Israel Pulse

Netanyahu’s separation policy feeds Hamas violence

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Article Summary
Israel's longtime policy of separation between the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as punishment measures against the Palestinian Authority could help actually Hamas take over the West Bank.

Late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s doctrine, “We must fight terrorism as if there's no peace process and work to achieve peace as if there's no terror,” could be twisted to describe the approach of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “We must pay for terror as if there is no peace, and we must fight peace as if there is no terror.”

On several occasions, Israel has authorized Qatari transfers of financial aid to Gaza. On May 7, Qatar announced that it would transfer more monetary aid both to Gaza and to the West Bank.

Israel has been using Qatar to fund the Hamas regime in Gaza even while the regime is attacking Israeli localities in the south, killing Israeli citizens and openly conspiring against a diplomatic arrangement. The same Israeli government is attacking the Palestinian Authority, whose leaders support a diplomatic arrangement, by withholding taxes paid by the residents of the occupied territories and collected by Israel. In fact, Israel passed a law last year to deduct from the PA tax revenues compensatory payments the PA makes to families of Palestinian assailants.

While Israel is engaging in contacts with Hamas, an organization that plans and initiates suicide attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem, to bring about a cease-fire, the Israeli government is robbing members of the Palestinian security forces, who are preventing terrorist attacks in the center of the country, of their salaries.

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The state comptroller’s report on Operation Protective Edge, released in February 2017, focused on flaws in the political decision-making process. The comptroller complained that the cabinet did not hold a single discussion on strategic targets in the Gaza Strip. “When the cabinet did have a discussion about strategy,” the comptroller wrote, “it examined a very limited range of alternatives, pertaining exclusively to the severity of the military action. It never discussed a diplomatic alternative or the harsh humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, which the security establishment believed would have implications for the State of Israel.”

In October 2017, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Yoav Mordechai presented furious predictions concerning the situation in Gaza and its implications in a public position paper written with his adviser for Palestinian Affairs, Col. Michael Milstein, and organizational psychologist Lt. Col. Yotam Amitai (res.), who was organizational consultant for the Central Command and for the Gaza Region Division. The document, published by the Institute for National Security Studies, warned explicitly that if there is no significant change to the humanitarian situation in Gaza, forces more extreme than Hamas will seize control of the government there. The document went on to describe the needed changes as a project similar to the Marshall Plan to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip that Hamas could not oppose.

Those three security officials assessed that the PA would condition its support for the move on its expansion into the West Bank. They emphasized, “This is a fundamental question that should be discussed over the diplomatic channel.’’

The problem is that the only existing diplomatic discussion is the one Netanyahu conducts with himself as both prime minister and defense minister. The issue at stake is not the lack of policy or political discretion, as expressed in the comptroller’s report, nor any difficulty in understanding the security assessments. Israelis residing near Gaza were targeted and will continue to be targeted because of the specific policy championed by the Netanyahu government, a policy designed around political considerations and despite security assessments. Ignorance of facts or misunderstanding of assessments is no excuse. In fact, even now, after the latest round of violence, the same policy prevails. On May 6, Netanyahu stated, “We are prepared to continue.”

The policy at the root of this evil is a flawed carrot-and-stick approach: Paradoxically, there is a stick for those who support the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel (leaders of the PA) and a carrot for those who support the creation of a Palestinian state instead of Israel (Hamas). The practical implementation of this policy is the separation policy intended to divide the West Bank from Gaza. In response to a 2011 petition to the Supreme Court by a Gaza resident who wanted to study at the West Bank Bir Zeit University, the state attorney’s office explained its opposition as follows: “The common policy today in all matters pertaining to the entry of Gaza residents into the Judea and Samaria region [the West Bank] is a policy of differentiating the two regions.” The statement went on, “The rationale behind this policy is general security, particularly as pertains to family connections and the ability to transfer information and means to hostile forces.”

In an April 18 interview with Makor Rishon, the prime minister’s personal adviser Yonatan Orich admitted that security issues have been used as a cover for political ploys. The adviser, whom the article described as one of the people closest to the prime minister, defined the separation of Gaza from the West Bank as a central element of the Netanyahu legacy. "Shattering the vision of a Palestinian state in these two regions [and] … imposing sovereignty over the settlements is the natural outcome of the status quo and its expansion,” he said. Orich did not hide that freezing Palestinian tax revenues over funds destined for the families of prisoners serves the purpose of shattering the vision of a Palestinian state.

The rejectionist Hamas and Islamic Jihad's actions that sent hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens running for their shelters underscores the PA's diplomatic failure. As in the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, violence paid off. While Oslo diplomacy is being crushed, Hamas proves yet again that violence pays. An American plan that would offer almost nothing to the Palestinians, a plan that would leave Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with just a quarter of what he wanted, could spell the fall of Abbas and subsequently open the way for Hamas to enter the West Bank.

A Hamas takeover of the West Bank will bury Netanyahu’s separation doctrine and his policy of preserving the status quo. Much like the south of Israel near the Gaza Strip, Israeli towns and villages near the West Bank would become danger zones. The flames that ensue will lap at the Kingdom of Jordan, threaten Israel's relationship with Egypt and intensify Israel’s international isolation. At that point, Qatar will stop its aid, leaving room for Iran to walk in. The European states will take their cue from the US Congress, which has halted economic assistance to the PA, thereby passing the burden to the Israeli taxpayer.

US President Donald Trump supports Netanyahu’s policy, but his support will actually harm the Israeli citizens who will pay a heavy price if the PA collapses.

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Akiva Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel and has been translated into English, French, German and Arabic.

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