Underlying issues keep Israel, Hamas locked in violent loop
JERUSALEM (AP) — A slew of grievances and major underlying issues have Israel and Hamas locked in a spiral of violence that has caused three wars in the last decade and repeated rounds of deadly fighting.
With an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, a riven Palestinian leadership and a militant Hamas, Gaza’s predicament remains seemingly unsolvable.
Here is a look at each side’s demands and what is keeping them in conflict:
The Islamic militant group has ruled Gaza since a violent 2007 takeover of the territory from forces loyal to the Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas, which rose to global prominence with suicide bombings in the 1990s and 2000s that killed hundreds of Israelis, is sworn to Israel’s destruction and has never accepted peace accords. It has set up a de facto government in the Gaza Strip, where it is responsible for managing the daily lives of some 2 million Palestinians.
Israel, which along with its Western allies considers Hamas a terrorist group, joined with Egypt to impose a blockade on Gaza after the Hamas takeover, eviscerating the local economy. Jobs are hard to come by, Gaza’s beaches are polluted by untreated sewage and tap water is undrinkable.
The blockade greatly restricts the movement of people out of the tiny territory, making it difficult to do business or travel abroad for work, school or family reasons.
Hamas wants Israel and Egypt to lift the blockade and it has led weekly protests since March aimed at busting it. Fueled in part by desperation, thousands have attended, with some burning tires, throwing rocks and grenades at Israeli troops and damaging the perimeter fence. More than 170 protesters have been killed by Israeli fire since the protests began.
Israel says it is defending its border against attackers. But it has come under heavy international criticism for the large number of unarmed people who have been shot.
Israel, which withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 after 38 years of occupation, says it has no choice but to enforce the blockade, accusing Hamas of trying to smuggle weapons into the territory.
Israel claims some credit for keeping border crossings open, allowing food, consumer goods and some construction materials to flow into the territory. It also has asked the international community, which already funnels hundreds of millions of dollars a year into Gaza, to increase aid.
Over the years, Hamas has amassed a vast arsenal of rockets and other weapons which it has fired sporadically at Israeli communities along with other Gaza militants. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars, including one in 2014 that exposed a network of underground tunnels leading into Israel from Gaza, prompting Israeli accusations that Hamas uses material meant for Gaza’s reconstruction for its war infrastructure.
Despite its recognition that the economic situation in Gaza could lead to a humanitarian crisis, Israel says no political resolution can be reached so long as Hamas remains in power. Hamas has refused to disarm or disavow its opposition to Israel.
THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
Compounding the situation has been a yearslong rift between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah faction. Attempts to reconcile have repeatedly failed, leaving the Palestinians divided between rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza. The talks have repeatedly broken down over Hamas’ refusal to disarm.
Abbas is fearful of any political settlement that would separate Gaza from the West Bank and entrench Hamas rule.
He has slashed the salaries of thousands of former government workers in Gaza and cut fuel subsidies to pay for electricity, all in an effort to step up pressure on Hamas. He has also thwarted a series of internationally-backed initiatives aimed at rehabilitating Gaza, worried that they could help Hamas.
These measures, combined with the decade-long blockade, have sent Gaza’s economy into freefall, prompting the increasingly desperate Hamas to step up the mass border protests.