The rocket fired at the Gaza vicinity area at the end of Independence Day placed the spotlight back on a somewhat forgotten front. But this spotlight reveals a different reality: No escalation, no tension – but rather the opposite. The Israeli airstrike in response to the rocket fire was mainly aimed at hitting the headlines.
It turns out that for several weeks now, official representatives of the Israeli government, members of the defense establishment, have been holding a real dialogue with Hamas – partly direct, partly indirect – in a bid to reach a long-term calm between the sides.
Three months before the elections, Israel received a concrete and detailed proposal from Hamas for an agreement on a calm period of five to 10 years. The official Israel did not respond. But life is stronger, and both sides' interests dictate cooperation.
And that is what is actually happening in the Strip today without the government or cabinet making a formal decision which changes Israel's strategy towards Hamas. Not to mention the fact that the Egyptians and Americans don’t like the Hamas initiative, which bypasses the Palestinian Authority.
Israel is rolling into a dialogue with Hamas, even if it isn't making a decision about it. So they are talking about rebuilding the Strip, a possibility of creating water and electricity infrastructures, and even an independent seaport which will serve Gaza is no longer considered a bad word.
Recently, for example, it was reported that senior Qatari officials had turned to Israel at Hamas' request and offered to mediate between the sides. The Qatari representative to the Gaza reconstruction talks even visited Israel. The Swiss attaché in Ramallah is also notably active in mediating between the sides. Emissaries – not Hamas people – are arriving in Israel from Gaza. Even the Egyptians want to get back into the picture.
Defense establishment officials believe that the absence of a dialogue that will help ease the living conditions in Gaza will lead an armed conflict in the summer, and Operation Protective Edge will be perceived as a colossal failure. The person pushing for talks with Hamas is the coordinator of the government's activities in the territories, in cooperation with new IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and with his encouragement, while the political echelon is making these moves possible.
The official Israel continues to conceal the dialogue with Hamas: It would have disrupted the elections, it's not good for the image of a right-wing government, and it gets in the way of continuing to define Hamas as a terror organization in the world.
The PA is fuming with anger. The media in Ramallah are accusing Israel of helping Hamas in Gaza establish itself as a rival leadership. There is some truth in that. The PA is failing to take control over the Strip's reconstruction, and Israel has no time to wait.
The coordinator of the government's activities in the territories is allowing the Palestinian unity government ministers to travel every week from the West Bank to Gaza for discussions, but nothing has come out of it. Besides, the dialogue with Hamas also serves as a sort of whip in Israel's hands against an oppositional PA in Ramallah: Is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas threatening to open the economic and security agreements with Israel? Well, Israel can adopt an oppositional policy of its own.
The dialogue between Israel and Hamas created motivation in the organization to prevent a deterioration on the Gaza border. As important is the fact that Hamas had aspired to expand the boundaries of the conflict to the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and on the Israel-Syria border. So far, that hasn't happened.
Meanwhile, the big funds from the donor countries have yet to arrive, but the numbers speak for themselves. Eighty-five percent of the residents whose houses were destroyed reported that they had received construction materials to rebuild their homes. Sixty percent of them (about 50,000 people) reported that they were in the midst of the renovations.
Since the beginning of 2015, about 33,000 trucks have passed through the Kerem Shalom Crossing, carrying more than 990,000 tons of equipment: About 440 trucks a day compared to 255 a day last year. In April, the number reached an average of 523 trucks a day.
The first quarter of 2015 recorded 40,000 entries into Israel through the Erez Crossing, half of them by merchants. As of this year, Israel is allowing Hamas to export agricultural produce to the West Bank, abroad and to Israel as well, using the excuse of a shmita year. And today they are talking again about the possibility of laborers from Gaza working in the Gaza vicinity and bringing work from Israeli factories to the light industry in Gaza.
It will be no surprise if the next rocket from Gaza is launched by someone opposing the Israeli-Hamas dialogue. It might even be someone close to the PA.