3Qs: What’s next for Israel and Hamas?

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After talks of an Egyptian-​​brokered cease-​​fire col­lapsed Tuesday, vio­lence resumed in the Gaza Strip and Israel in a con­flict now in its second week. Ten­sions between Israel and Hamas mil­i­tants quickly esca­lated after the mur­ders of three Israeli teenagers fol­lowed by the revenge killing of a Pales­tinian teenager. Since the con­flict began, more than 200 Pales­tinians have been killed in Gaza, and the first Israeli was killed Tuesday in a rocket strike. Here, Dov Waxman, the co-​​director of Northeastern’s Middle East Center and a renowned scholar of Israeli pol­i­tics and for­eign policy, dis­cusses what has changed since the pre­vious cease-​​fire in 2012 and the prospects for a new agree­ment in the near future.

Dov Waxman, co-director of Northeastern’s Middle East Center and a renowned scholar of Israeli politics and foreign policy, discusses the ongoing violence between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip and the prospects for a cease-fire. Photo via Thinkstock.

Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire in 2012. What has changed between now and then that has led up to this most recent outburst of violence?

Hamas is now much weaker than it was in November 2012 when the last round of fighting took place. Politically, it has been losing support among Palestinians, especially among those living in the Gaza Strip who have suffered under Hamas’ rule. Not only has Hamas been blamed for the widespread poverty in the Gaza Strip, but also it has been attacked by more radical rival groups for being too cautious vis-a-vis Israel and failing to carry out armed “resistance.” Diplomatically, Hamas is now more isolated than it was in 2012, primarily because Egypt under President al-Sisi is hostile to Hamas, whereas his predecessor President Muhammed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, was sympathetic. Paradoxically, it is Hamas’ weakness that led it to renew its rockets attacks against Israel as it desperately seeks to win some concessions from Israel and Egypt and boost its support among Palestinians and in the Arab world at large.

Hamas rejected Egypt's proposal to a cease-fire with Israel, and fighting resumed Tuesday. What are the prospects the two sides can reach an agreement soon, and is there hope for a longer-term cease-fire?

The cease-fire proposal that Egypt presented was more favorable to Israel than to Hamas, so the latter rejected it. While Israel is ready and willing for a cease-fire because it has already hit Hamas hard and wants to avoid a ground war, Hamas really needs to accomplish something before it will agree to a cease-fire. There will be a lot of pressure on Hamas in the days ahead to agree to a cease-fire, and I expect—and hope—that a cease-fire will be achieved very soon.

What are the larger implications of this fighting in the region and for the broader international community?

Given the massive upheaval in the Middle East at the moment—particularly the conflicts in Syria and Iraq—the fighting between Israel and Hamas is something of a sideshow. Although violence between Israel and the Palestinians attracts a huge amount of international attention, it is of secondary importance in terms of what’s happening in the Middle East. Although the violence will affect Israeli-Palestinians relations and further damage the prospects for peace, I doubt it will have a wider impact on the region. For the international community at large, it’s yet another reminder that while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the biggest problem in the Middle East today, it cannot be ignored or forgotten about.

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