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15 November 2018

Gaza's balance of terror

By: Daoud Kuttab
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The latest ceasefire in Gaza appears to be holding, even though Gazans and Israelis were unable to get sleep on the night of November 12, when Israeli planes shelled hundreds of Palestinian targets, destroying a hotel, a TV station and various homes and institutions. Hamas for its part, along with other factions, was able to respond powerfully, hitting south Israel with hundreds of rockets. In one incident, Palestinians waited Israeli soldiers to descend from a bus near the borders before shelling it. The scene was captured on video and was a clear indication that Hamas was more interested in sending a message of deterrence than killing Israeli soldiers.

The latest cycle of violence began when an Israeli undercover operation, deep in Palestinian territory, was intercepted by Palestinian fighters. The operation included Israeli soldiers dressed as women as they targeted a senior Hamas official. The result was the killing of a senior Israeli officer and the injury of another, while seven Palestinians were killed in the ensuing Israeli retaliation as the army tried to extract its undercover agents.
The failed Israeli operation resulted in a barrage of Palestinian rocket attacks which were countered by the Israeli targets. Many media outlets failed to mention what started the cycle, stressing the hundreds of Palestinian rockets. Some Western media included the biased headline of Israeli soldier killed and seven Palestinians died, as if Palestinians had a heart attack or died of food poisoning!
The barrage of Palestinian rockets was too much for the so-called Israeli Iron Dome to handle and as a result most were not intercepted, leaving this expensive military battery unable to stop the large number of rockets shot at the same time.
The bottom line in what happened in the span of 48 hours is clear. Israel and its powerful army cannot stop or deter a stubborn Palestinian foe from shaking an entire population. The fact that few Israelis were killed was not a coincidence and did not pass unnoticed. What Palestinians wanted to do is clear, they were trying to emulate the success of Hizbollah in the north, which has succeeded in deterring Israel by creating a balance of terror. The norther Israeli border has been quiet for years because of Israelis’ knowledge that the Lebanese Hizbollah can shake with its rockets most of northern Israel.

This hard-fought ceasefire will most certainly hold for a short while. But as most experts know, ceasefires can only last a long time if the political needs of the warring parties are met. This means that a political solution is needed and not just a military one. Israel can be an extremely powerful country but if it wants its citizens to sleep well at night, it is now obliged to make sure that Palestinians have the basics of a normal life.

Palestinians in Gaza can hold off their rockets if they are assured that they can live a normal life and be able to move people and goods without direct restrictions by the Israelis in the form of the decades-long siege that has crippled the Gaza Strip and turned its population into economic deprivation. This also means that Israel needs to understand that its policy of separating Gaza from the West Bank and demanding that Egypt keeps its borders closed with Gaza cannot go on indefinitely.
Hamas might believe that it has come out of the latest cycle of violence as the winner, but a long-term victory will continue eluding if it was unable to find a solution to its internal problems with its brethren in Ramallah.
Obviously, any long-term solution needs to involve the Palestinian government in Ramallah, which has been embroiled in a long-term internal struggle with Hamas. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his government insist on total control of Gaza if they are to return to governing the strip. Hamas is willing to give up some administrative powers but insists on retaining its security status, which it says it need to keep Israel off its back.
The latest round of violence has produced some unsavoury conclusions. It has proved, once again, that peace cannot be reached unless the Israelis feel the pressure from a security point of view. By accepting a ceasefire with Hamas, the Israelis are once again proving that might is right and not that right is might. They are disproving the path of negotiations and non-violence and are encouraging Palestinians to use force as a means of attaining their legitimate rights. Gaza may have shown that what works is the balance of terror. This is not a good omen for those who believe in non-violence and peace through negotiations. That is a sad outcome.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net

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