Tensions between Israel and Hamas have been escalating since the beginning of 2017. Shelling between both the Gaza Strip and southern Israel first increased at the beginning of the year and has been regular since, as both Israel and Hamas’ positions have hardened.
Tensions are also growing between Hamas and Fatah, and Hamas is finding itself increasingly isolated. 2017 has seen a worsening of living conditions in Gaza, which echoes the situation just before the conflict in 2014, and prompts concerns that larger-scale violence will break out between Hamas and Israel in Gaza.
Isolation of Hamas
In 2007, after winning legislative elections in Gaza but almost immediately coming into violent conflict with Fatah for not complying with the conditions of governance imposed by the US, Russia, the UN and the EU, Hamas set up a parallel government to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Gaza. Both Hamas and Fatah were unable to work together in the PA. In September 2014, after the conflict with Israel, an agreement between Hamas and Fatah brought Gaza back under the control of the PA. However, deep divisions between the two parties make cooperation difficult, and these divisions have been hardening: in March 2017, one of the founders of Hamas’ al Qassam military wing in the 1980s, considered a military hardliner, was elected the new leader of Hamas’ military (FT 13/02/2017). Disputes over candidate lists for elections in October 2016 led to their delay until May 2017. Then in May, Hamas refused to hold the elections and instead set up a committee to manage Gaza independently of the PA. Fatah has since been using its control of resources to try and force Hamas to return to the PA, including making cuts to the salaries of public servants working in Gaza.
Following several Arab countries’ decisions to cut ties with Qatar in June, partly driven by Qatar “supporting terrorist groups”, Hamas may lose some of Qatar’s support. Qatar hosts the Hamas leadership and funds reconstruction projects in the Gaza Strip (ABC News 05/06/2017, Al Monitor 09/06/2017, Times of Israel 06/06/2017).
Hardening Israeli policy
Since Donald Trump’s election in January 2017, Israel has been intensifying settlement building in the West Bank (UN 24/03/2017). The Knesset has also passed a law banning supporters of the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement from entering Israel (the BDS calls for measures to pressure Israel to end occupation in the Palestinian territories). It is also discussing a Muezzin law which would restrict calls to prayer to early or late hours for noise control (Israel National News 08/03/2017, The Independent 07/03/2017). Although the Trump administration eventually decided against moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, the open contemplation of such a move would suggest tacit support of Israel’s policies and alienates Palestinians.
Restrictions of movements in and out of the Gaza Strip have been slightly tighter as tensions have grown between Hamas and both Israel and Egypt: movement across all crossings has seen a decline throughout 2017, with levels also lower than the monthly averages of 2014 (Al Jazeera 07/05/2017 & Gisha 17/05/2017, OCHA 15/05/2017).