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To evaluate the Palestinian problem, its possible developments and solutions, it is sufficient to take a look at the opinion polls carried out on the opposite fronts. Right after the Israeli elections of March 17, 2015, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research gathered the opinions of the Palestinians: 47% of them think that the relationship with Israel will worsen; 32% doesn't think that it will change at all; 36% is contrary to negotiations and 68% is favorable to the launching of new missiles against Israel until their siege of the Gaza Strip comes to an end.

A similar survey was carried out by an American team right after the Israeli elections and the result was as follows: the Israeli are substantially satisfied with the status quo; Benjamin Netanyahu is perceived as being a “strong” leader; the security issue is the main concern that guides the choice of electors. In other words, Palestinian skepticism clashes with Israeli rigidity.

If this is the prevailing feeling among the two communities, what is the possible way out of the Palestinian issue now that there are no negotiations on the table? A new Intifada? A new armed conflict with the subsequent deaths caused by missiles, bombardments and a new invasion of Gaza?

Unfortunately, if the situation doesn't change, if the Israeli settlements continue to expand, if Netanyahu continues to deny the possibility of a Palestinian State and if, on the other side, Hamas continues to opt for the military solution, then there will be no viable alternatives. In the modern Middle East, every pretext provides more room for instability and growing tension. And if the armed conflict between Palestinians and Israelis were to begin anew, a number of other regional actors will inevitably get involved.

The unequivocal signs that the contenders in this endless social drama are getting ready for a novel conflict are already visible. In the past, we have seen Hamas teaming up with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in its fight against Israel. But the coming scenario could see the involvement of other sectors of the Palestinian diaspora and the fire could spread even in the other occupied territories. If this were to happen, we would see the beginning of a new Intifada.

gaza tunnel

The issue of procurement

Hamas, the most extreme Palestinian faction, doesn't have the support or complacent connivance of the Egyptian authorities like they did in the past. The ousting of President Mohamed Morsi has interrupted the political-religious and operative ties that gave the Palestinians of Gaza the logistics to fuel their military campaign. General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi has arrested the heads of the Muslim Brothers with whom Hamas had ties and from whom they received support. Also, he added both organizations – Hamas and the Brothers – to Egypt's list of terrorist organizations.

By so doing, the Sinai has put an end to its operative functions in the fight against Israel. Yet it is the same Sinai where the terrorist militias of Ansar Beit al Maqdis, now an affiliate of the ISIS, are all-powerful. This brings Hamas to an inevitable alliance with the more radical fringes because they represent the only options left for those in Gaza to continue to receive weapons and support. Al Sisi thinks that Hamas supports the Beit al Maqdis, but terrorism in the Sinai peninsula is not caused by this alliance, rather, it is its side effect.

Yet before a new war is started, it is imperative that the weapons to fight be delivered to Gaza. And the challenge between Hamas and Egypt on the one side, and Israel on the other, is centered on this precise issue. Abdel Fattah Al Sisi has recently approved new regulations that increase maximum prison terms for those that dig tunnels leading into the country to 25 years behind bars, the maximum punishment allowed by the Egyptian judicial system. The same punishment is landed on those that know about the tunnels and fail to report what they know to authorities. In October 2014, Al Sisi also decided to create a buffer zone between Gaza and the Sinai. Initially, this area was 500 meters wide, but it can be extended to up to one kilometer. All of the artifacts and homes within this area have been or will be destroyed. There are also further restrictions regarding the construction companies operating in the Sinai: there is a sort of embargo on the construction materials that they employ. Al Sisi's initiative is aimed at curbing the construction of tunnels that serve the purpose of getting weapons to Hamas and of giving terrorists a safe escape route out of the Sinai.

Lately, Egyptian authorities have discovered a 2,8 km long tunnel; the longest that they have found so far. This tunnel is not a rough, handmade, construction; it was built with sophisticated means and with the expenditure of grand financial resources. This circumstance sounded an alarm bell, especially since the border between the Strip and Egypt is roughly 20 kilometers long. In a waiver of the Camp David accords, which do not allow a military presence in the areas near the border, Israel has now allowed such presence on the part of Egypt.

The fact that weapons are transported to Gaza from the Sinai is indirectly demonstrated by the Israeli raid of July 2014 against an arms cache near Khartoum. The cache was comprised of weapons that were probably coming from Iran and presumably dedicated to the Palestinian plight. The Israeli intelligence has also recently stated that Teheran is currently re-arming the Hezbollah and Hamas; the latter would see weapons sent not only to Gaza, but to the West Bank as well.

Another way of sending weapons and tunnel-building materials to Gaza is via boat. Israel and Egypt are enacting rigid inspections on all the Palestinian fishing vessels which, after the 2014 peace accords, are allowed to fish within 6 miles of the coastal line. In the past few months there have been roughly 30 clashes between Israeli military vessels and Palestinian fishing boats with subsequent injuries, arrests and seizures.

Apart from the procurement of weapons, there are other ongoing preparations for the coming war. On the Palestinian side, the priority seems to be the training of snipers. In fact, a number of Austrian precision rifles, sold to Iran between 2006 and 2009, were found in the weapons cache belonging to Hamas during the latest invasion. The Brigade Ezzedin al Qassam, the military wing of Hamas, has created a number of training camps near the border with Israel. On the opposite front, Israel has adopted an electric-optical system that has the capacity to pinpoint the location of a sniper right after he fires his shot.

Finally, there is the tunnel issue which, as is the case with the ones that were dug during the last conflict, are built by Hamas in order to enter Israel with the intent to carry out terrorist activity and kidnappings. If, on the one side, the tunnels are still being dug, on the other, there is a frenetic activity to find solutions on how to locate and destroy them. The Israeli army has recently trained a special squad which uses sensors that are able to locate excavation activities.

benjamin netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu

War for lack of alternatives

All of the above provisions are evidently part of the preparation for a future conflict that the opposing sides deem inevitable. The alternative to the military option would be a diplomatic solution to the problem, something which seems unlikely with the re-election of Netanyahu at the helm of Israel.

In the meantime, the tensions between Hamas and Israel seem to reverberate in the relationship between Hamas and the Palestinian National Authority in the occupied territories. Lately, there have been rumors of a Hamas conspiracy to eliminate Mahmoud Abbas. The rumors were followed by a wave of arrests of Islamic Palestinian militants in the West Bank. Clearly, if the negotiations carried forth by the Palestinian President should yield no fruit, it would allow more room for the exponential growth of the more radical Palestinian factions. And if Abu Mazen will not be able to manage the growing resentment and frustration among the population, then the war would not be between Hamas – which represents roughly 1,8 million Palestinians living in the Strip – and Israel, but rather between the entire Palestinian population and Tel Aviv. This would be a very serious development that would fuel further tensions in the Middle East and which could lead to the fusion between Palestinian terrorism and the other radical fringes that operate in the region.

However – and this is the sole positive note in the scenario – there seem to be some timid attempts to avoid a new conflict. Turkey and Qatar have come forth saying that they could mediate between Israel and Hamas in order to achieve a five-year cease fire, which would include the construction of a new harbor in Gaza. Yet the incidents in Israel and the demonstrations in Palestine have increased exponentially, leading to arrests by the hundreds, half of which are of youths younger than 18.

Apart from the Turkish-Qatari initiative, there are rumors that Hamas has contacted the Israeli authorities directly. The initiative was allegedly enacted before the Israeli elections, but the re-election of Netanyahu to the office of Prime Minister could invalidate the attempt. It is important to evaluate the intentions and objectives of the two opposing sides: Hamas could try to buy time to better prepare itself for an armed conflict. Israel could be interested in weakening the leadership of Abu Mazen in order to force the Palestinian National Authority, which is the only internationally credible institution in the country, to adopt a more acquiescent position.

Either way, both actors of the 2014 war tagged “Protective Edge” seem to have forgotten the endless mourning and pain that they have caused: 3.360 missiles fired from Gaza; 4.762 targets bombed by Israel; over 2.200 murdered Palestinians (of which 89% were civilians and 500 were minors); 71 Israeli casualties; thousands of wounded; 18.000 homes destroyed or damaged in the Strip; over 100.000 Palestinians left without a place to live. Evidently, all of this was not enough to convince the opposing factions that a new war can produce no meaningful results for their future.

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