Gaza has its own unique predicament: it is a distinct territory, a country in a sense, whose government is considered a terrorist group by much of the world. Violent and unbending even before, Hamas has acquired a martyr complex fueled by rejection and isolation. This was compounded when Israel furiously rejected last month's establishment, on paper at least, of a Palestinian "unity government" backed by both Hamas and Abbas' moderate Fatah party. Netanyahu cut Abbas off, even though the Palestinian leader insisted the new government was committed to peace, which could have easily been spun by all sides as a useful moderating of Hamas. Then came the Egyptian cease-fire plan, which felt to Hamas like an imperious diktat. The group wants the respect that only a seat at the table can bestow, and a more genuine negotiation that opens up the vital Rafah border crossing with Egypt could do the trick. Down the pike lies a potentially elegant twist: If Israel accepts the unity government as part of a cease-fire deal, that could enable everyone to save face and for Abbas, now in charge of the border, to quietly reassert himself in the strip.
WILL EGYPT END THE BLOCKADE?
It's not exactly a "cycle of violence": Whereas Israel agreed to a straight-forward cease-fire Hamas has not. Why is the side getting pummeled also the one presenting conditions? Because ever since Hamas seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007, others have been controlling what and who gets in and out. The blockade has caused much misery, given rise to massive smuggling scams, and lent the whole place the otherworldly aura of a giant prison. Against this Hamas knows it can stand firm, despite the ruination its actions bring on. But contrary to perception, Israel is not the main player in a realistic scenario to ease the problem. Israel controls the sea access west of the rectangular strip as well as the airspace, fearing the import of weapons that could be used against it. Israel also blocks its own borders with Gaza on the strip's north and east, never forgetting the suicide bombers of years past. All this will remain as long as Hamas, dedicated openly to Israel's destruction, is in charge. That leaves the southern land border with Egypt and its crossing point at Rafah, which, if opened by Egypt, would effectively end the chokehold of the strip. But Egypt under new President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is no friend of Hamas, even suspecting it of aiding militants in its Sinai region across the Rafah border. So efforts appear to be underway to put that border under the control of the Palestinian Authority instead. That would appeal to many by diluting Hamas' control of Gaza. The European Union may also be invited to play a role at the crossing, as it did before the Hamas takeover. Egyptian officials suggest they may be willing to go along.
BAD FENCES MAKE BAD MEDIATORS