After the Hamas-Israel ceasefire
May 21, 2021 | AIJAC staff
Update from AIJAC
After 11 days of fighting, a Hamas-Israel ceasefire was declared last night, thanks to US and Egyptian mediation, and appears to be holding. For some key lessons from this conflict, see “5 things we have learned after 11 days of fighting” by AIJAC’s Naomi Levin.
Given this is the fourth round of conflict between Israel and Hamas-ruled Gaza since 2008, this Update focuses on analysis and opinion concerning what can and should be done in the aftermath of the ceasefire to prevent yet another round of violence in a few years’ time. (The articles below were all written before the actual ceasefire came into effect, but nonetheless offer good advice about what should be done now).
We lead with analysis from American foreign policy reporter Eli Lake, who argues that a ceasefire will just be a prelude to another war if Hamas is simply allowed to rearm as if nothing has happened. He notes that Israel is unwilling to pay the price of overthrowing Hamas, so US policy must recognise that only Palestinians can do so. The answer he says, must be an insistence on democratic accountability for Palestinian leaders – and despite the recently “postponed” Palestinian elections, ultimately such elections must be the goal, perhaps after ageing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas leaves the political scene. For this complete argument, CLICK HERE.
Next up are two experts from the Washington Insititute for Near East Policy, David Makovksy and Dennis Ross, both veteran peace negotiators. They explain at some length what motivated Hamas to start the current war, before concluding that a ceasefire must be only the first step to a larger policy to deal with the Hamas/Gaza problem. The core policy strategy they set out is to offer a massive international effort to rebuild Gaza – but make it clear it is not on the table unless Hamas is disarmed, because otherwise anything built will just be destroyed next time Hamas provokes a war. For the policy prescriptions of these two experienced diplomatic veterans, CLICK HERE. Dennis Ross had an additional piece on US policy toward Gaza and Israeli-Palestinian issues post-conflict here.
Finally, we offer a plea to his fellow Palestinians from Jerusalem-based Palestinian human rights campaigner Bassem Eid, attempting to expose what Hamas is doing to Palestinians. He calls on them to stop believing Hamas lies and misinformation, and recognise that Hamas is a key source of Palestinian suffering – through mismanagement as well as provoking pointless wars. He warns that Hamas will steal any compensation or reconstruction aid given to Gaza, as it has in the past. For his message about the danger to Palestinians of continuing to empower or fund Hamas, CLICK HERE. Another good piece by Eid on the real causes of the conflict is here.
Readers may also be interested in…
- Another good discussion of what the Biden Administration should do after a ceasefire from Palestinian politics expert Ghaith al-Omari of the Washington Institute.
- Two valuable pieces from New York Times columnist Bret Stephens: One arguing Israel routing Hamas is essential to future peace hopes, and another on what would happen “If the Left Got Its Wish for Israel.“
- Times of Israel editor David Horovitz arguing Israel needs a clearer long-term strategy for ending the Hamas threat from Gaza.
- Haviv Rettig Gur on the relationship between the latest Hamas-initiated war and themuch larger threat to Israel from Hezbollah in Lebanon.
- Israeli academic Eyal Zisser on how the reaction to this conflict showed “Even the Arab world is tired of Hamas.”
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- AIJAC’s media release on the ceasefire.
- Allon Lee and Ahron Shapiro’s debunking of media myths spread during the conflict.
- Oved Lobel and Tzvi Fleischer on the Palestinian victims of Hamas’ missiles.
- Colin Rubenstein on “The folly of ‘even-handedness’ in the Hamas-Israel conflict”, published in the Canberra Times.
- Jamie Hyams on the provocation and retaliation at the heart of the Gaza war, from the Daily Telegraph.
- Oved Lobel arguing the Afghanistan withdrawal will increase the terror threat to Australia, in the ASPI Strategist.
A Cease-Fire Is Not Enough When It Comes to Hamas
The U.S. and its allies need to help Palestinians improve their elections and civil society.
By Eli Lake
Bloomberg, 20 May 2021, 08:00 GMT+10
Hamas fighters parade in Gaza: Israel is not going to overthrow Hamas – but diplomats must recognise that only the end of Hamas rule offers any hope of dignity and prosperity to its residents (Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib / Shutterstock.com).
Since war broke out in Israel last week, President Joe Biden has walked a fine line. His administration has touted its high-level diplomacy in hopes of reaching a cease-fire, while also defending Israel’s right to defend itself.
On Wednesday, the president mildly increased the pressure on the Israelis, saying he expected to see de-escalation in the next 24 hours. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded that he has no intention of stopping the operations against Hamas for now.
A cease-fire of sorts is of course inevitable. It’s how the last three wars between Hamas and Israel have ended. But the end of the fighting will just be a prelude to the next war, as Hamas replenishes its rockets and missiles in preparation for its never-ending quest to destroy the Jewish state.
Israel is in no position to drive Hamas from Gaza. It has the military power to do so, but there is no political will to reoccupy the strip of land that Israel vacated unilaterally in 2005. So Israel fights for a longer period of quiet, all the while bracing for the war to come.
These limits on Israeli strategy, however, need not constrain U.S. diplomacy. Biden needs to think creatively about how to rid Gaza of Hamas. This is not just a priority for Israel — it is a necessary condition for Palestinians to achieve prosperity and dignity.
Today the Palestinians of Gaza are hostages to Hamas. Biden should devise a political strategy aimed at freeing them.
A first step should be in the negotiations for the cease-fire. Biden should avoid the mistake of former Secretary of State John Kerry, who in 2014 tried to negotiate a cease-fire with friendlier patrons of Hamas, such as Qatar and Turkey. Biden should deal primarily with Egypt, whose leader has no love for Islamists such as Hamas and is trusted by the Israelis.
Biden should also demand that any reconstruction aid for Gaza bypass Hamas entirely. This could be done by empowering elements of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, for example, or by working with Arab allies that have already reached diplomatic agreements with Israel, such as the United Arab Emirates. Gazans need aid desperately — but none of that aid should go to the coffers of Hamas.
Biden should also reconsider his decision to renew U.S. funding for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. Since 2007, when Hamas took over Gaza, the agency has acted as an unofficial arm of the local government in Gaza. At the very least, U.S. aid should be conditioned on purging Hamas members from its payroll.
In the medium term, Biden should seek to revive Palestinian civil society and electoral politics. There have been no Palestinian elections since 2006. Last month, the octogenarian leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, canceled scheduled elections to hardly any protest from the U.S. and Europe. Abbas probably has only a few years left. Biden should begin planning now for elections once he leaves office.
The only lasting way to vanquish Hamas is for Palestinians to do the vanquishing. This will be a difficult task. But it’s not inconceivable that Hamas can lose. In March, before the current fighting began, a poll from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that only 30% said they would vote for Hamas in the next elections.
Preparations for the now postponed Palestinian elections: Ultimately, democratic accountability for Palestinian leaders remains the only way forward. (Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib / Shutterstock.com)
Ghaith al Omari, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said he supports open elections within Fatah, the secular party in charge of the Palestinian Authority, to give an opportunity for younger, more creative leaders to emerge. Abbas has largely purged dissenters from his regime. Free and fair elections within Fatah could reinvigorate a calcified and corrupt movement.
For too long, the U.S. has neglected Palestinian democracy. The last president to make it a priority, George W. Bush, was seen as a failure because he allowed Hamas to take part in legislative elections in 2006 without demanding that they first disarm. That was a mistake. But Bush was correct that no peace with Israel is possible until the Palestinian people can hold their leaders accountable. And no dignity for Gaza is imaginable so long as Hamas is in charge.
Eli Lake is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering national security and foreign policy.
Stopping the Cycle in the Mideast
by David Makovsky, Dennis Ross
New York Daily News, May 14, 2021
In addition to seeking Egypt’s help with mediation, the Biden administration needs to recognize that several motivations are driving Hamas in this round, so raising the cost to the group cannot just be measured in military terms.
The searing scenes from Gaza and Israel stem from one new reality: Hamas is trying to change the rules of the game, seeking to show it can hold Israeli behavior hostage through its threats. Hamas’s leaders are essentially saying, “take a step in Jerusalem or elsewhere that we don’t like, and we will indiscriminately fire rockets against Israeli cities.”
Israel won’t accept its new reality and will act to re-establish deterrence by imposing a very high price on Hamas. As is the norm with Hamas, Palestinians in Gaza will pay the price for Hamas’s political ambitions.
What is motivating Hamas? Put simply, its leaders see the possibility of seizing the mantle of Palestinian leadership, believing that three factors have created both an opportunity and need for doing so now.
First, the spiraling clashes in Jerusalem, including at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, have been focusing attention and mobilizing passions. The city and the compound are contested by Palestinians and Israelis alike: Muslims see it as where Muhammad ascended to Heaven, and Israeli Jews see it as the site of the two historic Jewish Temples of history, the very sovereign Zion of Zionism. Both see it as central to their prayers.
Look at the reaction to the opening of the Jerusalem Tunnel near Al-Aqsa in 1996, Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount in 2000, the metal detector crisis of 2017 about access to the compound: It consistently proves to be the greatest flashpoint of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While religion and nationalism are intertwined, Hamas’s leaders realize that no other Palestinian nationalist symbol can evoke such rage.
Second, Mahmoud Abbas’s cancellation of the planned elections, the first since 2006, triggered deep frustration among Palestinians. Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, had been stung by criticism that Palestinians had not been able to vote since 2006, and he thought to appeal to the Biden administration and the Palestinian public by announcing elections. Palestinians reacted enthusiastically, with a reported 93% of eligible Palestinians registering to vote. But with a replay of the 2006 Hamas victory looking increasingly likely as Fatah once again fragmented into three lists and Hamas retained its discipline with only one list, Abbas looked for an excuse to cancel the election.
And he did so, claiming that Israel would not allow Palestinians to vote in East Jerusalem. But the public saw through the pretext, and Hamas saw the opening.
Third, Hamas understood it was losing its image as the leader of the resistance and instead becoming the keeper of the status quo. For the last two years, it worked out with Israel a de facto cease-fire in Gaza known as “the Arrangement.” Israel would make some gradual economic concessions in areas ranging from construction of Gaza infrastructure projects to fishing zones in return for Hamas’s non-involvement in attacks. While Hamas used the time to arm heavily, it was being increasingly challenged by the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad and others for not leading the charge against Israel.
All this is motivating Hamas. But Israel won’t simply accept Hamas’s new militancy. Instead, it will impose a price. Unfortunately, with Hamas leaders and fighters deliberately embedded in densely populated areas, often making their command posts in hospitals or mosques, there will be a terrible civilian toll. The basic asymmetry of this conflict will be evident with Israelis calling ahead to residents located on top of military targets to evacuate buildings, while Hamas fires indiscriminately against civilians. Hamas is trying to project the image as protector of the Palestinian people, but its tunnels are for protecting its weapons and its fighters, not its public.
An Israeli army map of the extensive system of underground tunnels Hamas constructed in Gaza – which served Hamas fighters only while leaving civilians completely unprotected. (Photo: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
Arab governments may criticize Israel for its actions in Jerusalem and the bombing, but they are very wary of Hamas’s desire to destabilize Israel-Arab relations. With the exception of Iran, Turkey and Qatar, leaders see what Hamas means to the region—and some, like Egypt, have real leverage to chart a better course. Egypt has been instrumental in shaping the ceasefires between Israel and Hamas over the last several years.
The Biden administration would be wise to work with Egypt again to bring this round of hostilities to an end. But unless it wants a replay of what we are now witnessing, a larger strategy for Gaza and Hamas is needed. To start with, Hamas’s rocket fire must be internationally delegitimized. Beyond this, the administration should mobilize an international effort to rebuild Gaza provided that Hamas is disarmed. The point would be to publicly and repeatedly make clear what is on offer for the people of Gaza in terms of massive reconstruction. But no such massive effort is possible so long as Hamas can instigate a conflict at a time of choosing and destroy the investment. In other words, raising the cost to Hamas cannot just be measured in military terms.
David Makovsky is the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute, where Dennis Ross is the counselor and William Davidson Distinguished Fellow. Together, they co-authored the 2019 book Be Strong and of Good Courage: How Israel’s Most Important Leaders Shaped Its Destiny. This article was originally published on the New York Daily News website.
An Open Letter to My Palestinian Brethren
by Bassem Eid
IPT News, May 19, 2021
Palestinian human rights activist and Jerusalem resident Bassem Eid
I know that the past 10 days have been incredibly devastating and equally bewildering. Why is the world letting the Israelis do this to you? I am writing to you, my Palestinian brothers and sisters, to open your eyes from the disinformation that your real captor, Hamas, is feeding you.
To my Palestinian brethren, I implore you: please do not let Hamas brainwash you into thinking it has “achieved” anything on our behalf.
Do not fall prey to its lies and manipulations. Hamas is not a social justice movement and it certainly does not care about me or you. It is a criminal gang that only cares about increasing its own power at all of our expense. Your lives start to improve only when the Hamas reign of terror finally ends. Only then will you actually taste the fruits of real peace with your Jewish cousins.
Yes, I know that to some in the media Hamas has more or less achieved its goal in this vile destructive war it started 10 days ago. It has spread fake news about Sheikh Jarrah being the core of Jewish aggression. It has incited violent riots at Al Aqsa by falsely claiming that the Jews are going to destroy Al Aqsa when that has never been true. And then it exploited the situation it created by starting a war with Israel to then justify its rocket attacks. All the while, Hamas showed Palestinians a clear contrast between its ability to act and Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party’s inability to do much of anything.
It is vitally important for you to realize and remember that Hamas is the main cause of suffering for you, my fellow Palestinians in Gaza. It is Hamas that ignored warnings that water wells were growing too salty from over pumping, leading to a point where Gaza’s tap water isn’t safe to drink. It is Hamas that diverted much of the massive humanitarian supplies meant for you that Israel has been allowing in daily in hundreds of trucks. It is Hamas that has been stealing the cement and metal from the imports meant to build houses for you so that it could spend billions of dollars on a massive subterranean network of tunnels for its purposes only. And when it came to war with the Israelis these past 10 days, Hamas deliberately used you as human shields, stationing rocket launchers and missile arsenals in your homes, apartments, office buildings and even hospitals—just as it did in 2014.
And now Hamas has been carelessly shelling the most highly populated regions of Israel, with no specific target or strategy. Yet, I know from my sources in Gaza that as many as 25 percent of all rockets launched by Hamas crash within Gaza. That has resulted in Hamas killing as many as many as 50 of the civilians that it falsely blames on Israel. And are you proud of the fact that some of the Hamas missiles that Israeli Defense Forces failed to intercept ended up exploding in places like Jaffa, Abu Ghosh and Lod where Arab Israelis now live?
Ask yourself, how exactly do our people benefit from any of this? What will happen to our young men who were brainwashed on social media and tricked into throwing bricks and Molotov cocktails at police officers? How many of our people were seriously injured in Jerusalem as a result of Hamas’s incitement? How many more suffered the same fate when Hamas rockets crashed down in Gaza, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of you, my brothers and sisters, used as human shields against Israeli counterattacks?
And what is to be gained? Palestinians living in those four buildings in Sheikh Jarrah will still eventually be evicted, a fact that has been known to those families for decades when they sold away the title to the real estate of those buildings. But forget about Sheik Jarrah for a moment. Think about the even greater number of Palestinians who are now homeless in Gaza because Hamas chose to hide weapons in residential buildings.
Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood: Violence said to be to save a few Palestinian families from eviction from homes here they do not own has caused many more Palestinians to end up homeless in Gaza (Photo: ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com).
And when hostilities end, you can be sure that it won’t be the people of Gaza or representatives of your true interests, but the Hamas gang that will be cutting the lucrative financial compensation deals with Qatar and European NGOs “to rebuild Gaza.” Remember who got rich last time after the 2014 war with Israel? Hamas will do the same exact thing: It will spend its next installments of Qatari money to replenish its arsenal rather than rebuild homes, purchase coronavirus vaccines or provide social services for the people. And Hamas is sure to continue to plot terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians. So Israel will have an even greater justification for restricting access to Al Aqsa and maintaining the defensive blockade around Gaza: It is you who will suffer, not Hamas with its rebuilt fancy villas. And the peace you so much deserve, which could have been possible when Israel withdrew entirely from the Gaza Strip in 2005 only to see Hamas set up an authoritarian military junta, will be even further out of reach.
It is a tragedy that life is about to get worse for Palestinians in Gaza, but it is all the fault of Hamas. It planned and provoked a military confrontation to improve its political standing and we will all suffer for it. Once again, I urge you to open your eyes and see past the Hamas deception. No matter how many Jews it manages to kill, Hamas will have achieved nothing that benefits ordinary Palestinians.
Bassem Eid is a Jerusalem-based Palestinian political analyst, human rights pioneer and expert commentator on Arab and Palestinian affairs. He grew up in an UNRWA refugee camp. Follow him on Twitter @eid_bassem