The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is gradually falling apart, but no one in Israel has the time or the will to know what is really going on in Gaza. The defense minister, who is on his way out, does not have the political clout to dictate any kind of policy. The prime minister is focused on the elections, and the last thing he needs right now is an agreement with Hamas. It is no wonder that the Israeli team conducting the negotiations with Hamas in Cairo was instructed not to reach any agreement until after the elections. Meanwhile on the ground, energies are building up for the next round of violence.
In the eye of the expected storm is the special security zone, an 800-meter-wide strip of land along Gaza’s northern and eastern borders. Israel prevents Palestinian access to the buffer zone for security reasons. Since the ceasefire came into effect on November 21, Israel and Hamas have been acting as though Operation Pillar of Defense had never occurred. The IDF continues to patrol the border in order to locate bombs and tunnels, and the Palestinians are continuously trying to infiltrate the buffer zone. IDF forces have opened fire at Palestinian civilians who entered the zone on at least three occasions, injuring at least seven of them.
Hamas is trying to prevent gatherings and demonstrations near the border fence, but it is not dealing with the infiltration of lone civilians into the buffer zone - for a reason. Both sides are the prisoners of their own propaganda. Each side has convinced its public of its decisive victory during Pillar of Defense. Hamas boasted that Gaza's fishing area has been expanded and that Gaza gained an additional 40 kilometers of land along the fence. The Palestinian population was convinced and is acting accordingly. But when Palestinian civilians cross certain points at sea, the Israeli Navy opens fire, and when they approach the fence to enjoy the fruits of their victory, the IDF also opens fire.
Initially, Israel and Hamas had no interest in damaging the ceasefire, as the immediate return to fighting would have exposed - on both sides - the bluff of very limited achievements. From the beginning, both sides were not interested in calm, but in maximizing their achievement, as they perceived it.
And so, as Israel is trying to preserve the status quo in the special security zone, Hamas is trying to maintain the status quo with regards to arms smuggling and filling its warehouses with strategic weapons. Israel considers the attacks on the arms caches and smuggling tunnels as its main achievement in Operation Pillar of Defense. It turns out that Hamas and the other armed groups resumed the development and manufacturing of long-range rockets shortly after the operation ended. In one incident they even fired a rocket in Israel's general direction – possibly as a test. Israel viewed the incident as an indication that Hamas was displeased with Israel's activity along the border.
During the early days of the ceasefire Israel and Hamas still conducted themselves in a "civil" manner. When Hamas continued to violate the agreements Israel filed an official complaint with the Egyptians. Egypt informed Hamas that it was breaching the understandings, and it appeared as though Hamas had accepted the interpretation of the agreement. Hamas, for its part, complained about the Israeli gunfire along the special security zone. It seemed that some sort of system to uphold the truce was in place. But Hamas quickly returned to its evil ways, Egypt stopped commenting on every violation and the negotiations in Cairo are dragging on.
But this is not stopping Israel from continuing to bluff. Last week Israel announced it will begin allowing 20 trucks with long-banned construction material to enter the Gaza Strip each day. Israel explained that the concession was made in light of the calm along the Gaza border. What calm? Who are they trying to fool? Israel and Egypt agreed on these concessions shortly after Operation Pillar of Defense ended, and Israel is making them now to buy some time for the politicians.