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US Peace Plan Seen as Having Provoked Gaza Violence
Masked Palestinians inflate balloons, which will then be attached to a gas canister that will serve as an incendiary device, near Gaza's Bureij refugee camp, along the Israel-Gaza border fence, on February 10, 2020. (Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images)

US Peace Plan Seen as Having Provoked Gaza Violence

Analysts: Palestinians in the coastal strip have returned to violence to express rejection of Trump plan and pressure Israel for better conditions but no side wants war

Gaza is swinging between tension and speculation about war as intermittent violence continues to erupt in the Strip, despite an unofficial ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, negotiated by Egypt. This is due to a number of factors, chief among them US President Donald Trump’s January 28 announcement of his Middle East peace plan. Ever since, rockets and incendiary balloons have been launched almost daily from Gaza toward southern Israel, prompting Israeli military responses.

On Sunday morning, in response to two rockets fired from Gaza toward the Israeli community of Kissufim, east of the Strip, the Israeli Air Force launched a series of attacks against targets associated with Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules the Gaza. No casualties were reported.

“Hamas did not break the truce and Hamas is not seeking escalation or war. Hamas and the other factions in Gaza want to lift the unfair blockade of the Strip,” Hazem Qassem, a Gaza-based Hamas spokesperson told The Media Line.

Qassem explained that the Egyptian mediator worked constantly to calm the situation in Gaza and implement what had been agreed on with Israel regarding ending the siege and advancing development projects, “but the latter is procrastinating.”

Husam Dajani, a Gaza-based analyst who teaches political science at Ummah University, told The Media Line that the military escalation was caused as people in the Strip lost hope amid the continuation of the blockade, especially after the so-called deal of the century was revealed. “Gaza is unlivable according to the testimony of the United Nations and international human rights organizations. The poverty rate in Gaza is 75%; the extreme poverty rate is 37%.”

Dajani explained that after the announcement of the American plan, some people in Gaza even turned against Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, himself. They no longer have any faith in the political process with Israel or the US because the deal shows how completely biased America is toward Israel.

“All of these factors, in addition to the blockade on the Strip, made the environment fertile for the resistance to pressure Israel, as well as draw the attention of the international community to the fact that Israel isn’t implementing what has been agreed on,” he said. “Israel is maneuvering in a way that does not allow Gaza to live or die. The people of Gaza and the resistance recognize this, and the latter decided to do something about it.”

Since Israel left Gaza in the 2005 disengagement, Israel and Egypt have maintained strict control of every entry to and exit from the Gaza Strip, which, they say, prevent the movement of terrorists and infiltration of material that could be used to build weapons and military infrastructure. Palestinians, however, consider Israel to still be occupying the Strip. Moreover, Palestinians in Gaza accuse Israel of failure to implement the April 2019 Egyptian-brokered deal between the two sides, which included expanding the fishing limit along the Mediterranean coast from 11 to 28 kilometers for the first time in years. The stated purpose of expanding the fishing zone, and of other measures such as increasing exports, allowing the entry of dual-use items, and opening an industrial zone, was to boost Gaza’s economy.

Ayman Abd Al Majeed, an Egyptian writer and head of the political section at the Rose al-Yusuf daily newspaper in Cairo, told The Media Line that external interference was needed to prevent a fullscale war, which could destroy what was left of Gaza’s infrastructure – an intolerable scenario that this critical stage. “Palestinians are extremely upset over the so-called deal of the century, which violates their legitimate right to self-determination and prevents the establishment of an independent state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

Abd Al Majeed justified the Arabs’ wall-to-wall rejection of the American deal, which, he said, ignored the principles of the 2002 Arab League peace initiative.

He added that political parties in the “Zionist entity” were taking advantage of the critical situation in Gaza for their own electoral purposes. “[Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu and his competitors are using the situation to win the votes of right-wing extremists on the assumption that there’s a state of danger that requires adherence to a specific administration.”

Lt. Col. (res.) Moshe Marzouk, an Israeli analyst and research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzilya, told The Media Line, “I don’t think we are going to war. There would be no benefits to anyone here.”

Marzouk says that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have repeatedly tried to achieve more for Gaza by escalating attacks on Israel and that Israel has repeatedly responded first by clamping down on conditions – for example restricting fishing rights and applying other economic and commercial pressure on residents of the Strip – and later by relaxing those restrictions. So the dynamic is that of a game.

Hamas has tried to take advantage of the chaos surrounding Israel’s repeated elections, but, Marzouk says, it hasn’t succeeded. At the same time, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and Netanyahu have used the Gaza issue to try to prove their own toughness to Israeli voters.

Nabil Amro, a former Palestinian information minister, told The Media Line that the status quo would continue until after Israel’s upcoming election unless Israel incurred casualties. “There will be inevitable escalation from Israel if that happens. Otherwise, the situation will stay under control, with some random rockets here and there.”

Nevertheless, Amro said, despite Egyptian efforts to achieve calm in Gaza, the Israeli response to Cairo was very limited; Hamas offered much more than Israel did. “Egypt has prevented all-out war in Gaza and might intervene again now to ensure that, but Israel must compromise.”

The last visit of an Egyptian security delegation to the Gaza Strip took place on Sept. 8, 2019, with the aim of cementing the truce. Another visit for the same purpose was scheduled for January 6 of this year but the delegation canceled the visit with no explanation. Recently, Hamas acceded to an Egyptian request to prevent the use of balloons and kites carrying improvised explosive devices into Israel, but with the publication of the American plan, the organization reneged on that commitment.

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