Middle East and North Africa Briefing N°60 - Averting War in Gaza
Israel and Hamas stand on the brink of another full-scale confrontation in Gaza. The only viable exit from the ongoing cycle of escalation is for international actors to use carrots and sticks to bring about intra-Palestinian reconciliation, thereby allowing the Palestinian Authority (PA) to govern the Gaza Strip.
What’s new? What is new is that little is new: despite repeated claims that efforts are being made to address the situation in Gaza, Israel and Hamas once again are sliding dangerously toward a new war.
Why does it matter? The last war in Gaza took the lives of over two thousand Palestinians and more than 70 Israelis.
What should be done? The international community needs to use its leverage to press Israel to lift the blockade and the Palestinian Authority to take over Gaza through some form of intra-Palestinian reconciliation.
The recent escalation between Israel and Hamas was the most intense since the 2014 war. Although there are solid reasons why neither wishes to see another full-scale confrontation, the fact that nothing has been resolved in the past four years and that essential dynamics remain unchanged is cause enough for worry. That recent exchanges of fire are worsening is more troubling still. The parties, as well as regional and international stakeholders, have claimed interest over the years in addressing both the situation in Gaza, marked by a blockade that is rendering the lives of Palestinian civilians virtually unbearable, and the continued Hamas attempts to break it, which are making Israelis anxious and eager to hit back. Yet, their good intentions notwithstanding, they have done little to make this happen.
The solution, which Crisis Group has long recommended, hinges on Palestinians agreeing to a form of internal reconciliation allowing the Palestinian Authority (PA) to govern the Gaza Strip, and others encouraging this outcome or at least not standing in the way. With the PA in charge, many of the reasons proffered by Israel for strangling Gaza’s economy should disappear; with conditions in Gaza improving, some of the primary justifications advanced by Hamas and other Palestinian organisations to launch attacks from the Strip likewise should evaporate.
Achieving that outcome requires overcoming obstacles that have impeded it for years. That means outside actors – the U.S., European Union (EU), and Arab states first and foremost – pressing Israelis and Palestinians to urgently take these steps. The alternative is another round of fighting, only bloodier, more dangerous and more inexcusable.