The events of the past few days in the south take us back to the question what should be our policy versus Gaza. Setting a policy should be based on a clear definition of interests. Not everything representing a heart's desire is an interest. An interest is a very important thing, the achievement of which one is willing to pay a price for. But our interests in regards to Gaza are purely narrow and security-related.
First of all, and above all, we want peace and quiet. Another interest is to prevent any military strengthening there as much as possible (the recent Navy operation stemmed from this interest). Israel has no political interest in Gaza. There is a Palestinian (and also Egyptian and Jordanian) interest that the West Bank and Gaza will be one political entity, but that is not an Israeli interest at all.
In this state of events, and in order to achieve our interests, it's important for Gaza to have a stable government with the responsibility of a state. This has been said by Southern Command Chief Major-General Sami Turgeman in the past, and he is right. The only element which can serve as a stable government is Hamas, and so it is in Israel's interest that the Hamas rule will be stable.
Moreover, as far as Israel is concerned Gaza is a state in the full sense of the word, as the four conditions which make it a state exist there: It has recognized borders, it has a central government, it has an independent foreign policy and it has its own military power. The more Gaza is a state, and the more we treat it as one, we'll have more stimuli against it, stimuli which can force it to maintain peace and quiet, which is our main interest versus Gaza.
In the past year, an opportunity has been created. Egypt has become Hamas' enemy, and even Erdogan in Turkey cannot help Hamas as he wants to because of his internal entanglements. Consequently, Hamas' dependence on Israel is growing. Israel can take advantage of this through a proper carrot and stick policy.
Recognize realityOn the carrot side, it can increase the passage of goods in the crossings, raise the electricity and fuel supply, allow and even encourage foreign investments in Gaza, etc. On the stick side, it must clarify that any violation of the security calm will lead to an immediate cessation of those benefits. In addition, a violation will lead to a military response which will harm not only those who fired the rockets, but also the interests of the government in Gaza, in other words – Hamas' interests.
This deterrence policy can only be efficient if Hamas is recognized de facto as Gaza's governmental element, if it is capable of enforcing its control on the other organizations and if it has a lot to lose if the calm is not maintained.
When we based the policy versus Gaza on the claim that Hamas is a terror organization and we must therefore not talk to it, we were acting childishly. Hamas is the authority in the state of Gaza and was even elected quite democratically. We don't have to recognize Hamas politically (just like it doesn't recognize us), but the right thing to do is to recognize reality and use it to our advantage. The policy must be based on interests rather than on ideals, and the interest requires us to create neighborly relations based on deterrence.
Allegedly, strengthening the Hamas rule will hurt the chance of reaching a diplomatic solution. But the chance of achieving such a solution is so small even regardless of Hamas, so it would be a mistake to base a policy on the need to help an intra-Palestinian unity instead of on the direct Israeli interests. If Hamas doesn't control Gaza, it's likely that the Islamic Jihad will grow stronger in its place or, worse, al-Qaeda factions who have no state responsibility. Hamas, therefore, is the lesser of two evils.