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War, a truce or lifting the siege: what will Israel choose?

Palestinians gather at the Gaza-Israel border as part of the 'Great March of Return' on August 31, 2018 [Mohammad Asad / Middle East Monitor]
Palestinians gather at the Gaza-Israel border as part of the 'Great March of Return' on August 31, 2018 [Mohammad Asad / Middle East Monitor]

The main idea established in the minds of Israelis last week was that a new war against the Gaza Strip will be of no use to Israel. The country’s military analysts have grasped this idea, which they seem to have concluded from a briefing given by the Israel Defence Forces. However, this has not stopped some politicians from threatening the Palestinians and the Hamas leadership in the besieged territory.

Fortunately, a politician like the head of the Jewish Home Party, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who wants a war on Gaza, does not decide on issues of war and peace. He does, though, aspire to take over the security portfolio in the next government. His fellow right-wing extremist, Avigdor Lieberman, also once advocated an invasion of Gaza, the overthrow of Hamas rule and the killing of Ismail Haniyeh, but he stopped calling for this two years ago when he became Defence Minister.

According to the Israeli media, in the political-security cabinet meeting, Lieberman backed communication about a truce between Israel and Hamas, brokered by Egypt and the UN. His subsequent statements that he was not in favour of such talks simply aren’t true, and reflect an attempt to evade responsibility as a minister and Knesset member. Nevertheless, Lieberman is trying to better Bennett by calling for war despite knowing that the government does not want such a war and has not made any decision in this regard.

READ: “Knock down all the homes in their native villages.” – Naftali Bennett’s latest recommendation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is no doubt enjoying the spat between Bennett and Lieberman over the government’s Gaza policy: Bennett says that, “Lieberman is leading a left-wing policy”; Lieberman insists that, “Bennett is a messianic and harms Israel’s security.” Netanyahu hopes that each will weaken the other’s political power in the run-up to the General Election, to his own benefit. The general rule in Israel is that voters tend not to move from the right to the centre, but rather transfer their vote among the parties across the right-wing spectrum. If they are disappointed with Lieberman and Bennett, they will most likely elect the Likud party led by Netanyahu.

Netanyahu showed his “compassion” for Gaza last week when, during a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he demanded that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas should stop “strangling” the Strip. The Israeli leader believes that discussions about a truce and getting Abbas to stop “strangling” Gaza is required for his relationship with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, given that Egypt has an interest in calming Gaza because it affects the situation in Sinai.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu has flipped some facts in his move to be compassionate. Abbas may well be punishing the two million residents of Gaza with the Palestinian Authority’s punitive measures, but it is Israel which has been strangling Gaza for 12 years and causing a humanitarian catastrophe in the process. The Prime Minister knows this for a fact, but he is desperate to evade his own direct responsibility for this disaster. What’s more, he knows that another war will achieve nothing for him.

READ: Netanyahu questioned over corruption for 12th time

He knows this because every week since March he has witnessed scenes expressing the simple human longing for freedom in the Great March of Return protests at the fence surrounding the Gaza Strip. He has watched them develop despite Israel’s brutal suppression, including the deliberate killing of almost 200 Palestinian men, women and children,  and the wounding of thousands more. Despite being besieged from every direction by Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians in Gaza have managed to break through the siege, albeit only with balloons that have made the lives of Israelis in the “Gaza envelope” more like life in an inferno.

Palestinians carry the dead body of Faris Hafez al-Sarasawi, 12 years old Palestinian child who was killed by Israeli forces in "Great March of Return" demonstrations, during his funeral ceremony in Shuja'iyya neighborhood of Gaza City, Gaza on October 06, 2018 [Ali Jadallah / Anadolu Agency]

Palestinians carry the dead body of Faris Hafez al-Sarasawi, a 12-year-old Palestinian child, who was killed by Israeli forces in the ‘Great March of Return’ demonstrations in Gaza on 6 October 2018 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]

What is interesting in the evolution of the conflict is that it began as an Arab-Israeli affair, became an Israeli-Palestinian issue, and is now best described as an Israel-Gaza matter. This is the kind of conflict we are facing today, as the others only want peace and reconciliation with Israel.

#GazaSiege

There are two philosophies at play: one believes that Israel’s confiscation, occupation and colonisation of our land, the construction of settlements and the destruction of our homes and our villages are not important; its adherents want peace with Israel in order to continue living in their Ramallah bubble. The other believes that Israel will not rest as long as it besieges the Palestinians, deprives them of water, food, medicine and electricity, and that resistance is not a hobby but a necessity if we want to live with some dignity.

Israel is currently facing the adherents of the latter philosophy, and despite the fact that it is difficult to gauge whether or not it will wage a war on Gaza, it doesn’t have many options. The wars against Gaza over the past ten years have always led to Israel’s already tarnished reputation around the world diminishing even further without actually achieving anything, unlike peace. War, a truce or lifting the siege: what will Israel choose?

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arab48 on 7 October 2018

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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