THE BLOG

Hamas and Israel Are Responsible for Latest Escalation

Who is responsible for the sudden escalation of the situation in the Gaza Strip? All of a sudden rockets are coming out from Gaza after a period of calm and Israel tanks are shelling residential areas, which killed four members of the Helu family in the Shejaiya refugee camp in the Strip. This was followed by the bus bombing that killed an Israeli women and injured tens.

While both Hamas and Israel are blaming each other, I believe that both are responsible this time, and for one reason and one reason only. They are both opposed to the latest initiative coming out of Ramallah. Addressing the Palestine Central Council at the end of last week, President Mahmoud Abbas stunned his audience by offering to go to the Gaza Strip within days. His offer focused on the idea of gaining the involvement and approval of Hamas with regard to a Palestinian government made up of independent figures. The Palestinian president wants this new government to work for six months in preparation for the proposed September legislative and presidential elections. Abbas is repeatedly on the record as saying he is not running in the upcoming presidential elections.

The surprise initiative was immediately welcomed by the Hamas leadership in Gaza who said that they welcome Abbas to Gaza to continue the talks, but failed to address the content of his initiative. Later it became clear that Hamas, and especially the leadership abroad, is totally opposed to the idea which they said was an attempt by Ramallah to circumvent their own initiative and that without true reconciliation no elections will take place.

This negativity is much more in sync with what is happening on the ground. In the past week, security forces in Gaza have repeatedly attacked young demonstrators calling for an end to internal divisions. Journalists and camerapersons have also been harassed, beaten and had cameras and tapes confiscated in an attempt by the de facto power in Gaza to prevent images of the security forces' repression of non-violent demonstrators from coming out.

The Palestinian public was becoming more supportive of the Abbas initiative despite, or maybe in spite of the Hamas response. A poll conducted after the announcement of the initiative showed overwhelming support of the initiative. According to the AWRAD survey, 91 per cent of Palestinians said they supported the president's initiative.

When the Hamas anti-demonstrators action proved ineffective, apparently a decision was taken to divert attention by launching rockets towards Israel. Unlike previous attacks, which the Hamas leadership has denounced and even threatened some radical groups for violating the tahdia (Arabic word for quiet), Hamas publicly took credit for the latest rockets which fell in the Negev desert and didn't cause any damage or injury.

Meanwhile, there was a different set of considerations on the other side. The more the Abbas initiative seemed to be taking root, and Hamas unable to reject this popular demand, the more the Israelis were unhappy. The Israelis began their attacks against the Abbas initiative politically and moved to the military front.

Without even admitting their responsibility for the current deadlock in the peace process, the Israelis continue to request Palestinians to be involved in the process rather than real peace. Speaking in the Knesset, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacked Abbas saying that he has to choose between peace with Hamas and peace with Israel. Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon prepared the Israeli public for what was coming by saying that Israel will kill Hamas leaders.

The Israeli threat to kill the Hamas leaders didn't materialize, instead ordinary Palestinians were once again forced to pay the price. The Helu family was devastated when a tank shell landed in their home killing four members of the family including an 11-year-old child.

Hamas and Israeli leaders might have different reasons for their rejection of the Abbas initiative and the escalation of the violence in the Gaza strip. Whatever their political motivation, neither side has the right to punish the civilian population.