Unfortunately, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has flared up again, leading to yet another bombing run by Israel on the Gaza Strip, rockets from Gaza into Israel, and revenge attacks against Palestinian civilians in Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. This all started due to the kidnapping and murder of 3 Israeli students, culminating in the arrests of hundred of Palestinians, a revenge killing by extremist Israeli soccer fans, and the current bombing happening in Gaza. Of course, this have also been complemented by attacks on Palestinians by police and settlers leading to the deaths of several Palestinians by Israeli security forces during the arrests and search for the murderers. Hamas has praised the kidnapping, though it claims that it had nothing to do with it.
While the people responsible for the kidnapping were in the West Bank and the supposed planner of this kidnapper living in Turkey, Israel has chosen to bomb Gaza in what looks like a case of collective punishment. There has been evidence that the kidnapping was carried out by members of a prominent clan in Hebron. While this clan is nominally aligned with Hamas, they are also known for going against what the Hamas leadership wants. If this is true, why is Israel targeting Hamas? There are two explanations that have been suggested: to dismantle Hamas’s network, and/or to destroy the unity deal. The former explanation is what has been given publicly by Israeli officials. If this is truly their aim, it most likely isn’t going to work. This was Israel’s rationale in their 2008 and 2012 operations, but they failed each time. Of course, Hamas is facing some dire times right now. With the Egyptian and Israeli militaries cooperating more closely to squeeze Hamas and Gaza, Hamas has lost its sources of revenue and military aid. Of course, Iran does still send the group missiles every now and then. But with the borders being sealed and the area carefully watched over, Hamas has been having a difficult time obtaining these weapons.
With the recent unity deal, Hamas has been able to shift the burden of civil expenses onto the Palestinian Authority (PA) and start operating more freely in the West Bank. While critics have argued that the unity deal doesn’t do enough to curb Hamas’s ability to attack Israel, it is also important to remember that Hamas does not hold any key positions within the cabinet of the government. The unity government has also promised to continue the peace negotiations with Israel. If anything, Hamas ordering this kidnapping of Israel is questionable as this would go against their vital interests.
Which brings us to the latter of the two possible explanations: that Netanyahu is trying to put pressure on the new unity government. Israel had originally failed to convince the world powers against recognizing the new government (with India, China, Turkey, and even the US agreeing to cooperate with the unity government). During the search for the missing Israeli students, the PA was perceived as having aided Israel’s arrest of Hamas members in the West Bank, putting a great amount of strain on the new unity deal. Indeed, several analysts have argued that this is what Netanyahu is attempting to accomplish.
But this is short term thinking that will only escalate tensions and possibly lead to a third intifada (uprising). It is no secret that there is a lot of tension between Hamas and the PA. When Hamas and Fatah (the largest faction in the PA) signed an unity agreement in 2011, this was met with skepticism throughout the region. The recent unity government is a surprise, but it does little to address the inherent distrust between the two Palestinian parties. A greater way to insure the breakup of the Palestinian government would have been to let it run their course and see if it broke up. Instead, Netanyahu has elected to choose a path that leads to more suffering for the Palestinian people escalates tensions, and internationally isolates Israel, without any real indication that this will break the unity deal or lead to the dismantling of Hamas.