Rocket attacks have become common in recent years. Since 2001, Hamas militants have targeted Israel's southern communities with more than 20,000 rockets. The situation deteriorated after Israel's pullout from Gaza in 2005 and the soon-to-follow takeover of Hamas in 2007 when the group cracked down on the enclave's previous, Fatah-run government, ousting them from the local governmental offices.
Hamas not Interested in Peace
Meanwhile, talks between representatives of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad - held in Cairo with the help of Egyptian intelligence mediators - led to no breakthrough, with Hamas officials refusing to come to an agreement regarding a long-term truce with Israel that would presuppose the militants' total disarmament, a move that's unlikely to be accepted.
Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer at Israel's Bar Ilan university and an expert in Middle East studies, who served in the Israel Defence Forces' military intelligence for 25 years, says Hamas has no interest in reaching an agreement with the Jewish state.
"Hamas doesn't need a deal as they have it all without an agreement. They have food, water, electricity, and access to internet, so why bother and get an agreement," he said over the phone, adding that a pact with Israel could potentially harm Hamas in its domestic battle with the rivalry Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).
Tensions between the two groups arose after Israel conducted a targeted killing of one of PIJ's top commanders, Baha Abu Al-Atta, in mid-November. The Islamic Jihad had hoped Hamas would join forces with the group sending a barrage of rockets towards Israel but they soon realised that Hamas was not interested in an escalation, preferring to watch PIJ's confrontation with Israel from the sidelines.
Kedar explains the difference in approaches by noting the fact that the two groups have a different starting point. "While Hamas, which governs the Strip, needs to cater to its people, the Islamic Jihad that doesn't have this responsibility and can do whatever it wants."
Israel not Interested Either
But Hamas is not the only party to be dragging its feet; Israel does so too. Although a long term-truce with Hamas might bring nights of quiet to Israel's south and allow Israel's government to divert its efforts to other pressing issues, including tackling the threat of Hezbollah emanating from the north, it will also mean giving concessions.
According to reports, these include an Israeli agreement to put an end to assassinations of key Palestinian militants, the expansion of Gaza's fishing zone, an increase in the number of trucks packed with goods that can enter the Strip and a green-light to the establishment of a seaport and an airport in the enclave.
But Kedar believes these demands are not realistic. "Israel will never jeopardise its own security, so promises to let Gazans have their own port are lame," explained the expert.
However, if the two sides don't act now, they might lose an opportunity to reach an agreement. With a third round of Israeli elections fast approaching and with recent polls indicating that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will fail to form a government, chances are high that the premier's rival Benny Gantz will take the lead.
And Kedar says Hamas knows what to expect from the former army chief. "Gantz and Gabbi Ashkenazi [Israel's former chief of staff and one of Gantz' party key players] are not Hamas' friends. While Netanyahu made political decisions, they were the people who executed those decisions on the battlefield," he summed up, adding there will be no difference between Netanyahu and Gantz' approach to the situation in Gaza.
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