Gaza on the Brink

How to Forestall Another Conflict Between Hamas and Israel

During a power outage in Gaza City, September 2015. Mohammed Salem / REUTERS

An ongoing electricity crisis is placing an inordinate amount of pressure on Gaza. If not addressed, it could end with a political implosion, a full-blown humanitarian disaster, and yet another round of violence between Hamas and Israel. 

A dangerous combination of intra-Palestinian rivalry, the lack of a long-term Israeli strategy for dealing with Hamas, international inertia, and the absence of a political process heightens Gaza’s dire predicament and the possibility of conflict. Even worse, these same factors are plunging the strip into the deepest humanitarian crisis it has seen in a decade. In short, Gaza is on the brink of a humanitarian, and possibly political, point of no return.

The episodes of escalation between Hamas and Israel over the past ten years follow a remarkably similar pattern. Although Israel has repeatedly and unsuccessfully attempted to remove Hamas from power by isolating Gaza, it continues to rely on that same system of restrictions to keep Hamas at bay. The guiding assumption has been that Hamas, interested in continuing to rule the Gaza Strip, can be kept from initiating military hostilities through the threat of increased economic sanctions and military action. Implicit in this reasoning is the belief that it is possible to put enough pressure on Hamas to keep it weak while not putting toomuch pressure on the group to make it desperate—left with nothing to lose and thus undeterrable.

This assumption has proved wrong time and again. The pressure on Gaza cyclically mounts until Hamas opts for force in an attempt to change the rules of the game. Thus, short-lived military conflicts are followed by temporary relaxations of the isolation policy. As time goes on, the trend is reversed, eventually leading to additional rounds of conflict. The same pattern unfolded after the most recent war in 2014. A temporary easing of regulations on the inflows and outflows of goods and people was followed by a significant increase in the political and economic pressure on Gaza, ultimately heightening the chances of

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