Israel-Hamas Ceasefire Unlikely to Bring Meaningful Change

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region


Israel and Hamas spent much of last month in a tit-for-tat cycle of violence that ended just as quickly as it started. In the end, Hamas was able to secure a sizable financial donation from Qatar, and Israeli leaders—including erstwhile foes turned government partners, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, alternate prime minister and minister of defense—were able to claim credit for performing another high-wire act. Despite the unmistakable feeling on the part of the Israeli government that it is fighting with the wind at its back, questions remain about the long-term sustainability of the ceasefire with Hamas, which is trying to cobble together a counterbalancing alliance against Israel.

Emboldened by the overtly pro-Israeli agenda of the Trump administration, it is perhaps to be expected that the Israeli stance vis-à-vis the Palestinian question has hardened. According to a Jerusalem Post report by Lahav Harkov, the Israeli prime minister noted in the aftermath of a meeting  between U.S. officials and Mr. Netanyahu, “The Arab world is not waiting for the Palestinians to make peace with Israel before they do…. Netanyahu pointed to the UAE canceling its boycott of Israeli goods over the weekend, and said that it will pave the way for more countries in the region to normalize ties with Israel. He said that in addition to the meetings that were made public in recent years – such as with the leaders of Oman, Sudan and Chad – there are many more secret meetings with leaders in the region who seek to strengthen their ties with Israel.”

Following the disheartening—from the Palestinian perspective—developments of the last few months, even former PA officials, including Bishara A. Bahbah, who served as a member of the Palestinian delegation on arms control and regional security and who recently wrote an op-ed for the Times of Israel, are suggesting that engaging with, rather than distancing oneself from, the Trump proposal may be the best way forward: “Instead of bemoaning their fate and pursuing a failed strategy, what the internationally recognized Palestinian leadership in Ramallah should urgently do is think out of the box and take two steps that, until now, have been unthinkable. First, the Palestinians should pick up the phone, call President Donald Trump and ask for an urgent meeting at the White House to present the Palestinian demands for an acceptable peace plan. Second, the Palestinians should call for an Arab mini-summit in Riyadh hosted by King Salman of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah II of Jordan, the Emir of Kuwait, the Egyptian President and, yes, the Crown Prince of the UAE.”

The Israeli website Debka reports that even Qatar’s leaders, who last month provided significant financial support for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, have warned that future “payouts for Hamas [are] no longer guaranteed,” a warning that, according to the Debka staff, is likely to be carried out, should the current White House occupant return following the upcoming presidential elections: “‘Things have changed and we can’t keep on doing things the old way’, said the Emir Of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Middle East intelligence sources believe that the emir may be shifting ground, ready for Donald Trump to win a second term as US president, by starting to cool his ties with radical and anti-US elements. Those ties have put him on the wrong side of Trump’s diplomatic drive in the region and got him in hot water with the Saudi-led Gulf Arab governments, especially the United Arab Emirates, which has just concluded a US-brokered normalization pact with Israel.”

Qatar’s financial largesse proved to be crucial in preventing fighting between Hamas and Israel from getting out of control, and yet, as Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ron Ben-Yishai points out, it may have only delayed the inevitable until the next “round of violence”starts again: “The latest understandings reached between Israel and the Hamas terror group that rules the Gaza Strip brought no major gains to either side. And while calm appears to have been restored on the border for now, the next round of violence is certainly coming…. But the Gaza rulers can take pride in some major gains. Their demand to double the amount of people receiving Qatari aid was accepted. The aid package itself was increased to $30 million and includes $10 million for the purchase of petrol to run the local power station…. Restrictions imposed by Israel at the start of hostilities have been lifted, and supplies including petrol are now permitted to enter the Strip. Gazans can now expect 20 hours of electric power each day – up from just four hours previously.”

However, writing for Jordan Times, Palestinian commentator Ramzy Baroud argues that the Gaza escalation has more to do with Israel’s internal domestic debates than legitimate military objectives: “The answer lies largely, though not entirely, in Israel, specifically in the political conflict between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing political camp, on the one hand, and their government’s coalition partners, led by Defense Minister Benny Gantz on the other…. As a military showdown in South Lebanon becomes unattainable due to the massive explosion that rocked Beirut on August 4, the two Israeli leaders have turned their attention to Gaza. Moving quickly, as if on the campaign trail, Gantz and Netanyahu are busy making their case to Israelis living in the southern towns bordering the Gaza Strip.”

Jerusalem Post’s Gershon Baskin believes that the cyclical nature of the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip is due primarily to the desperate conditions of the Palestinians in Gaza and Israel’s political myopia: “Long-term calm cannot be bought with $17 million from Qatar, even if it becomes a monthly payment (and it will not be a monthly payment). Gaza remains a place where more than two million people have no hope, and that is why the ceasefire will remain temporary. Gaza is a place where Israel has no long-term strategy and its continued short-term strategy is supporting a dangerous pro-Muslim Brotherhood alliance…. Gaza is not going anywhere, nor are the more than two million people who live there. It is therefore necessary [that]we begin to implement policies with a long-term view of the future and leave behind the cycles of violence and short-term ceasefires.”

Hamas officials recognize the current ceasefire will not last long, which is why Khaled al-Qaddoumi, the Hamas representative in Tehran, is trying to create bridges and alliances with countries like Turkey, Iran, and Qatar in an attempt to deter future Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip. In a recent interview for Tehran Times, Mr. Al-Qaddoumi made it clear that Hamas and the Palestinians in general “are in dire need of a strong coalition in the region to repel any threat and reject all foreign interventions; we can stand solid and strong in all areas, including the economy, culture, and politics…. It is the right recipe for the dignity and prosperity of the region and Islamic countries. Nothing should prevent them because they make billions of dollars annually. From an economic point of view, they are successfully managing their trade and economy, but unfortunately, we still haven’t reached a common view on the political situation in the region. And I emphasize this point that we absolutely need to move forward together. Because today all of us face the same threat by Israel.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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