What drives Israel’s war on Gaza? It is not the need to weaken Hamas nor to stop the rockets. Both goals were almost achieved back in April.
On the 23rd of April, Hamas was in its worst strategic position ever. The Palestinian faction that has ruled over Gaza since winning the elections in 2006 had lost significant public support.
Hamas had not been able to pay civil servants for months and was facing a severe financial crisis after losing its allies in the region with the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the ongoing war in Syria, and the disruption of its life supplies when the tunnels that connected Gaza to Egypt were mostly destroyed by the Egyptian government.
The Rafah crossing was firmly shut, the supply of electricity at its lowest, the gas supplies almost depleted and the entire population was pushing for a change.
With its back to the wall, Hamas had no option but to reach out to the Palestinian Authority (PA,) and agree to all conditions laid down by its president Mahmoud Abbas.
And, just in case there are any doubts as to how much Hamas was ready to compromise, Abbas, in a meeting for the PLO’s central Council on April 26, confirmed a unity government would adhere to all agreements previously signed, would renounce terror, would recognise Israel and would continue the negotiations.
The unity government was welcomed by the EU, Russia and the United Nations.
The US was ready to accept it as long as it agreed to abide by the Quartet’s conditions, which seemed almost like a done deal.
On the other hand, Israeli leaders who once criticised Abbas for not representing all the Palestinians, using his lack of control over Gaza as a pretext for questioning his ability to make a comprehensive peace, were not pleased.
They accused Abbas of signing a deal with what they considered a terrorist organisation. Never mind that the new Palestinian cabinet was going to be largely made up of technocrats and headed by the same pre-agreement Prime Minister, reporting directly to Abbas and who wasted no time emphasising that this was his government, implementing his program.
Had Israel accepted the unity deal, this would have been the perfect opportunity to turn a weakened Hamas into a Hamas that operates under the umbrella of the PA and within the rules set by the quartet.
To do otherwise, Hamas would have risked the resentment and rejection of a large majority of the Palestinian public.
Superficially at least, Israel’s reaction seemed to run counter to its own policy objectives. However, it has been clear for some time that Israel’s true objective is to continue settlement expansion and land grab, while using endless negotiations as a delaying tactic to alleviate international pressure.
Palestinian unity would have been a major obstacle in the face of such farce.
So, when the three young Israeli settlers were kidnapped and killed on June 12th, the Israeli government carefully orchestrated a three-week public relations campaign insisting to the world that it was Hamas who kidnapped them, although no evidence of such a claim has ever been produced.
Anyone with a basic knowledge of Palestinian politics can see how ridiculous such a claim is.
For Hamas, who was desperate to see things work out in its unity deal with the PA, the timing could not have been worse.
Never shy about claiming responsibility for attacks on Israelis, Hamas vehemently denied it had anything to do with the kidnapping.
Netanyahu persisted and the Israeli incitement against Hamas in particular, and Palestinians and Arabs in general, reached unprecedented levels.
And now here we are. Israel has been pounding Gaza for days with hundreds of one tonne bombs, destroying lives, homes and infrastructure.
Anyone who believes that the home-made, highly ineffective Hamas rockets necessitate the use of such highly lethal indiscriminate bombing on every residential area in Gaza, is delusional.
The bombing is clearly motivated by a long-term right-wing Israeli strategy that aims to turn Gaza into an even more impoverished and miserable version of the West Bank.
Israel’s colonisation of the West Bank is on steroids. While settlements continue to strip Palestinians of their land and their resources, the Israeli army regularly harasses and arrests Palestinians, responding to their non-violent protests with deadly live fire and tear gas.
This plan to turn Gaza into the West Bank was clear when the terms of the ceasefire that was brokered by Egypt were published.
While Israel accepted the ceasefire, it was rejected by Hamas, which found itself in a precarious position.
To accept the terms would have meant to accept total submission.
The siege would not be lifted, the crossings would not be opened and Israel would maintain its license to kill.
Israel’s occupation of Gaza would take a turn for the worse.
The terms of the ceasefire made it clear that Israel, with the silence and complicity of the international community, does not want to offer Palestinians security, nor does it exhibit any desire to begin addressing even their most basic rights as human beings.
* Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian Australian commentator and political analyst. She is a regular contributor to AlJazeera Online, a columnist for the Middle East Eye News and policy advisor to the Palestinian Al-Shabaka network.
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