An array of mediators will visit Israel and Gaza this week to try bringing both sides back to earth. They’ll look to end Hamas’s border violence, which reached unprecedented levels on Friday, and they will want Israel to resume allowing at least some fuel into the Gaza Strip.
The chances of success aren’t high. Not on the Israeli side and not on the Hamas side. Hamas has nothing to lose, and Israel is sick of playing the fool. Cynics will connect it to the election atmosphere, but in this case, they’d be wrong. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s decision stems from Hamas’s ingratitude; it responded to Israel’s goodwill gesture with a slap to the face.
In recent weeks immense efforts have been made to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Fuel was supplied to increase the electricity output, and donations were secured to pay salaries. After Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas torpedoed every initiative and proposal, Qatar stepped in to pay for the fuel and effectively bypass Abbas. The first shipment of fuel was allowed to cross into Gaza on Tuesday, followed by additional shipments on Thursday and Friday, despite the incendiary kites and bombs crossing the border in the other direction.
On Friday, Israel had enough. The extraordinary violence along the border, particularly the large explosion near the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza—when 20 Hamas terrorists attempted to breach the border fence and infiltrate Israel—was the last straw. Although Gaza officials claimed Israeli reports about the incident were inaccurate, subsequent inquiries showed that the IDF paratroopers’ live-fire response, which killed three Palestinians, was measured and precise, and was carried out only when a clear and present danger to their lives emerged.
As a consequence of these events, both sides have returned to the starting point: Israel won’t allow fuel into the Strip while the violence persists, and Hamas will look to cause friction as long as its problems aren’t solved (not just the fuel, but the salaries and other projects). Such a situation is especially combustible by nature and could lead the sides down a path of escalation that neither wants.
Now a string of mediators will try alleviating tensions: U.N. Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov and his deputy; the head of Egyptian intelligence, Abbas Kamel, who was in Israel and Gaza last week; Qatari emissaries are coming and going; along with American and European officials. Some of them will visit Ramallah as well, to try persuading Abbas to lend a helping hand. The chances of success on the Abbas front are slim to none: The P.A. chief wants to choke Gaza, and certainly won’t shed a tear if Israel also pays a price for it.
Even if a solution is ultimately found, it will probably be limited and flimsy. Ergo: Tensions in the south will persist, perhaps for a lot longer. And similar to football fans, IDF soldiers and Gaza-area residents will also keep living from Sunday to Sunday.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.