Israel Campaign Could Boost Hamas, Hurt Rivals

Analysis

Bystander: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has lost popularity among his people by staying out of Hamas’s fight with Israel. Did Israel’s campaign bolster the most radical Palestinian groups?
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Bystander: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has lost popularity among his people by staying out of Hamas’s fight with Israel. Did Israel’s campaign bolster the most radical Palestinian groups?

By Nathan Jeffay

Published November 22, 2012, issue of November 30, 2012.
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Eran Shayshon, senior analyst at the Israeli think tank the Reut Institute, conceded that Operation Pillar of Defense is causing an “expected short-term spike” in Hamas’s popularity. But this does not translate to a real shift toward Palestinian support for Hamas’s more violent path, he said, or to a desire to live under a more militant regime.

“Right now, West Bankers are sure they don’t want to become Gazans, because they saw where Hamas’s uncompromising attitude towards Israel got them,” he said.

Gershon Baskin, the Israeli peace activist who helped to mediate the Shalit deal, believes that the answer is in Israel’s hands. Unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government shows Palestinians a glimmer of hope in the diplomatic process, Abbas and the P.A. could be doomed, he said. “This conflict could spell the end of Abu Mazen unless Israel engages him seriously now,” he said, using Abbas’s nickname.

Some analysts are optimistic that Pillar of Defense could promote a major advance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Shalom Yerushalmi, a center-right journalist, wrote in Ma’ariv that the operation has brought into sight a day when Egypt will take over from Israel responsibility for Gaza. This is because the operation forced the new Egyptian government to involve itself deeply in the Gaza regime through its role as a hub for cease-fire negotiations. It even dispatched Prime Minister Hisham Kandil to visit Gaza — a gesture that even Abbas did not make.

Meital said that Egypt has rejected proposals to take responsibility for Gaza in the past and would reject them now, viewing Gaza’s population as a “threat to national security.” But a Foreign Ministry source told the Forward that a scaled-down version of this plan is “something that the Foreign Ministry is tossing around, and a relatively attractive idea.”

The source — who could not be named, as he was talking about discussions at the ministry as opposed to policy — said, “We would be quite happy for Egypt to take over as many responsibilities as possible that Israel currently has over Gaza.” This would involve controlling security and, to some extent, supplies until a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian settlement is reached, he said. Cairo could be guaranteed an “exit strategy,” said the official, to ensure Egypt’s leaders they would not become fully responsible for the territory.

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


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