The re-election of Khalid Mesha’al, the “relative pragmatist” leader of the Gaza-based Palestinian faction Hamas, is very likely to raise hope that the two most prominent Palestinian political groups may shortly join forces, now that the chances of peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis could be at their doorstep.
The diplomatic activities under the current Gaza cease-fire will test whether a quintet of leaders — each with his own domestic critics — can find a peaceful rather than a military solution to solve the Palestinian situation.
The cease-fire language was direct but ambiguous: “Israel should stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip by land, sea and air, including incursions and targeting of individuals.” Does that mean no Israeli drones over Gaza? “All Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel including rocket attacks and all attacks along the border.”
One day before announcing Wednesday, Nov. 21’s cease-fire agreement, at a brief news conference prior to talks between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, late on Tuesday night, the secretary announced that her itinerary included Ramallah and Cairo in addition to Jerusalem. The visit to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was a head-scratcher — given how marginal he was to the conflict raging in the Gaza Strip — as much as talk with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy is a no-brainer. There also seemed to be a glaring omission from Clinton’s shuttle: Ankara.
When it fired rockets at Jerusalem today from the Gaza Strip — the first time Jerusalem has been targeted — Hamas hoped to hit Jewish residents. The rockets, however, might just as easily have damaged Islamic holy sites or killed Palestinian residents. Even the late Iraqi leaderSaddam Hussein, who hit Tel Aviv with missiles during the 1991 Gulf War, refrained from attacking Jerusalem because of its sacred status and large Palestinian population.
Israel‘s assassination of Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jaabari in a missile attack has shattered the short-lived and fragile calm in the Gaza Strip, and could be another step in the transformation of the basic balance of power within Hamas — and even the broader Palestinian national movement. The attack is the most significant escalation since Operation Cast Lead, the offensive Israel launched in Gaza in December 2008, and which cost an estimated 1,400 Palestinian and 13 Israeli lives.
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If it had killed children on the Israeli farm they work for, Israel and Gaza would probably be at war right now.
Gaza’s Islamist rulers, Hamas, know what a fine line they tread when they fire rockets at Israel: maybe they’ll explode in a field and draw a few targeted air strikes; or maybe they’ll hit a kindergarten and Israel will bombard the Gaza Strip, as it did in their lopsided three-week war at the turn of 2008-2009.
Sheikh Hamad also denounced Israel’s policies and praised people of the Gaza Strip for standing up to it with “bare chests” during a one-day visit to the coastal enclave ruled by Hamas. The visit was the first by a head of state since Gaza fell under an Israeli blockade after Hamas took control of the territory in 2007.
“First, the division between the Palestinians and, second, the division between the Arabs caused more damage
to the Palestinian case than the repeated Israeli aggression,” Sheikh Hamad said in a speech at the Islamic University in Gaza on Tuesday.