News Analysis: Israel cautious as Hamas, Fatah heal rift for reconciliation

Source: Xinhua| 2017-09-19 20:53:46|Editor: Song Lifang
Video PlayerClose

by Keren Setton, Wang Bowen

JERUSALEM, Sept. 19 (Xinhua) -- The announcement by Hamas that it is prepared to dismantle its governing body in the Gaza Strip may pave the way for reconciliation with the rival Fatah party.

For Israel, which borders Gaza in the south, this could have great influence, assuming there will be substance behind the recent statement.

Hamas took over Gaza in a hostile manner in 2007, after violent fighting between the militant Islamic group and the relatively moderate Fatah movement led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Currently, Abbas controls only the territories of the West Bank, while several previous attempts at healing the rift between Hamas and Fatah have yielded no results.

Israel has enforced a tight blockade on the impoverished coastal enclave since 2007, as Hamas does not recognize the state of Israel.

Israel has continuously claimed that talks between the Jewish state and the Palestinian government, which have been stalled for years, are futile since Abbas has no control over the approximately 2 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.

However, should the Palestinians succeed in forming a unity government, Israel will face a new reality.

"For Israel, it is convenient that there will not be reconciliation," said Shlomi Eldar, an Arab affairs analyst for Al Monitor website.

"Israel prefers that there will be separation. The quiet with Gaza remains, and an agreement with Abbas is not comfortable, so it is better to keep the situation as it is," he explained.

Eldar was referring to the the last round of violence between Israel and Hamas three years ago. Since then, the border has been quiet, with sporadic exchanges of fire.

More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed and so were over 70 Israelis in the seven-week war. The reconstruction of Gaza after the Israeli offensive is far from complete.

While another violent confrontation between the two parties is probably inevitable, for now Hamas is still reeling from the last war and not eager to renew hostilities, as it will have difficulty selling another war to the severely weakened population in Gaza.

But Eldar believe the chances of unity between Fatah and Hamas are slim, as there are too many obstacles to overcome.

Yet, Israel still needs to prepare for the possibility that this time might be different, given slight chances of a change of policy by the government led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"Israel will not ease the blockade while there is still a prisoner swap on the agenda," said Eldar.

Hamas has been holding the bodies of two dead Israeli soldiers it captured in the last war. It is also believed to be holding three Israeli citizens who entered Gaza independently.

The militant group is demanding Israel's release of Palestinian prisoners in return.

According to media reports, Egypt has been instrumental in both pushing for the Palestinian unity and brokering a prisoner deal between Hamas and Israel.

"For Israel this is excellent. It delays the chore. It defers the Gaza problem to Cairo, not to Jerusalem," said Eldar.

Gaza, which is on the constant brink of a humanitarian crisis, constitutes a headache for Israel. The rougher the situation gets, the greater the chances Hamas will use violence in order to divert attention.

In fact, it is in Israel's interest if Egypt, which is also sealing off the already impoverished territory, takes a more active role.

"Israel has a major interest in maintaining the calm and this is why Israel enables humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip. It will do anything to maintain a benign humanitarian situation," said retired military general David Hacham, a former senior adviser to multiple Israeli defense ministers.

"Israel is closely monitoring the situation in Gaza," he said. "But it will not intervene in internal Palestinian affairs."

Several days ago, Israeli media reported that one of the country's intelligence chiefs told the cabinet Hamas was preparing for a renewed confrontation with Israel.

Even though Israel is careful enough not to intervene in Palestinian politics, Gaza and the Jewish state are closely intertwined, as movements within Gaza and the West Bank, directly or indirectly related to the Israel, are always immediately felt in the Jewish state.