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Israel’s operation into the Gaza Strip last January and the embargo on aid has had an effect. Hamas is now announcing that it will stop attacks on Israel. This, in effect, ends Hamas’s renewal of the fighting a year ago. Here’s the problem: Is Hamas just stopping long enough to get the aid money?
An important press conference by Hamas’ Interior Minister Fathi Hamad has said the group made an agreement with all the Palestinian factions that they will stop firing rockets into Israel except in retaliation to Israeli operations. And since Israel usually attacks in response to rocket firings, that means a new ceasefire may occur. The press conference came immediately after a rocket was fired into Israel on November 21 that didn’t hit anything.
That announcement seems like good news but here are the problems:
–Hamas will continue smuggling in arms, including parts for more advanced missiles which can strike further into Israel. If Israel were to attack the tunnels to try to interdict this smuggling, this would be made to appear as Israel initiating hostilities.
–The main issue will be a Hamas bid, which will find some support in the West—but how much?—to start large-scale aid to Gaza, as has been promised by the Obama Administration among others. Western statements insist that the money won’t go to Hamas or its front groups and no doubt a sincere effort will be made to implement that plan. But of course it will be difficult to succeed as Hamas will steal resources and, of course, benefit from the increased money and supplies, both directly and through increased popularity.
Hamad himself signaled this effort in his statement. “We don’t want to curb the resistance and are not preventing the acts of the resistance” but want to let Gaza residents have some “breathing room and enable the Strip’s reconstruction.”
–No doubt there will be more voices in the West that Hamas is now becoming “moderate” and engagement should begin. This will probably be ineffectual, though.
The press conference set off a great deal of talk about the possibility of an imminent deal to release Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit in exchange for hundreds of captured Hamas gunman. I rather doubt that—though it could be true—but it is not the most significant aspect of this new development.
But guess what? And this shows why you can’t believe what Hamas and such groups say, and you can’t negotiate with them either. Immediately after the announcement, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad said they never made any such agreement and considered themselves free to attack Israel whenever they wanted. And Hamas had already said that if the deal wasn’t unnimous they wouldn’t enforce it. So now all the Western media has reported a Hamas-enforced ceasefire and…there probably isn’t one.
Thus it is likely, given the way the Middle East, terrorism, and Hamas work, that a rocket could be fired into Israel and the whole thing fall apart. But otherwise the aid flow and reconstruction of the Gaza Strip may now commence. It will be argued that Hamas would not encourage this rebuilding only to go to war and wreck everything again. Those who say such things don’t know much about Hamas.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.