Although the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas is being carefully observed, the calm in the Gaza Strip is far from stable.
The agreement, reached with American backing and Egyptian mediation, gave hardly any details on further arrangements, sufficing at the first stage with a promise of quiet in exchange for quiet.
But we’re left with potential detonators that could trigger a new conflagration, even if this wouldn’t seem in the immediate interest of Israel or Hamas.
These potential sparks concern how Israel might react to future hostile acts from the Strip, the closure of the Gaza crossings and the tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
After the cease-fire, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised that the situation before the 11-day operation wouldn’t return, but that Israel would establish “a new equation.”
Netanyahu’s words jibe with the Israel Defense Forces’ recommendations to respond harshly to every instance of rocket fire and every launch of an incendiary balloon from the Strip.
To some degree, the General Staff has thus reduced the politicians’ room to maneuver.
In the IDF’s proposals, which include a change to the mechanism for Qatar’s transfer of funds to Gaza (so that the money will pass through the Palestinian Authority and with its oversight), the military has essentially forced the government to take a tough line on Hamas.
To some degree this is a necessary approach. Israel’s ignoring of previous cease-fire violations led to the deliberate escalation by Hamas earlier this month. On the other hand, every Palestinian faction with a bone to pick with the Hamas leaders in the Strip knows that it holds the key to a new escalation.
Regarding the crossings, right now they’re closed more often than open, despite the heavy damage to Gaza’s civilian infrastructure during the fighting and the need to quickly repair it.
From time to time, Israel is allowing the entry and exit of people and goods for humanitarian purposes, but this is being done very jealously.
One reason is a belated desire to correct the mistakes of the 2014 Gaza war and expedite talks on the return of soldiers’ bodies and Israeli civilians being held in Gaza.
Here, too, there is a gap between what’s desired and what’s possible.
It’s doubtful that Hamas, which seems elated by the feeling that it taught Israel a lesson in this month’s fighting, will quickly succumb to pressure. The continuation of the humanitarian crisis may also accelerate another flare-up.
The third detonator is in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The latest confrontation began in Jerusalem, an extension of the demonstrations against the plan to evict Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, the placing of police checkpoints at Damascus Gate and the tensions on the Temple Mount.
The dispute over Sheikh Jarrah and tensions at the Al-Aqsa Mosque weren’t resolved with the cessation of hostilities in Gaza.
The situation might be the opposite; there is now more time and energy for such things.
Over the weekend, a clash ensued between Hamas and Fatah people on the Temple Mount, directly influenced by recent events.
The scenes of death and destruction in Gaza, which are broadcast repeatedly on Arabic television and social media, also contribute to the tense atmosphere in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Although Israel actually killed fewer civilians this time than in previous operations and better attempts were made to distinguish between fighters and civilians, enough blood has been shed to stir people up.
The first indications of this are the terror attacks over the last two weeks throughout the West Bank, carried out mostly by individuals not affiliated with any organization. On Monday, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem who stabbed an Israeli soldier and a civilian near Ammunition Hill was shot dead by a policeman.
Such incidents are likely to continue.
Hamas has reignited Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and some people will translate this into terror attempts. The conflict has also exacerbated the tensions between the PA, Hamas and Israel.
The demonstration of Hamas’ power will probably provoke the PA into arresting Hamas operatives in the West Bank, which could keep the tensions simmering on a low burner – or even a higher one.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will arrive in Israel Tuesday as part of his first working visit to the Middle East. One of his main tasks on behalf of President Joe Biden will be to pour some content into the cease-fire agreement, with the aim of preventing a renewed outbreak of violence.
Source: Amos Harel – HAARETZ