After another round of violence, it is time for a Gaza plan

As a delicate cease-fire between Israel and Gaza appeared to on Wednesday after the biggest escalation since Operation Protective Edge in 2014, it was time to play the blame game.

While Egypt was credited with mediating a truce between the parties and Jerusalem officially held Hamas accountable for the dozens of rockets fired at Israel on Tuesday, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Minister Yuval Steinitz pointed the finger at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).

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“If there is one person who is responsible for the escalation and stifling of Gaza, it is Abu Mazen,” Steinitz told Kan. “Now is the time for Israel to think out of the box and come up with solutions to the Gaza humanitarian crisis.”

Steinitz said that Israel transferred tax revenues to the PA without knowing exactly where they were going, and suggested that once calm is restored, it should find a way to alleviate the situation in Gaza by bypassing Abbas. He proposed a carrot-and-stick policy.

He confirmed, for example, that the Israel Electric Corporation was holding off repair work on three Gaza electricity lines damaged by rockets that had knocked out power to thousands of Gazans. Because Gaza depends on Israel for the several hours of power it receives a day, Steinitz said, this was a threat that Hamas could be expected to take seriously. Gaza militants fire heavy cross-border barrage, May 30, 2018 (Reuters)

One positive suggestion Steinitz had was to build a port in Cyprus that would allow exports from and imports to Gaza after being thoroughly checked by Israeli security services. This is not a new idea, but is certainly one worth discussing once the dust settles.

After the IDF struck dozens of targets belonging to Islamic Jihad and Hamas across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that if the two terrorist groups renewed their rocket attacks on Israel, it would respond even more forcefully.

“Israel will exact a heavy price from anyone who tries to harm it, and we view Hamas as responsible for preventing such attacks against us,” Netanyahu said.

But Steinitz said it was Abbas, the ailing 83-year-old Palestinian leader who was discharged from a Ramallah hospital on Monday after a weeklong treatment for pneumonia, who should be held ultimately accountable.

Just two months ago, Abbas reissued his longtime demand that Hamas hand over Gaza to the PA.

Abbas noted that his ruling Fatah faction and Hamas had agreed in an Egyptian-brokered reconciliation deal in October 2017 to empower the PA government in the Gaza Strip. If Abbas were a true leader who could assert authority over Hamas, this would be an option, but because he has proven to be weak and incapable of effectively taking control, Israel and the international community need to explore other avenues.

One way is to mediate a lasting agreement with Egypt, which has already taken a crucial role, to prevent a new outbreak of violence between Israel and Gaza until the Palestinians elect a new leader who is ready to negotiate an enduring peace accord.

In the meantime, it appears that it is in nobody’s interest to resume the tit-for-tat violence in Gaza. Even Hamas understands this, and the ball is now in its court. It experienced just a taste of Israel’s military might on Tuesday. Among the targets struck by the IDF in Gaza was a new Hamas arms-smuggling tunnel that stretched from Rafah into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and then into Israel.

If nothing else, this latest round of violence has given Israel a chance to convey a clear message to Hamas that it will not countenance further violations of the 2014 truce.

“It all depends on Hamas,” Intelligence and Transportation Minister Israel Katz told Kan. “If it continues [to attack Israel], I don’t know what its fate will be.”

Katz’s words, while threatening, do not constitute a policy. Netanyahu should appoint a team of experts to come up with a comprehensive strategic plan. For now, it seems that Israel can depend on Egypt to play a positive and forceful role, but a grander strategy is needed. Gaza is not going away and neither is Hamas. While these rounds of violence have become the norm, longer-term solutions need to be considered.

It is time for a Gaza plan.