By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
It seems that the general behavior of many of the major players, who influence the Palestine issue, is leaning towards tightening the noose on the resistance forces (especially Hamas) so as to subdue it or remove it from the actual leadership of Gaza Strip (GS).
It seems that these forces still prefer to overthrow Hamas using various ways of “soft” power… without ruling out the military choice as a necessary one, whose chances are increasing after the Israeli elections, as hopes of overthrowing the resistance by other means are declining. This was indicated when former Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman put ending the truce with Hamas and destroying it as a pre-condition to joining Netanyahu’s next government.
Despite the 12 year old GS perseverance in the face of a strangling siege, two years ago (spring 2017), the severity of this siege increased, when the closure of the crossings reached an unprecedented level, the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah added a number of sanctions, the leaks of the “deal of the century” appeared, and special arrangements within this deal concerning GS were made in the second half of 2017.
Whatever the validity of some leaks concerning the expansion of GS at the expense of Egypt, and the naturalization of big numbers of GS refugees in Sinai, the resistance movements in GS remain a serious obstacle to any arrangements associated with this deal, or even to a peace process approved by Ramallah or the Arab countries. For these movements not only reject the “deal of the century,” they reject the whole peace process.
As the noose was tightened on GS in early 2018, the Palestinian resistance and popular forces launched the creative activity of the “Great Return Marches,” which, despite their high price, have directed the GS public anger on the Israeli occupation (rather than on the resistance as planned by the besiegers), and led to a wide Arab and Islamic interaction. Consequently, the besiegers were confused and “normalizers” felt embarrassed or reluctant vis-à-vis their masses, so they slowed their rush to normalize.
As for the Israeli side, which faced powerful escalating marches—especially in the first months—and was afraid of the possibility of a large number of refugees entering the 1948 occupied Palestine, it tended, even if temporarily to separate the humanitarian side from the political one. So it agreed on relatively easing the siege, Egypt opened the crossing for two-way traffic of individuals and goods, and the US did not find a favorable circumstance to put forward its deal, so it postponed it again and again.
Despite the fact that the return marches helped ease the siege, targeting the resistance persisted, and it seems that in the last months it has regained its momentum. However, it has been facing a delicate formula, where its pushing and pulling with the resistance forces was met with patience and wisdom within this complex scene.
In the last couple of months, the Israeli side raised its threat levels with the resistance in GS. It sent large military reinforcements on its borders, and the Israeli political, military and security statements of the necessity to invade GS and end the “Hamas rule” increased. They considered this rule has become unbearable.
The Israeli escalation remained carefully calculated, avoiding war, especially prior to Israel elections, considering it an adventure with unguaranteed end-result. Nonetheless, the talk about a comprehensive military attack remained, because of its high human and material costs. According to Netanyahu, there is no Arab country willing to take the responsibility of GS after it is occupied, neither is any Israeli party willing to re-administer the Strip.
At the same time, the PA in Ramallah exerted an exceptional pressure trying to subdue GS, where it largely contributed to the sanctions and its economic crisis. Then, lately, after it was not “empowered” in GS the way it wanted, the PA escalated its steps by having the Constitutional Court dissolve the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), then made huge efforts to create chaos in the Strip and mobilize people against the GS administration under the slogan “we want to live.” It sought to form a Palestinian government headed by a Fatah member, while its members are exclusively from the factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
In other words, the PA (Fatah) leadership made up its mind to close the reconciliation dossier, going into a “bone-breaking” battle with Hamas, removing it from the Palestinian “legitimacy,” and expropriating any of its political cover… Hence, opening the way for more pressure on resistance movements and “legitimizing” their toppling even by harsh means.
The US has returned to activating the closure of the Palestinian dossier, and establishing suitable environments for its plan, titled the “deal of the century.” It continued escalating the strangling siege of the resistance forces, drying up their sources of finance, punishing any party supporting them, and continued pressuring Arab and Muslim countries so as to accept its dictates concerning the Palestinian issue.
The Egyptian government most certainly supports the PA administration of GS and in some ways the peace process, and it has a dispute with “political Islam.” Nevertheless, it does not wish matters to reach a point that the situation explodes in GS.
As for some of the Arab countries, they have regained their normalization activity with Israel, and continued their media campaign against the resistance, especially the “political Islam” movements. Some regimes continued their security and intelligence activities against the resistance and those who finance it or raise funds for it. Therefore, the indicators are piling up that the pressure against GS is escalating in order to topple its resistance, especially after the Israeli elections’ dust settles, and the new government is formed.
May be the next escalation will take the form of fabricating events (or exploiting events) to take measures and close the crossings once again, along with limited “qualitative” Israeli military strikes. May be there would be assassination attempts against resistance leaders, and the PA government would halt all of its GS financing methods, so as to reach an actual total economic collapse.
This could be accompanied by the activation of internal popular protests, so as to force Hamas to fully hand over its authority to the Ramallah government. And may be the PA would introduce a national “coat” under the slogan of achieving the territorial integrity of the PA, with one government and one weapon, and it may even claim that it wants to “prevent the enforcement of the deal of the century,” notwithstanding the fact that the PA is implementing the Oslo criteria, the peace settlement, and the Israeli security coordination conditions on GS.
But if this siege and escalation failed, most probably the option of broad military intervention would be put on the table, along with attempts to cause internal chaos and collapse in the internal situation of GS.
However, the various forces participating in the siege realize how fragile their position is, for Israel realizes the military strength of the resistance and the dear price it would pay in any future military confrontation, which may even cause the overthrow of its government.
The PA leadership realizes that the Palestinian people refuse the sanctions it is imposing on GS, disarming the resistance, and that the popularity of the resistance will increase in any upcoming confrontation with Israel. The US, as well as the Arab leaders, realize quite well that using harsh means to make the GS fall would be met by a widening popular discontent with the US and the Arab regimes themselves. They realize that it is a risk, and that at this stage it is a kind of “playing with fire.”
Therefore, Hamas and other resistance forces must realize that any of the procedures to mitigate the siege or “the truce,” are but tactical, and that when the time comes, anti-resistance forces opponents and enemies would not hesitate a bit to obliterate any resistance gains.
Consequently, as the resistance forces face immense pressure, they must get closer to their people and masses, widen the national partnership of GS administration, and the sharing of GS concerns and responsibilities. They must continue to be open to all initiatives that would bring back the reconciliation track and end the schism, strengthen the internal Palestinian front to face the Palestinian cause liquidation attempts, and launch a media and mobilization campaign to gain support in facing the siege and the attempts to shake that front.
This article was originally published in Arabic on TRT Arabic “trt.net.tr/arabic” on 12/4/2019.