The predictions made by those observing developments in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic resistance movement — Hamas — range between the possibility of another war soon and reaching a comprehensive truce. This is occurring in light of rumours that indirect negotiations have started between the two sides that may lead to resolving a number of pending issues between them. The most important of these issues relate to the Israeli soldiers captured by Hamas and Israel's siege on the Gaza Strip.
Talk of the negotiations has spread following the report in Haaretz newspaper regarding former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's claim that Israel is currently engaged in negotiations with Hamas under the auspices of Egypt. The UN Special Envoy for the Peace Process in the Middle East, Nicolai Maladinov, has noted that many messages are being sent from Israel to Hamas in an attempt to buy peace.
Abu Obadiah, a spokesman for the Izz Al-din Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas's military wing, announced, for the first time, at the beginning of the month that the movement holds four captured Israeli soldiers. "There are no communications regarding the four Israeli soldiers or any information regarding their fate," he insisted. "The enemy will not receive this information without paying prices in exchange for this information before and after the negotiations." He added that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is lying to his people and misleading the masses and the families of the captured soldiers. This was a reference to Netanyahu's talk about "great efforts" being made in this regard: "I am holding meetings in this regard every few days and just two days ago, I was informed of an important development."
However, it seems that the talk concerning negotiations has taken on a more serious nature this time, especially since Egypt and the UN are playing the role of mediators between the two parties in order to prevent the outbreak of a new military confrontation. Israel has made a number of statements about Hamas's success in renewing its military capabilities, which took a hit during the war in the summer of 2014. Haaretz reported that Hamas continues to prepare for the next battle and that it is focusing its efforts on producing missiles and naval commando units, and is training a special force to carry out attacks inside Israel.
Israeli military specialist Amos Harel said that Hamas has rebuilt its tunnel system, with the number of tunnels today being similar to what it was shortly before the outbreak of Israel's 2014 war on Gaza. He added that there are two possible scenarios that would give reason to believe that a military confrontation will erupt. The first would be Hamas's success in carrying out a large-scale military operation against Israel launched from the West Bank, which would lead to a major Israeli response against the movement in Gaza. This was the case after the kidnapping of three settlers in Hebron in June 2014. The second lies in the Israeli effort to hit the tunnel system on the Gaza border, which would drive Hamas's military leadership to launch a pre-emptive strike against Israel, despite the huge price that the Gaza Strip will have to pay for this.
However, there are those on the Israeli side who are talking about the need to avoid a new confrontation with Hamas. This would appear to give credence to the claims that negotiations have started.
We must stress that the result of these negotiations is what will determine whether or not Israel and Hamas are headed for war. If solutions for the major issues, especially the captured soldiers and siege on Gaza, are found, this would have the same effect as a long-term truce. If the negotiations fail, then a war will almost certainly erupt.
Translated from Al-Sharq, 20 April, 2016
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