News Analysis: Israel tries to manage conflict with Gaza as no long-term truce on the horizon

Source: Xinhua| 2020-02-23 19:53:27|Editor: huaxia

by Keren Setton

JERUSALEM, Feb. 23 (Xinhua) -- Tensions on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip have been high in recent weeks, although there has been a lull in overall violence.

While many Israelis have voiced dissatisfaction with the government's policy towards the Hamas-ruled territory, it seems the government has decided against escalating the situation at the moment and is continuing indirect dialogue with Hamas in order to achieve an informal cease-fire.

"It is a tactical policy aimed at maintaining quiet," said Ronit Marzan, a researcher of Palestinian society and politics from the University of Haifa, adding "it allows the government to manage the conflict while placating the residents on the border."

"The strategic goal is to separate the Gaza Strip from the West Bank and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state," she added.

Last week, the Israeli defense mechanism in charge of civilian Palestinian affairs, COGAT, announced it was increasing the number of permits that will enable Gaza residents to enter Israel.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military continues to respond with airstrikes after rocket fire or balloon-borne explosives. But Israeli residents in the south are growing increasingly impatient.

"I would like to see the government reach a political solution," said Adele Raemer, a resident of an Israeli Kibbutz on the border with Gaza.

For years, the residents in southern Israel have been subject to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into their towns. After a massive Israeli offensive in the summer of 2014, this fire largely stopped for a few years. But, as the situation in Gaza got worse, rocket fire picked up and has intensified several times over the past two years.

"There can be no longer-term truce or ceasefire as long as the issues in Gaza are addressed," Raemer told Xinhua, adding "it does not make sense to give in to their (Hamas') requests, when they are not holding up their part of the deal."

Hamas is a militant group that does not recognize Israel's existence and has vowed to destruct it. It has conducted hundreds of violent attacks against Israelis.

"We had years of quiet. Things could have been done, and issues could have been solved," said Raemer, adding that "the government wasted those years, and now it's a lot harder to make concessions and agreements when it looks like it's a result from violence from the other side."

Before 2007, when Hamas violently took over control of the Gaza Strip from the hands of Palestinian Authority, tens of thousands of Palestinians living in Gaza were allowed to enter Israel for work.

But since Hamas' takeover, Israel has imposed a strict blockade on the Gaza Strip. Unemployment rate in Gaza is at approximately 50 percent, according to reports.

The recent easing of Israeli restrictions on the Gaza Strip shows an understanding amongst Israeli defense officials that the welfare of the Gaza Strip has a direct influence on the stability in the area.

The talks between the two sides are mediated by Egypt and UN representatives. But in a recent TV interview, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "We (Israel) are preparing surprises. I am in no rush to go to war...but we are preparing a huge surprise for Hamas, different than anything seen in the past."

"Such statements damage the Israeli deterrence," said Alon Eviatar, an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu's statement must be seen in a political context. His response to violence from Hamas is seen by many in his camp as weak.

"The image needs to be balanced, Israel is seen as willing to do anything in return for quiet," Eviatar added.

"Of course Israel has plans for a major offensive against Gaza," Eviatar told Xinhua, emphasizing that "Israel will do everything to avoid this. There is an understanding in the current government that the damage from a wide scale military operation will be greater than the political price being paid at the moment."

For now, Israel has chosen the path of managing the conflict rather than solving it. Netanyahu has said in the past that he is willing to pay a political price for deciding not to wage a massive offensive in Gaza.

Regardless of the upcoming elections, it is difficult to find a political player in Israel, who will lead a dramatically different policy.

"The current leadership has no real will to solve the conflict. They want to manage it and allow periodic outbursts of violence," said Marzan.