Jerusalem’s Holy Esplanade Reveals the Limits of Israeli Counter-terrorism
Jerusalem’s Holy Esplanade Reveals the Limits of Israeli Counter-terrorism
Palestinians take part in a protest calling on President Mahmoud Abbas to lift the sanctions on Gaza Strip, in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, June 23, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
Briefing / Middle East & North Africa 20+ minutes

Averting War in Gaza

Israel and Hamas stand on the brink of another full-scale confrontation in Gaza. The only viable exit from the ongoing cycle of escalation is for international actors to use carrots and sticks to bring about intra-Palestinian reconciliation, thereby allowing the Palestinian Authority (PA) to govern the Gaza Strip.

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What’s new?  What is new is that little is new: despite repeated claims that efforts are being made to address the situation in Gaza, Israel and Hamas once again are sliding dangerously toward a new war.

Why does it matter? The last war in Gaza took the lives of over two thousand Palestinians and more than 70 Israelis.

What should be done?  The international community needs to use its leverage to press Israel to lift the blockade and the Palestinian Authority to take over Gaza through some form of intra-Palestinian reconciliation.

I. Overview

The recent escalation between Israel and Hamas was the most intense since the 2014 war. Although there are solid reasons why neither wishes to see another full-scale confrontation, the fact that nothing has been resolved in the past four years and that essential dynamics remain unchanged is cause enough for worry. That recent exchanges of fire are worsening is more troubling still. The parties, as well as regional and international stakeholders, have claimed interest over the years in addressing both the situation in Gaza, marked by a blockade that is rendering the lives of Palestinian civilians virtually unbearable, and the continued Hamas attempts to break it, which are making Israelis anxious and eager to hit back. Yet, their good intentions notwithstanding, they have done little to make this happen.

The solution, which Crisis Group has long recommended, hinges on Palestinians agreeing to a form of internal reconciliation allowing the Palestinian Authority (PA) to govern the Gaza Strip, and others encouraging this outcome or at least not standing in the way. With the PA in charge, many of the reasons proffered by Israel for strangling Gaza’s economy should disappear; with conditions in Gaza improving, some of the primary justifications advanced by Hamas and other Palestinian organisations to launch attacks from the Strip likewise should evaporate.

Achieving that outcome requires overcoming obstacles that have impeded it for years. That means outside actors – the U.S., European Union (EU), and Arab states first and foremost – pressing Israelis and Palestinians to urgently take these steps. The alternative is another round of fighting, only bloodier, more dangerous and more inexcusable.

II. The Road to War

Once again, Israel and Gaza are on the precipice of a dangerous escalation as the crippling Israeli blockade of the coastal strip grinds on.[fn]For background, see Crisis Group Middle East Report N°162, No Exit? Gaza and Israel Between Wars, 26 August 2015. See also Crisis Group Middle East Briefings N°42, Toward a Lasting Ceasefire in Gaza, 23 October 2014; N°39, Gaza and Israel: New Obstacles, New Solutions, 14 July 2014; and N°30, Gaza: The Next Israeli-Palestinian War?, 24 March 2011; and Reports N°149, The Next Round in Gaza, 25 March 2014; N°133, Israel and Hamas: Fire and Ceasefire in a New Middle East, 22 November 2012; N°129, Light at the End of their Tunnels? Hamas and the Arab Uprisings, 14 August 2012; 110, Palestinian Reconciliation: Plus ça change …, 20 July 2011; and 104, Radical Islam in Gaza, 29 March 2011.Hide Footnote The siege is met with Palestinian border protests and flaming kites, which are met with Israeli bombing, which are met with Palestinian rockets and mortars, which are met with further Israeli bombing. The confrontation led, last weekend, to the largest exchange of fire between Israel and Gaza since the 2014 war.[fn]“Israel exchanges intense fire with Hamas militants in Gaza”, Associated Press, 14 July 2018.Hide Footnote But even after that exchange, Gazans continued to launch incendiary kites, and Israel continued to strike at targets in Gaza.

Neither side believes that the other wants a new war.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Israeli security officials, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, July 2018; Hamas spokespersons, senior leaders, Gaza City, July 2018.Hide Footnote Hamas understands that Israel has no strategy for exiting Gaza in the unlikely event it retakes the territory and would gain little from another war that leaves Hamas in control.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Israeli security officials, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, July 2018.Hide Footnote Israel believes that a new war might increase Hamas’s popularity in the short term but after the dust settles would leave it, and the Gazan population, in even worse shape than they are in today.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Hamas senior leaders, Islamic Jihad leader, Gaza City, June-July 2018.Hide Footnote

Each side also is under growing pressure to push the other to the brink.

But each side also is under growing pressure to push the other to the brink. Israelis are demanding that their government force Gazans to give them quiet, and Gazans are demanding that their leaders do something to bring about an end to the siege.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, leaders of the Movement for the Future of the Western Negev, 12 July 2018; Crisis Group interviews, Hamas officials, Gaza City, April, June 2018.Hide Footnote The more than a decade-long blockade of Gaza has put enormous strain on its two million inhabitants, as well as on the Hamas-led government, which is responsible for providing them with salaries, health, education and other services. The misery deepens amid blackouts, 60 per cent youth unemployment, export and import bans, forced enclosure, failing sewage and water contamination.[fn]For background, see “2017: Tightening of the Closure”, Gisha, January 2018; “Humanitarian Impact of the Gaza Electricity Crisis”, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, May 2017.Hide Footnote Desperate to find a way out of the impasse, Hamas has tried four strategies to end or at least loosen the blockade: first, in April 2014, and again in October 2017, it sought to hand over formal governing authority to the PA, the government in Ramallah, which has been consistent in its refusal to take up this thankless task;[fn]See Crisis Group Report, No Exit? Gaza and Israel Between Wars, op. cit.Hide Footnote second, in the summer of 2014, it fought a war after the PA government failed to take responsibility for Gaza and pay salaries there;[fn]Nathan Thrall, “Hamas’s chances”, London Review of Books, 21 August 2014; Crisis Group Middle East Briefing N°39, Gaza and Israel: New Obstacles, New Solutions, 14 July 2014.Hide Footnote third, beginning on 30 March 2018, it supported, together with other factions and Gaza’s civil society, weekly unarmed demonstrations along the fence separating Gaza from Israel;[fn]Nathan Thrall, “Deadly Day in Gaza Won’t Be the Last, Crisis Group Commentary, 15 May 2018; and, “Gaza Protests Mark Shift in Palestinian National Consciousness, Crisis Group Commentary, 2 April 2018.Hide Footnote and in recent months, it has supported groups and individuals launching kites, balloons and inflated condoms that have set fire to adjacent fields just within Israel.[fn]Crisis Group interviewed a member of the unit responsible for sending incendiary balloons, Abnaa al-Zwari (Sons of Zwari), which is named after a Tunisian member of Hamas’s military wing, the Qassam Brigades, who was responsible for developing Hamas drones. The unit member stated: “We are a bunch of revolutionary young people who are facing many hardships in Gaza. We want to have a normal life. Our actions, which are pure peaceful protest, are admired by our Palestinian people and by its resistance factions and they are approved by the Higher Committee of the Great March of Return, because of their low cost and effect on our occupier”. Crisis Group interview, Gaza City, 4 July 2018; “Israel tells Hamas: Incendiary kites or war”, Asharq al-Awsat, 18 July 2018.Hide Footnote

In an effort to deter Hamas from supporting the border protests and launching incendiary kites, Israel has bombed Hamas targets throughout Gaza over the past several months.[fn]“Army warns Gazans against flying firebomb kites into Israel”, Times of Israel, 4 May 2018.Hide Footnote At first, Hamas did not respond to these Israeli strikes, hoping to give the border protests a chance to succeed in bringing international pressure that would force Israel to end the blockade.[fn]Interviews, Hamas, Islamic Jihad leaders, Gaza City, May-July 2018.Hide Footnote (Similarly, Hamas and Islamic Jihad refrained from retaliating after a 30 October 2017 Israeli strike that killed over a dozen Palestinian militants and members of a rescue team, because the strike occurred just two days before the PA was to take over Gaza’s crossings and Hamas did not want a new escalation to sabotage the attempted Palestinian reconciliation.[fn]Ibid; “Death toll from Israeli strike on Gaza tunnel rises to 12”, France 24, 3 November 2017.Hide Footnote ) But as Israel’s aerial strikes increased, Hamas and Islamic Jihad began to retaliate with limited, short-range projectile fire with the aim of reestablishing the precedent that Israeli bombings would not go unanswered.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote

Under pressure from an Israeli public frustrated at the government’s inability to stop the burning of fields in the Gaza periphery and from hawkish ministers criticising Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman for being soft on Hamas, the Israeli government has employed its main source of leverage over Gaza: steadily tightening the blockade.[fn]Itamar Eichner, “Bennett, Eisenkot go head-to-head over IDF’s Gaza policy”, YNET News, 16 July 2018. “Minister [Erdan] calls for targeted killings of Gaza kite bombers, Hamas leaders”, Times of Israel, 5 June 2018.Hide Footnote On 9 July, Israel announced it was closing Gaza’s crossings to all exports, restricting imports to “humanitarian equipment (including food and medicine)”, and reducing the area in the Mediterranean in which Palestinians could fish without being fired upon from nine to six nautical miles from shore.[fn]“Israel closes Gaza goods crossing over Palestinian arson kites”, AFP, 9 July 2018.Hide Footnote A week later, following the 14-15 July escalation, Israel announced a further restriction, this one to last nearly a week: halting the flow of all fuel and cooking gas into Gaza.[fn]“Israel suspends fuel deliveries to Gaza as arson ‎terrorism flares up”, Israel Hayom, 17 July 2018.Hide Footnote

Israel has signalled that if the incendiary kites do not stop, it will launch a new war. The Israeli prime minister, defence minister, army chief of staff, and head of the Israeli Security Agency met at the Gaza Division Headquarters; the army is staging a large-scale exercise simulating the conquest of Gaza City and has stationed anti-rocket batteries in greater Tel Aviv; Egypt, Israel’s partner in enforcing the blockade, shut its sole crossing with Gaza for two days (claiming a malfunctioning computer system), in parallel with Israel’s new restrictions at its crossings; and emissaries have conveyed to Hamas leaders that Israel intends to launch a new war if the fields continue to burn.[fn]Yossi Melman, “No vision, no strategy”, Ma’ariv, 18 July 2018; “Egypt to reopen Rafah border with Gaza”, TRT World, 18 July 2018; Crisis Group observations, Rafah, 17 July 2018.Hide Footnote

For Hamas, the kites and the border protests are a final attempt, short of war, to end the siege.

But Hamas is not interested in bartering a stop to the kites and the border protests merely in exchange for a return to the crippling siege and untenable, deteriorating status quo that had prevailed prior to the launch of the border protests in the spring. For Hamas, the kites and the border protests are a final attempt, short of war, to end the siege, not to leave it in place alongside a Hamas commitment to keep the peace.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Hamas former minister, Hamas spokesperson, Hamas senior leaders, Gaza City, June-July 2018.Hide Footnote In fact, the situation prior to last spring was the worst Hamas had faced: in addition to the Egyptian and Israeli blockade, the PA had imposed its own sanctions on Gaza; the U.S. had cut funds to the UN Relief and Works Agency, the body that provides food aid to roughly half of Gaza’s population; and the PA had been handed control over Gaza’s crossings with Israel, depriving Hamas of access to its main source of revenue – taxes collected at the terminals.[fn]Thrall, “Gaza Protests Mark Shift in Palestinian National Consciousness”, op. cit.; Colum Lynch, “Amid U.S. cuts, Palestinian refugee agency left in the lurch”, Foreign Policy, 12 March 2018.Hide Footnote

Until the blockade is lifted or significantly loosened, Hamas almost certainly intends to keep up the pressure with incendiary kites and border protests.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Hamas officials, Gaza City, 18 July 2018.Hide Footnote But these are not enough to bring about an end to the blockade. They have succeeded in drawing attention to Gaza, after years in which it was ignored by the international community, the surrounding region and the Israeli public.[fn]Thrall, “Deadly Day in Gaza Won’t Be the Last” and “Gaza Protests Mark Shift in Palestinian National Consciousness, Crisis Group Commentaries, op. cit.Hide Footnote But kites and border demonstrations do not pose such a significant threat that Israel would consider lifting the blockade in exchange for a commitment from Hamas to bring them to an end.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Israeli defence official, Tel Aviv, 10 July 2018.Hide Footnote

Neither side is therefore likely to achieve its objective. Since the 2014 war, both Israeli and Hamas officials have entertained and at times proposed a possible way out: a long-term ceasefire that would include an end to the blockade.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Israeli intelligence official, Jerusalem, 2 July 2018. Mohammed al-Emadi, the Qatari envoy to Gaza, in charge of Qatari reconstruction projects there, stated that Qatar had been involved in relaying messages between Hamas and Israel concerning a ceasefire of five to ten years. Ali Younes, “Qatari envoy sheds light on US plans for Gaza”, Al Jazeera, 17 July 2018. A parliamentarian from the Jewish Home party stated: “My preference is that we retake the Strip and rebuild Gush Katif. But I see that this position will not win Israeli majority support in the near future and am willing as a second best to go for a decade-long ceasefire with Hamas in Gaza”. Crisis Group interview, Jewish Home MK, Jerusalem, 20 June 2018. For Hamas negotiations and proposals for a long-term ceasefire, see, “Hamas offers long-term calm in exchange for end of blockade”, Times of Israel, 9 March 2015; “Report: Hamas mulling long-term ceasefire with Israel”, Times of Israel, 16 June 2015; “Hamas offers long-term ceasefire if Israel will lift blockade”, Hamodia, 6 September 2017; “Hamas said to offer Israel long-term ceasefire in Gaza”, Times of Israel, 7 May 2018.Hide Footnote The U.S., too, has expressed openness to the idea and appears to have made some solution to Gaza a centrepiece of its ongoing efforts.[fn]In a June interview with the Palestinian newspaper al-Quds, President Trump’s special advisor on the Middle East, Jared Kushner, stated: “I think the only path for the people of Gaza is to encourage the leadership to aim for a true ceasefire that gives Israel and Egypt the confidence to start allowing more commerce and goods to flow to Gaza. This is the only way to solve the problem from what I have seen. Many countries would be willing to invest in Gaza if there was a true prospect for a different path. It will take some leadership in Gaza though to get on that path”. “Transcript: Jared Kushner’s interview with a Palestinian newspaper”, The New York Times, 24 June 2018.Hide Footnote In principle, this idea is worth pursuing – but not before each party has a more realistic assessment of the other’s minimum demands. Israeli officials typically speak of a long-term ceasefire for Gaza that would include the building of a new Gaza commercial port in Cyprus or Egypt, or on an artificial island off Gaza’s shore.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Israeli intelligence official, Jerusalem, 2 July 2018.Hide Footnote But a new port that is for the transit of goods alone, not people, would do little to change conditions in Gaza: whether Israel controls Gaza’s imports and exports from its port in Ashdod, as it does at present, or from an artificial island would not mean any relaxation of the closure regime unless it allows for the movement of people – the more pressing need.

In addition, Israel puts wholly unrealistic conditions on its various proposals for improvements in Gaza: Hamas’s disarmament; Hamas releasing Israeli citizens or their remains, without an exchange deal entailing the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails; and a Hamas commitment to a ceasefire not just in Gaza but also in the West Bank, while Israel continues to occupy and expand settlements in the latter.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Israeli security official, Jerusalem, January 2018; Crisis Group interviews, Jewish Home and Shas MKs, Jerusalem, 20 June 2018.Hide Footnote There is no chance that Hamas could continue to distinguish itself from Fatah and avoid internal rifts and a serious loss of standing if it agreed to any of these conditions in exchange for economic improvements in Gaza. Hamas will not disarm itself in exchange for any economic inducement, even a full end to the blockade.[fn]A Hamas official stated: “We offered to put our weapons under the responsibility of the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organisation] once it is reformed and truly becomes the representative of all Palestinians and their aspirations. But not before”. Crisis Group interview, Gaza City, June 2018Hide Footnote Hamas might couple a prisoner exchange deal with a Gaza ceasefire deal, but it will not release Israeli captives or their remains unless Palestinian prisoners are also released.[fn]Some of Hamas’s most senior leaders have spent many years in Israeli prisons and will not give up on the one proven mechanism by which they might gain the release of their comrades; the 2011 prisoner exchange deal that Hamas negotiated was among its greatest political achievements. A Hamas official stated: “The deal should have two separate tracks: one, an improvement of conditions in Gaza in return for calm, and two, an exchange of prisoners for prisoners”. Crisis Group interview, Gaza City, June 2015.Hide Footnote And Hamas will not commit to halting its fight against Israel in the West Bank while it is occupied by Israeli forces who systematically crush any Hamas presence there.[fn]Crisis Group interview, Hamas official, June 2018.Hide Footnote

Similarly, Israel will not agree to a long-term ceasefire with Hamas while the latter holds several of its citizens captive in Gaza, and it is difficult to imagine Israel agreeing to a Gaza ceasefire that would allow Hamas to continue attempting attacks and abductions in the West Bank.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, former Israeli negotiator, former Shin Bet official, Israeli security official, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, November 2017-February 2018. “It is unreasonable in the extreme for us to let Hamas prosper in Gaza while they kill our kids in Judea and Samaria. We have no interest in that”. Crisis Group interview, Shas MK, Jerusalem, 20 June 2018.Hide Footnote Israel fears that a deal with Hamas would undermine the Palestinian Authority leadership in the West Bank, and thus possibly jeopardise the Israeli-Palestinian security coordination and relative calm that Israel has enjoyed there since the end of the second intifada.[fn]That said, growing numbers of Israeli officials have been willing to entertain the idea of taking steps in Gaza with or without PA consent: “Israel doesn’t want to undermine Abu Mazen [as PA President Mahmoud Abbas is known], but more and more you hear from security officials that they won’t allow Abu Mazen to drag Israel into a war in Gaza. They are more willing than ever to go against the PA in Gaza in order to protect Israel’s interests”. Crisis Group interview, former Israeli security official, Jerusalem, May 2018.Hide Footnote It also knows that by making a deal with Hamas in Gaza it would reinforce the message that it is Hamas’s confrontational tactics, and not the cooperative methods of the PA leadership in the West Bank, that bring results.

Israel, too, would regard Fatah-Hamas reconciliation with great trepidation.

This leaves one other main option, aside from war or continued escalations, and that is to have an intra-Palestinian reconciliation deal under which the PA fully takes over governance in Gaza, relieving Hamas of responsibility for the Gaza economy and providing Israel with an acceptable partner in Gaza with which it can cooperate on development and easing the blockade (Israel is unlikely to fully lift the blockade, even after the PA takes over).[fn]“We can live with PA return to Gaza, though separating the two is clearly preferable, and donor countries can then send in pretty much what they want. Our effort will be on ensuring a PA return to Gaza does not lead to changes in the West Bank”. Crisis Group interview, MFA official, 8 July 2018.Hide Footnote But this option, too, does not have good odds. The U.S. opposes Palestinian reconciliation unless Hamas meets the wholly unrealistic demand of disarmament.[fn]When Palestinian reconciliation seemed like it might be imminent in October 2017, President Trump’s special envoy, Jason Greenblatt, stated: “Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to non-violence, recognise the state of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties – including to disarm terrorists – and commit to peaceful negotiations”. Tamar Pileggi, “US demands Hamas renounce violence, disarm before unity deal”, Times of Israel, 19 October 2017.Hide Footnote The Fatah-dominated PA does not want to retake Gaza, and no one has so far been willing to apply significant pressure on it to do so.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, PLO official, Fatah Central Committee member, Palestinian negotiator, Ramallah, May-June 2018.Hide Footnote It views Gaza as an enormous economic burden; it does not have the means to pay all the salaries of Gaza’s current government; it is facing its own economic problems in the West Bank; and it is already enjoying tax revenues from Gaza without having responsibility for the territory.[fn]Ibid; for background, see Crisis Group Report, No Exit? Gaza and Israel Between Wars, op. cit.Hide Footnote More important, Fatah wants to crush Hamas, not provide it with a lifeline when it is at one of its most desperate points. Earlier this week, Hamas accepted a proposal made by Egypt for Palestinian reconciliation; for now, Fatah has not.[fn]Hamas senior leader Moussa Abu Marzouk told the Egyptian paper Almesryoon that Hamas agreed to the proposal that was presented to its delegation by Egypt this week. Hamas, he said, “is ready to apply it and has the full will for it”, and is awaiting a response from Fatah. “Hamas reveals the details of the Egyptian initiative to implement reconciliation”, Almesryoon, 18 July 2018 (Arabic).Hide Footnote

Israel, too, would regard Fatah-Hamas reconciliation with great trepidation, since it is supposed to entail elections that Hamas might win, a significant power-sharing role for Hamas in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), and an increased Hamas presence in the West Bank. For Israel, keeping Gaza and the West Bank separated is a strategic priority, because it is seen as a crucial component of preventing Hamas from rearing its head in the West Bank (and, for some Israeli ministers, the separation is also desirable because it helps prevent Palestinian statehood).[fn]“We succeeded in separating Gaza from the West Bank in order to decrease international pressures on Israel to create a Palestinian state which will endanger our security”. Crisis Group interview, former Netanyahu adviser, October 2017. Crisis Group interview, deputy minister, Tel Aviv, June 2018.Hide Footnote At the same time, Israel insists on a PA presence in Gaza as a condition of approving development projects there.[fn]Mohammed al-Emadi, the Qatari envoy to Gaza, in charge of Qatari reconstruction projects there, stated that the two senior-most Trump administration officials in charge of Israel-Palestine policy had visited Qatar in June and proposed economic development projects for Gaza, but were unable to make progress because of Israel’s demand that it will work only with the Palestinian Authority: “Jared [Kushner] and Jason [Greenblatt] proposed projects inside Gaza, very good projects which I fully supported. They discussed electricity projects, water projects, creating jobs, easy access, 5G internet – that is a good thing. However, for these projects to work, you need the Israelis to agree on them. The problem here is that the Israelis are saying they will only deal with the PA, not any other third party. We told the Americans the PA must be included because the Israelis will not approve any third-party efforts unless the PA is involved”. Ali Younes, “Qatari envoy sheds light on US plans for Gaza”, Al Jazeera, 17 July 2018.Hide Footnote Israel has yet to resolve its own internal contradiction: on the one hand, demanding a PA presence; on the other, deep wariness of Palestinian reconciliation.

With enormous obstacles facing a Gaza ceasefire deal, an end of the blockade, and Palestinian reconciliation, there appears to be little hope that continued escalation can be averted, and, if it continues, that it will not eventually result in a new war. The tragedy, in addition to the undoubtedly high human cost, is that both sides would enter that war knowing that they would end it no better off than they are today.

III. Conclusion

Palestinian reconciliation, with a resumption of PA control over Gaza, remains the best possible way of easing and eventually lifting the blockade and avoiding a new war. Ideally, reconciliation could be achieved by offering positive incentives to the PA, so that significant long-term gains offset its costs (added financial burden, Hamas inclusion in the PLO, rescuing Hamas from dire straits, the fear that the PA would be playing into a perceived U.S. effort to focus on Gaza at the expense of Palestinian statehood). The gains might include European recognition of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital; Israeli transfers of West Bank territory to PA control; Israeli permissions for Palestinian construction and development in the 60 per cent of the West Bank under full Israeli administrative and security control; and Israeli allowance of a PA and PLO presence in East Jerusalem.

Israel is no more eager to give over West Bank territory to the PA than it is to lift the siege of Gaza.

Such positive inducements are very unlikely to be offered: Israel is no more eager to give over West Bank territory to the PA than it is to lift the siege of Gaza, and it will hardly be persuaded to take one unpalatable step (offering carrots to the PA in the West Bank) in order to facilitate the other (lifting restrictions on Gaza that could redound to Hamas’s benefit); the Europeans are too divided, wary of domestic pushback, deferential to the U.S. on Israel-Palestine policy, and frightened of Israeli condemnations and accusations of anti-Semitism to recognise a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 lines;[fn]In interviews with Crisis Group, officials from the European Union and its member states offered a variety of reasons for their unwillingness to offer recognition of Palestinian statehood on the pre-1967 lines: that such recognition would have no impact on the ground; that it might further polarise Israelis and Palestinians; that pursuing such a policy will harm EU unity; that some European states cannot afford to take such a position because their own populations are too divided on the issue; and that Israel and Jewish organisations will attack the EU and its member states, accusing them of bias and anti-Semitism. Crisis Group interviews, European diplomats, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ramallah, October 2017-June 2018. A senior Irish leader stated: “You can only recognise Palestine once. I want to ensure that if we do this, then it will be in a way that advances peace. Doing it only so that we feel good about ourselves while alienating Israel could prove counterproductive for our ability to advance peace. I do not rule this [recognition] out, but so far I don’t have the sense that the time is right”. Crisis Group interview, Dublin, July 2017.Hide Footnote the PA views U.S. plans for economic and humanitarian improvements with extreme suspicion, believing that the U.S. aims to supplant Palestinian political aspirations with economic plans;[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Palestinian negotiator, PLO official, Ramallah, June-July 2018.Hide Footnote and Israel will not go along with a plan for Gaza development that entails European recognition of a Palestinian state.

And so the reality is that Palestinian reconciliation likely would require tremendous pressure on the PA, forcing it to act against its perceived interests. Yet strong negative inducements – for example, conditioning foreign aid to the PA, whose existence is an Israeli interest no less than a Palestinian one, on a PA takeover of governance in Gaza, Palestinian reconciliation and Israel’s lifting of the blockade – are just as unlikely. That is because those with considerable leverage over the PA – Israel, Egypt, the EU, the U.S. and other international donors – have so far prioritised the Authority’s political interests over the need of Gazans to be freed from an open-air prison and the possibility of widespread death and destruction in a new war.

Whether through positive inducements or negative ones, however, the international community will have to start using its leverage if it wants to help Israelis and Gazans avert renewed bloodshed.

Jerusalem/Ramallah/Gaza City/Brussels, 20 July 2018

Appendix A: Map of Gaza


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