This is why this current round in the never-ending cycle of violence in the Middle East will not deteriorate further – Hamas is not ready, or willing, to play.
Very quietly and under the radar, Israel and Hamas have reached an unwritten agreement for coexistence. This is the first time since Hamas was founded in 1987 that such a system of understandings and arrangements has existed. Based on common interests, each party de-facto accepts the existence and presence of the other.
Since the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the all-out war the Egyptian army declared against the smuggling tunnels in Rafah, Hamas’ political and economical situation has gradually deteriorated. At this moment of crisis, Israel has paradoxically become an ally in propping up and sustaining the Hamas regime. This alliance has created active, direct and indirect channels of communication between Hamas and Israel. These channels, most of which were established during the lengthy negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit, now make it possible to coordinate a variety of civilian and military matters alike.
Hamas understands that the opening of the crossing points between Israel and Gaza and the continued delivery of daily supplies to the Gaza Strip is maintained thanks to quiet along the border and is conditional upon it. Hamas is also aware that any violation or escalation by it or any other recalcitrant group in Gaza will cause the crossing points to be closed, which means distress for Gazans and pressure by them on the Hamas government.
In recent years, after Israel’s blockade against the Gaza Strip following Hamas’ violent takeover of the government in June 2007, the extensive Rafah tunnel system had served as an alternative trade route, through which almost anything could be brought in inexpensively from Egypt to the markets in Gaza.
But the tunnel industry has collapsed. Hamas won’t dare mess with the new Egyptian regime, and as stated, Israel helps Hamas maintain its rule. Thus, at this point in time, an isolated Hamas has become the best default for Israel, and as we all know, Hamas has no other options. And so an effective, unwritten but agreed upon alliance of interests is born. Israel does its part with the regular supply of almost all of Gaza’s daily needs, and Hamas does its share by keeping things quiet on the border.
Hamas, which has been dedicated to all-out Jihad against Israel, is now forced not only to reign in its military wing so that they do not act independently and irresponsibly in the field, but also to supervise and ensure that no other group in Gaza commits terror attacks against the IDF along the length of the border and that no rockets are fired into Israel. Hamas has already had to confront the new Jihadist groups and Al Qaeda elements that have made Gaza their home.
For now, the carrot-and-stick approach is working. Hamas’ armed forces are the ones policing the border, and they themselves must now not only abstain from carrying out attacks against Israel, but also fight other groups that want to challenge the movement and execute attacks. The recent incidents, including those earlier this week (the killing by sniper fire of a civilian worker and two rockets fired), should be seen as isolated actions conducted by individuals, and not as many Israelis seem to want to believe – a coordinated wave of terror attacks.
And so, 26 years after Hamas’ establishment, a formula for de-facto coexistence between the organization and Israel has been found. It is based on deterrence on the one hand and common interests on the other. The question is whether this partnership can be developed into, for example, a permanent agreement. It’s highly doubtful, though not entirely impossible.
Both parties, Hamas and Israel, are still hostage to long held beliefs: Hamas in its extreme charter and Israel in its staunch position that Hamas is a terror group. Secret arrangements that no one would have thought possible are currently convenient for both sides. Even after two major military offensives in Gaza, hundreds of terror attacks against Israel and military operations in the Gaza Strip that have together left thousands dead, a formula for a modus vivendi has been found. And that’s not trivial. Not trivial at all. Peace is made, after all, between enemies.