Israel has refuted Hamas' statement that a ceasefire had been reached amid violence in the Gaza Strip. Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz stated that such an arrangement was never reached, while Hamas's deputy chief in Gaza, Khalil al-Hayya, said that the two sides had agreed to a truce after a number of mediators intervened.
Sputnik discussed the conflicting reports with Dr. Nimrod Novik, member of the Steering Committee of Commanders for Israeli's Security, and the Israel Fellow of the Israel Policy Forum. Mr. Novik was a Senior Advisor to Shimon Peres when he was Prime Minister.
Sputnik: Hamas' deputy chief stated that the group had agreed a truce with Israel while the latter denies the claim. What is your take on the conflicting statements? How achievable is the easing of tensions short-term?
Dr. Nimrod Novik: I think the differences between the statements from the Gaza and from Jerusalem reflect the playing on semantics for domestic audiences. The Gazans, of course, would like to pride themselves that Israel acknowledges Hamas' existence and reaches an agreement with it. Israelis prefer not to grant Hamas any such a credit, so [regarding] the agreement or the understanding that has been brokered, primarily by the Egyptians, each side prefers to call it something else, but the bottom line is that the two sides agreed to a ceasefire.
Sputnik: Let’s look at what are the main factors that contributed to this really unprecedented scale of confrontation, the largest since 2014. Obviously, it all started somewhere around March, when the Palestinians began the rallies that were called the Great March of Return, but there were many factors there, right?
Dr. Nimrod Novik: Yes there are; I would say that the factors that we’ve seen in play over the last few months are the same that we saw in play before the last round of war in Gaza in 2014, and it seems that most players have not drawn lessons in terms of how to change the basic situation. Reaching a ceasefire after many are injured; this time, thank God, it was less than in previous occasions; but still, every life is precious, but we don’t see a major change in the situation. As an Israeli, of course, I expect more from my government, and I think that as the strongest player in the region, we share some of the responsibility, but I think there is a problem synchronizing the willingness of the various parties to change the dynamics, to change the situation, to change the conditions that create the repeated eruption of violence.
Gaza is a powder keg; the situation is unbearable, the international community yields to the Palestinian Authority veto over Gaza reconstruction. The Palestinian Authority believes that by increasing the pressure on the Palestinians in Gaza, they will rid themselves of Hamas. Well that has not happened, and in my judgment it’s not likely to happen. The Egyptians have tried a broker several long-term understandings, but various parties refused to play along. There are too many pieces in this puzzle and the Egyptians, thus far, have not been able [to resolve it] even though they’ve been the most constructive player. Again, this is not only out of humanitarian concern, this affects their own national security, Sinai security: [Sinai] borders Gaza. But we have seen a change in Hamas leadership. Hamas, of course, is primarily responsible for the miserable situation in Gaza and new leadership in Hamas seem to have drawn the right conclusion: that they have to change course. For that to happen they need others to demonstrate that changing course pays off. The Egyptians put that kind of initiative together for a long-term change in the situation, but as long as the Palestinian Authority refuses to play along, and as long as Israel vetoes any political concession to Hamas, we're unable to even test whether Hamas is serious in its adherence to the Egyptian terms.
Sputnik: The experts that I’ve been talking with have all been saying a lot hinges on Gaza reconstruction and you can’t really solve this issue without that, without solving the plight of the people there…
Dr. Nimrod Novik: Yes, I agree; I think that on the issue of reconstruction, the fact that reconstruction is not happening, I put the primary blame on the Palestinian Authority. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the Palestinian Authority, and I’m a fan of the idea that the Palestinian Authority one day will emerge into a Palestinian government of a state, an independent state next to Israel, but that doesn’t stop me from criticizing their ongoing policy, whereby the competition with Hamas is expressed by a willingness to tolerate the increased misery of the two million people who live in Gaza. As long as the international community refuses to bypass the Palestinian Authority for fear that this might enhance the potency of Hamas, which it will, Hamas will get credit for anything good that happens in Gaza. So the question, the catch is: in order to deprive Hamas of the credit, are you willing to see the misery of 2 million of Palestinians continue? I, for one, don’t believe in that approach.
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