Now that hostilities have ceased, the next step between Israel and Palestinian militants is some form of negotiated settlement. Hamas will push for the lifting of the blockade that has stifled goods being shipped into the country. Five years after Hamas seized control from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the blockade was imposed by Israel to halt the flow of military weapons into Gaza. The closing of all ports has been highly successful, leaving Gaza in an impoverished condition. In turn, Israel will demand an end to arms smuggling. Weapons have continued to come in through a system of tunnels built along the Egyptian border. These tunnels were one of the main targets during the eight days of air strikes by Israel. Significant damage was done to this system.
Obviously, negotiations will be long and tough. Both sides have a great deal at stake. Egypt’s continuing role is to work with Gaza and Israel to start talks. However, the ongoing turmoil in Egypt has made President Morsi’s position tenuous. Undoubtedly, his time is consumed with trying to survive the current upheaval since he claimed dictatorial powers. It is not clear when negotiations can begin in earnest with President Morsi at the table..
But what can be expected?
This past week the world got a few clues from the first visit to Gaza City in history of the political leader of Hamas. Khaled Meshai delivered a defiant speech, vowing to built an Islamic Palestinians state on all the land of Israel. Tens of thousands of supporters gathered to hear Meshai promise the Jewish state would be wiped out by resistance and military action. Meshai said, “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concessions on any inch of the land.”
The Hamas leader promised no recognition of the legitimacy of Israel, vowing that they would free Jerusalem no matter how long it takes. Hamas appears to have developed a new confidence believing they have stood up to Israel. However, they know that the fall of President Morsi would have dire consequences for them.
So, what can the world make of the current situation. Palestinian defenders are not likely to write Meshal’s speech off as political rhetoric. They believe in what he said. Certainly his ideas represent the Hamas constitution. He must be taken seriously. Unfortunately, terrorist are not deterred by such things as having all their buildings smashed and their leaders killed. They’ll be back tomorrow with a another truck load of weapons.
Until Hamas reaches a reconciliation with the PLO, the Palestinians remain divided and Israel has stated it will not negotiate with any terrorist group seeking their downfall. Therefore, we have come again to an impasse going nowhere. This amounts to a continuation of the status quo of past years. We cannot expect much to come out of the proposed negotiations.
With Syria poised for a downfall of the Assad regime with radical changes on the horizon, and Iran enriching uranium for a bomb, both sides have a great deal to think about. Nothing is ever easy in the Middle East. And it hasn’t gotten any smoother.