Palestine needs new political options

After days of rising hostilities and predictions of a third intifada, Israel launched a ground invasion of Gaza last Thursday night. The number of displaced Gazans has nearly doubled and neither Hamas nor Israel has shown any sign of concession. Critiques and counter-critiques abound, from Hamas’ refusal of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire to Israel’s relentless military offensive. On Thursday, the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) hosted “Israeli-Palestinian War in a New Regional Landscape” with a panel of its own experts. Ziad J. Asali, Saliba Sarsar, Ghaith Al-Omari, and Hussein Ibish discussed the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the political realities that could play out in the future.

Al-Omari, ATFP Executive Director, analyzed the current political dynamic between Israel and Hamas. “We are entering a posturing moment before a deal is struck for the ceasefire,” he stated. Both sides have made their priorities clear and have proven how much is at stake in this longstanding conflict.

After weeks of heightened tensions, Prime Minister Netanyahu initially accepted the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire this week, while Hamas refused it. Hamas has thus received a great deal of criticism from the international community due to the continued loss of civilian lives. Al-Omari stated that this decision derives from Hamas’ three fundamental objectives in the current conflict:

  1. Hamas wants to emerge in a position that would allow it to claim some form of victory. Thus far, they have entirely failed to do so.
  2. Hamas needs a ceasefire that provides some kind of gain. Again, Hamas has failed in this as well, with the Egyptian ceasefire proposal allowing no territorial or political advantages.
  3. Lastly, Hamas wants  Qatar and Turkey to play a role in the ceasefire. Neither has had a significant role so far, as Egypt has been in the lead.

Hamas has prioritized its own objectives, at great humanitarian cost to Gazans in the last several days. Thus, Al-Omari stated that it is absolutely necessary that we open up Gaza in the short-term. Egypt and the US can play a critical role in this context and it is ultimately in their best interests to do so.

Many other regional factors have also had an impact on the current hostilities between Hamas and Israel. Ibish, ATFP Senior Fellow, discussed divisions within Hamas, which is both a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate and an ally of Iran. Hamas is also in need of external help, as support from Syria has dried up. The rise of ISIS also causes concern.

At the end of the day, the outcome of this current violence will most likely look a great deal like the “old normal.” This is exactly what Hamas doesn’t want—it will be a crushing blow after the violence and innocent lives lost to return to the way things were. This “old normal” is a desperate box and Hamas is doing everything it can to get out of it, as evidenced by its controversial refusal of the ceasefire this week.

The Palestinians ultimately do not have a lot of options: they lack domestic choices and the great majority does not trust Hamas or Fatah. It is also evident that an increasing number of Palestinians have put more and more blame on Hamas with each rise in hostilities.

According to Asali, President and founder of ATFP, we must rebuild the credibility of the Palestinian leadership and open up the political space. If the international community is as invested in a two state solution as it claims, it can assist, with funding. International sponsors can demand the political space be opened up and another round of elections in the future. They can aid in a protracted campaign with a broader range of candidates other than Hamas and Fatah. This would allow more moderates who better represent the Palestinians to emerge. There never has been a more opportune time to put the international community’s words to the test and break the grim cycle of violence.


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