“We want to live” is the rallying call that has mobilized thousands of young Gazans against the Hamas regime on an unprecedented scale. These youngsters have lost their trust and patience. They do not believe that rockets, balloons, incendiary kites, and mass demonstrations near the border fence with Israel will change their lives. Interestingly, as soon as Hamas reaches an understanding with Israel, internal protests in Gaza erupt in full force. Cash infusions from Qatar through Ben-Gurion Airport and the Erez checkpoint injected directly into their coffers, damages Hamas’s prestige and credibility in the eyes of the impoverished residents of the Gaza Strip. Former Defense Minister Lieberman resigned in protest against what he calls “protection money” paid by Israel to Hamas in exchange for quiet in the border with Gaza while this cash flow is seen by the Gazans as bartering the so-called armed resistance for a suitcase full of dollars. Rockets lobbed into Israel are not aimed at solving the troubles of Gaza residents, but rather to finance Hamas’ security forces.
In a post shared on the “We want to live” Facebook page under the heading, “Abbas and Hamas tighten the noose,” young Gazans state that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are equally responsible for what is happening in Gaza. According to them, Abu Mazen’s decision to slash salaries of PA officials in Gaza forces Hamas to impose new taxes. When Israel shuts the tap and Abu Mazen withholds funds destined for Gaza, then Hamas receives millions in return for quiet. When Hamas raises taxes, Gaza explodes. Just as the First Intifada, which broke out in 1988, put an end to the concept of “enlightened occupation,” the current civil revolt in Gaza ends the “armed resistance” charade. Hamas militiamen arrest, beat, shoot and torture young Gazans who dare to demonstrate. They are charged with being lackeys of Abu Mazen and his henchmen. The clerics give the religious seal of approval by calling them infidels whose ‘blood may be shed.’
Rockets ‘mistakenly’ fired on Tel Aviv on March 14 were Hamas’ first signal that the situation in Gaza was getting out of hand. The Israeli army dropped several bombs on ‘selected’ buildings, and rushed to accept the Hamas version that the rockets were fired because of a mishap. On Monday, March 25, a house in Moshav Mishmeret took a direct hit from another ‘mistakenly’ fired rocket. Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Netanyahu shortened his visit to the US and urgently returned to Israel. He went directly to the Ministry of Defense for consultations and television channels went into ‘war mode.’ The Tel Aviv municipality opened shelters and reserve army units were called up. While the right wind called to pound Gaza, the left wing shouted slogans against the war, the air force bombed the headquarters of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, Egyptian mediators went into high gear, and an undeclared ceasefire went into effect, until the next round.
What lessons can be drawn from the war that did not take place? None at all. No conclusions and no solutions. The catchwords “Israel and Hamas are not interested in war,” “We are not interested in conquering Gaza,” “Quiet will be answered by quiet,” “We are not going to fight Hamas on behalf of Mahmoud Abbas’ and ” perhaps the most egregious one, “We are not interested in toppling the Hamas regime” are resonating. And therein lies the rub. Israel justifies the siege by saying that turning the screws on Gaza would lead to the overthrow of the Hamas leadership from with-in. Now that the siege is seemingly bearing fruit, there is no detecting any Israeli desire to get rid of Hamas. The Israeli and Hamas parody that missiles that fell in Tel Aviv were ‘mistakes’ stems from the mutual understanding that protests against new taxes endanger not only Hamas, but constitute an immediate and tangible danger to Israel. The possible fall of the Hamas regime in the wake of a large-scale civil revolt whose slogan “We want to live” presents Israel with the dilemma – what to do with the humanitarian disaster that is turning life in Gaza into hell.
The right wing strategy is not to conquer Gaza and not to topple Hamas. Why? First, the separation between the West Bank and Gaza, and the bitter conflict between the two Palestinian factions plays into Israel’s hands and absolves it of having to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Second, Israel has no alternative to Hamas. What then does Israel want to do? Tame Hamas, lure it with dollars, build a seaport, ease the blockade, and invest in infrastructure, all with Egyptian mediation and Qatari money. And this strategy almost succeeded, the Egyptian mediation paper was drafted, and all that is required was the signing. However, the hard-earned success buried a small detail – the fate of the Gazans themselves.
Hamas, like Abu Mazen’s PA, is not built to run a proper state. We know how Bouteflika stayed in power in Algeria, Al-Sisi in Egypt, and Assad in Syria – jobs and money to cronies, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and oppression for the rest. However, Hamas is in a ‘Catch 22.’ Once Hamas achieves normalcy and gives up the ‘resistance,’ its continued rule and dictatorship is superfluous. Thus, the ruling Right’s strategy leads us to a dead-end. The opposition Center is more of the same, i.e. Netanyahu’s hard-handed policies plus protection of Jewish communities near Gaza. The Left favors lifting the siege and negotiating with Hamas while ignoring the fact that Hamas “will not recognize” Israel.
Meanwhile, the situation in Gaza is getting worse, and civil insurrection gains momentum as Hamas and Abu Mazen continue to impose economic hardships to maintain their rule. It may be possible to live without electricity, drinking water, work, medical treatment, and decent housing as long as there is hope that somehow the situation will change, and the gates of hell (the Israeli blockade) will open. However, when hope is exhausted and suffering is unbearable, people go to the street demanding, “We want to live.” It is possible that further missile ‘mistakes’ will repeat themselves whenever desperate young people rise up against the Hamas regime, the latter desperate to prove combative . Then we return to the same vicious circle: rockets are launched, the army attacks Gaza, thousands of Gazans and hundreds of Israelis are fatalities, and the status quo returns, if not worse.
No doubt the 2005 unilateral disengagement from Gaza worsened the situation. Not only did Israel fail to wash its hands of Gaza, but also Hamas was strengthened. This organization cannot be a true partner for negotiations because all its raison d’étre is “resistance.” It lacks the makeup to function as a normal civil state. Israel’s misguided military blockade led to a humanitarian disaster in Gaza. The Israeli assumption that separating Gaza from the West Bank is to its advantage only further complicated the situation. The two remaining weak authorities, Fatah and Hamas, are heading to an explosion that might lead to an end of one or the other, or both.
The only way to prevent an unprecedented humanitarian disaster is to lift the siege of Gaza, and this cannot be achieved in isolation from a solution in the West Bank. The no-solution argument stems from a denial of reality. What is taking place before our eyes does not allow for separation, unilateral withdrawal, or the establishment of two states. Israel will have to get used to the idea that the only way for the two peoples to live a normal life is by collaborating with the Palestinians in all spheres of life: a shared land with a common infrastructure, economy, and environment. All these in the framework of a joint democratic political framework. It may take a long time, a lot of suffering and several rounds of violence until this idea is accepted.