. Sinwar accomplished this despite a narrow win in the March elections, which led to previous questions about his power and support within Hamas.
Saleh Al-Arouri, who is the head of Hamas’ activities in the West Bank but is based in Lebanon, and who is also the deputy of Ismael Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ overall political bureau, is working to destabilize the West Bank through terror cell activity.
At home in Gaza, Hamas faces no opposition to its regime. Despite its highly problematic track record and lack of tangible achievements in civilian matters, and despite Gaza’s distressing figures in the employment, health, and education sectors, Hamas’ position as the regime is assured. Its security control of the Strip is unchallenged, and its rival, the Fatah movement, is almost totally restricted and inactive in Gaza.
Still, it appears as if many Gazan civilians are suspicious and distrustful of Hamas’ messaging — just as they are of Israel’s messages. Some Gazans even suspect that Hamas and Israel exist in a state of undeclared “harmony,” with undeclared coordination between them.
In actuality, Hamas and its supporters hold an extreme and uncompromising position toward Israel, are genuinely dogmatic, and claim to be marching on a path of “divine victory” over Israel.
As a result, it is possible to assess with a high degree of confidence that even if partial agreements are reached between Hamas and Israel, Gaza’s problems will not vanish from the daily agenda, but instead will remain as fixed, disturbing issues, and that they will continue to act as trigger points leading to potential security escalations with Israel.
Col. David Hacham is a publishing Expert at The MirYam Institute. David served for 30 years in various intelligence and political-strategic positions in the IDF, including eight years in the Gaza Strip as advisor for Arab affairs to successive commanders of the Southern Command and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.
The MirYam Institute is the leading international forum for Israel focused discussion, dialogue, and debate, focused on campus presentations, engagement with international legislators, and gold-standard trips to the State of Israel. Follow their work at www.MirYamInstitute.org.