RAMALLAH, January 7 (JMCC) - The year 2010 has been called the least violent in a decade in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Yet incendiary language and shows of bravado that continue to be put on by armed men on both sides may spark a new war of unintended magnitude.
With no formal mechanism to mediate between the parties, neither side knows how to cool things down. Threats intended to deter attacks only seem to raise the war-fever further. In a recent message, Abu Obayda, spokesman for the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, which is the real power in Gaza, muttered, “We seek to avoid war and aggression against our people.” But he buried such peaceful words in bravado that celebrated umpteen suicide-bombings and 11,000 projectile attacks that Hamas carried out in times past.
In government, Hamas has diverted much of its energy from fighting Israel to developing its “resistance” economy. One-time fighters speak openly of junking their death cult and discovering a new zest for life. Tired of waiting for Western governments to disburse the billions promised after the war of 2008-09, Hamas has begun rebuilding Gaza alone. Its agriculture ministry is replanting half a million citrus trees flattened, it says, by Israel’s tanks. The electricity authority is bringing fuel through the tunnels under the border with Egypt to operate a second turbine at Gaza’s power plant, reducing blackouts. And the housing ministry has been parcelling out the Jewish settlements Israel abandoned in Gaza in 2005 to housing associations for new homes at cheap rents. Hamas’s entrepreneurs have set up roadside crushers to convert war rubble into breeze blocks.
Mr Netanyahu also has to calculate the costs. To topple Hamas, Israel would have to enter Gaza’s cities, which Israel’s forces shrank from doing last time round. A casualty toll far higher than the 1,400 Palestinians and nine Israeli soldiers killed would be one result. More UN-sanctioned investigations into alleged Israeli war crimes, along with the increased isolation of Israel, could well be another.
Moreover, if Israel’s aim is to stop the rocket fire, unseating Hamas may have the opposite effect. Back underground, the Islamist movement could feel forced to revert from construction to destruction. The resulting mayhem would offer fertile ground for global jihadis, like al-Qaeda, to try their luck at fighting back. Israel and Mr Netanyahu may be wise to think again.
Read more at the Economist…