Is Hamas Planning a Holiday Surprise for Israel?
Is a breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict suddenly emerging, or is renewed war with Hamas imminent? Given that this is the Middle East, it should come as no surprise that there's movement in both directions.
Egypt has presented a sweeping proposal for the creation of a Palestinian state, to be created on land that Egypt would willingly cede from the Sinai Desert, in an area contiguous with Gaza. The new state would cover five times the area now controlled by Hamas; Palestinians would abandon their demand for a state on the West Bank, but major Palestinian population centers there would be granted "autonomy," a murky concept long used in this region. This new Palestinian state would be demilitarized, but the substantial enlargement of Gaza would make it possible for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees to be settled there.
Not surprisingly, reactions were varied. While Israeli leaders praised the initiative and deemed it worth exploring, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly rejected the deal out of hand. In classic Middle East fashion, after Abbas had rejected the deal, Tayeb Abdel-Rahim, secretary general of Abbas's office, denied that the deal had ever been offered. The report of the proposal on Israeli Army Radio, he said, was "baseless." Why his boss would have rejected a deal that had never been suggested in the first place was not clear.
While Egypt is being creative, however, the winds of renewed war are beginning to blow. Over the past several days, the Israeli press has consistently noted that the quiet we're now enjoying may prove short-lived. Avi Issacharoff, a former Arab affairs correspondent for Haaretz, wondered aloud in Times of Israel whether Israel was headed towards a renewed conflict with Gaza. With Israeli-Hamas negotiations apparently going nowhere, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's pugnacious Foreign Minister, warned that Hamas would never consent to being disarmed -- and lest Israelis imagined they could live with that, he insisted that Hamas was no less dangerous to Israel than Islamic State. YNet noted that Hamas had begun re-digging the tunnels that the Israeli Defense Forces had destroyed; the report included responses from residents of the area that if the tunnels were really being rebuilt, Israel would have every justification for renewing the war.
As if those tunnels were not sufficient, Israeli TV reported on Friday night that the IDF is preparing for a "very violent" war with Lebanon's Hezbollah, which possesses 100,000 rockets (including 5,000 powerful, long-range missiles), and has apparently also dug tunnels into Israel.
It was all a reminder to Israelis that even if the Egyptian plan were ever to get traction (highly unlikely), Israel's problems would hardly be over.
But there was also a more ominous note, the importance of which was overlooked by many. Ismail Haniyeh, second in command of Hamas' political wing, warned the other day that if Israel does not lift the siege on Gaza, fighting will resume on Sept. 25.
On the surface, it sounded like a standard Hamas warning. But that is the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Days that Jews treasure as moments of religious introspection, he intimated, could be the day their husbands, sons and fathers head back to war.
Worse still, Haniyeh may have been invoking a longstanding tradition of enemies using Jewish holidays as opportunities to attack. In 1973, of course, Anwar Sadat's Egyptian forces attacked Israel on Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the Jewish year. Even earlier, though, the Nazis employed similar tactics in trying break the Jewish spirit. On Rosh Hashanah 1940, they announced the formation of the Warsaw Ghetto. In the ghetto of the Polish town of Zdunska Wola, they used Purim (the Jewish holiday on which Jews celebrate their triumph over ancient enemies) as the day for public executions of Jews. Other examples abound.
Because of this history, Haniyeh's warning might just backfire. If in threatening renewed war he reminded Israelis that this conflict is not about the siege on Gaza but is merely the latest chapter in an ongoing campaign to destroy Israel, Hamas is likely to find an Israeli populace saddened by renewed war, but profoundly committed to winning it, no matter the cost.
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