by Aaron Klein
TEL AVIV — Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip may have had the unintended consequence of turning Hamas into a player on the international diplomatic scene. In the grand scheme of things, while both sides sustained losses and advanced some gains, if the fighting is truly over today Hamas emerges the victor of this latest conflict.
While Hamas was firing rockets into central Israeli population centers, the group’s politburo chief Kheled Meshaal was in Cairo negotiating a cease fire through Egypt with both U.S. and Israeli officials. This after Israel and the Obama administration previously pledged against such dialogue with Hamas unless the Islamic group first recognized the Jewish state and renounced violence.
During the height of the fighting, multiple Arab delegations from Sudan through the Arab League through even the U.S.-aided Iraqi government went on solidarity visits to Hamas in Gaza. This was not the diplomatic scene during previous Israeli operations of either Gaza or the Fatah-dominated West Bank.
The fighting further served to solidify Hamas’s position as the dominant Palestinian faction waging jihad against Israel, relegating Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the role of bystander from his isolated compound in Ramallah, where he occasionally spattered off anti-Israel rhetoric to keep himself relevant.
This theme may help explain why Abbas’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades was quick to take credit for today’s bus bombing in Tel Aviv. The attack may have served as Fatah’s last-minute attempt to insert itself into the Israel-Hamas war.
To be sure, Hamas this last week suffered a major blow to its terrorist and military infrastructure inside Gaza. Yet throughout Israel’s campaign, Hamas was able to sustain daily rocketing of Israel’s central and southern population centers, including for the first time firing rockets into Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
That rocket fire establishes a new deterrent posture for Hamas, with Tel Avivians and Jerusalemites understanding that any future military incursion into Gaza will result in missiles at Israel’s major population centers and not just the Jewish communities outside Gaza.
Just as it did after Israel’s 2008 war in Gaza, Hamas will now set out to the tasks of rearming itself and rebuilding its destroyed infrastructure in Gaza, no doubt with help from its Iranian patrons.
While an initial cease fire was reached today, the agreement only serves as the basis for further talks between Israel and Hamas on such issues as the status of borders and international involvement in the region.
According to Middle East security sources familiar with the particulars of the continued, long term truce being discussed, the issues that are near agreement include:
1) Hamas would get a permanent official presence at the Rafah Border Crossing, which lies on the international border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Until now, officially the Palestinian Authority and Egypt largely controlled the crossing, although on the ground Hamas has been involved in monitoring and controlling the area.
2) Hamas is asking for international guarantees against a further Israeli military incursion inside the Gaza Strip under the condition rocket attacks from the territory cease. Any such deal would likely enhance Hamas’s diplomatic position internationally.
3) Israel is demanding a 30 meter buffer zone along the Gaza Strip border with the Jewish state. Such a buffer could be important in stopping cross border attacks, but would not affect Hamas’s ability to fire rockets into Israel since most rockets are fired from deep inside Gaza.
4) Israel is demanding a total halt to rocket attacks from Gaza.
5) Hamas is demanding an end to Israel’s naval and land blockade of the Gaza Strip. This is a point that Israel will likely not cede. However, the security sources said Israel is ready to scale back parts of the blockade after a period of quiet to be determined. Israel says it maintains the blockade to ensure against weapons smuggling into Gaza.