Over the past several weeks, there has been an increase in the tension along the Israeli border with Gaza. There have been drone attacks, aerial reprisals, kite flights, rocket attacks, interceptions, and retaliatory responses. These incidents have produced casualties on both sides. Despite some saber rattling on both sides, however, no war appears to be imminent.
This is due to several reasons. The Hamas forces do not appear prepared for an actual confrontation and the Israelis public is not anxious to undertake another no-win war in Gaza. There, however, are much more curious diplomatic and strategic policy maneuverings which are transpiring between the belligerents as well as with the apparent participation of Egypt, the Gulf States, and the U.S.
It has been disclosed that Israeli-Hamas contacts have been on-going for a while with Egyptian Government representatives serving as the conveners. It is not at all clear as to the character of the talks or their goals; but after years of combat this appears to be the first on-going set of meetings between these two enemies. In addition, much to the great annoyance of Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority these talks appear to have moved beyond merely social interaction.
The Hamas leadership sees these talks as potentially leading to possible de-escalation of the border with Israel, a possible incentive for economic development, as well as a possibly peaceful way to wrest the leadership of all the Palestinian people from the PA. Egypt considers Israel as a non-belligerent neighbor and views violent Hamas activity detrimental to Egypt as well as Israel. For Israel, peaceful fences can “make good neighbors.”
Some observers consider the entire process of Hamas-Israel talks dangerous for Israel. Much blood has been shed in confrontations in Gaza and along the border with Hamas. Many Israelis view this current interaction as leading to an ultimate confrontation between the PA and Hamas with Israel and Israelis caught in the middle of a civil war.
It is also unclear what precisely is behind Israel’s willingness to engage in this dialogue. Netanyahu’s decision to permit these talks to even occur is very curious. On the hopeful side the talks could produce a movement towards peaceful relations along the Gaza border. Some suggest that it has been part of Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan proposal that Kushner and Greenblatt are pushing. It is also viewed as an rebuff to Iranian notions to gain a greater foothold in Gaza.
The nature of Israel’s parliamentary system of Government depends on a Government being formed by a coalition of parties. If these talks proceed and one of the more extreme right-wing parties of the coalition were to vote to renege on a deal with Hamas, it potentially could cause Bibi’s Government to fall.
More cynical heads suggest that Netanyahu is participating in these discussions as a gesture to the U.S. as well as to Egypt and the Gulf States. Bibi very much wants to have the smaller parties to do his dirty work and bloc any agreement with Hamas. This way Netanyahu can keep his hands clean.
Finally, this entire effort could be for naught. Israel and Hamas as well as Egypt could end up in a much more serious confrontation, with the PA re-emerging—perhaps with new leadership—to carry the torch for the Palestinians.