After an arduous, exhausting negotiation process, Gaza finally returned to the path of calm this weekend. The infusion of money and fuel into the Gaza Strip gave Hamas some breathing room, which is now supposed to be used to reach an arrangement that ensures that calm will be preserved for the long term.
The de-escalation was made possible after Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas lifted his objections to the money transfer from Qatar into Gaza. On Thursday, the money entered the Strip—$15 million in cash—in three wheeled suitcases. The transfer was photographed to prove that Hamas was not taking the money for itself, and the organization also created a special committee that prepared lists for the allocation of the funds: 50,000 needy families received $100 each, and another 27,000 civil servants were paid their salaries.
Many in Israel didn’t like seeing the money enter Gaza and lambasted the government for allowing it. This criticism is cynical, and not just because it wasn’t even Israel’s money—the alternative to the cash and fuel (which increases the number of hours per day Gazans have electricity from four to 12) is war, which both sides were extremely close to just a short while ago.
Within the framework of the de-escalation Hamas committed to implementing several steps: No more incendiary balloons and kites, ceasing fishing-zone violations, ending nighttime protests and trying to temper the Friday border riots. Indeed, Friday’s border unrest was slightly different—mainly due to the number of Palestinians who approached the fence, the number of explosive devices thrown at Israel Defense Forces’ troops and the amount of tires that were burned. Still, Israel wants to see more significant de-escalation from Hamas in the near future.
These measures, facilitated by Egyptian mediators and U.N. special envoy Nickolay Mladenov and funded by Qatar, position the sides in the best place they’ve been since the border riots began some eight months ago. The idea now is to make the current arrangement permanent—that is to say more than a one-time thing—and establish a mechanism for the continual transfer of funds to ensure enduring peace and quiet.
Nasrallah is getting anxious
The mediators hope the conclusion of this stage will help foster trust between the sides and help them engage in long-term understandings, which would consist of a thorough rehabilitation of Gaza. Israel won’t agree to this without getting its prisoners (the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, and two Israeli civilians) back, which could instigate tensions anew despite both sides’ apparent disinterest in an escalation. Hamas wants quiet to improve the socio-economic situation in Gaza; and Israel wants quiet so it can shift its focus on developments in the north.
From this perspective as well, the Netanyahu government was right to give the diplomatic avenue a chance. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s speech on Saturday indicates just how combustible the northern sector is; he seems to think Israel could stop issuing warnings and transition straight to attacking the terrorist group’s precision missile factories in Lebanon, and he wants to remind everyone he will respond aggressively. Although his warnings reflect Hezbollah’s declared policy that any attack on Lebanese soil will be met with retaliation against Israel, underneath his boastfulness it is discernible that Israel’s recent actions, which mostly consisted of exposing Hezbollah’s clandestine activities deep inside Lebanon and along the Israeli border, have made Nasrallah anxious.
Israel will likely hold course with this policy, at least in the short term, meaning it will have to continue focusing its attention on the north, even at the expense of grating incidents such as the recent border infiltration on Friday night into Netiv Ha’asara, a moshav near the Gaza border. The IDF was late to spot the infiltration, but later acted correctly by isolating the Palestinian intruder and detaining him (after he’d managed to set fire to greenhouses). He told his interrogators he had tried infiltrating Israel several times, in order to get caught, which was the case on Friday.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.