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.
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.
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.
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.
– By John O’Neill