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Hamas and Israel responsible for escalation - Daoud Kuttab

March 26, 2011 3:35 P.M. (Updated: April 4, 2011 9:46 A.M.)
By: Daoud Kuttab
Who is responsible for the sudden escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip? All of the sudden rockets are coming out of Gaza and Israeli tanks are shelling residential areas, which killed four members of the Helu family in the Shejaiya refugee camp.

While both Hamas and Israel are blaming each other, I believe both are responsible this time, and for one reason and one reason only: They are both opposed to the latest initiative coming out of Ramallah.

Addressing the PLO central council on March 16, President Mahmoud Abbas stunned his audience by offering to go to the Gaza Strip within days. His offer focused on the idea of gaining the involvement and approval of Hamas with regard to a government made up of independent figures. The president wants this new government to work for six months in preparation for legislative and presidential elections. Abbas is on the record saying he is not running in the upcoming elections.

The surprise initiative was immediately welcomed by the Hamas leadership in Gaza who said that they welcome Abbas to Gaza to continue the talks, but failed to address the content of his initiative. Later it became clear that Hamas, and especially the leadership abroad, is totally opposed to the idea which they said was an attempt by Ramallah to circumvent their own initiative and that without true reconciliation no elections will take place.

This negativity is much more in sync with what is happening on the ground. Since March 15, security forces in Gaza have repeatedly attacked young demonstrators calling for an end to internal division. Journalists and photographers have also been harassed, beaten and had cameras and tapes confiscated in an attempt by the power in Gaza to prevent images of the security forces’ repression of non-violent demonstrators from coming out.

The Palestinian public is becoming more supportive of the Abbas initiative despite, or maybe in spite, of the Hamas response. A poll conducted after the announcement of the initiative showed overwhelming support. According to the Awrad survey, 91 percent of Palestinians said they supported the president’s initiative.

When the Hamas counter-demonstrators action proved ineffective, apparently a decision was taken to divert attention by launching rockets toward Israel. Unlike previous attacks, which the Hamas leadership has denounced and even threatened some radical groups for violating, Hamas publicly took credit for the latest rockets which fell in the Negev and didn’t cause any damage or injury.

Meanwhile, there was a different set of considerations on the other side. The more the Abbas initiative seemed to be taking root, and Hamas unable to reject this popular demand, the more the Israelis were unhappy. The Israelis began their attacks against the Abbas initiative politically and moved to the military front.

Without even admitting their responsibility for the current deadlock in the peace process, the Israelis continue to ask Palestinians to be involved in the process rather than real peace. Speaking in the Knesset, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacked Abbas saying that he has to choose between peace with Hamas and peace with Israel. Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon prepared the Israeli public for what was coming by saying that Israel will kill Hamas leaders.

The Israeli threat to kill Hamas leaders didn’t materialize; instead, ordinary Palestinians were once again forced to pay the price. The Helu family was devastated when a tank shell landed in their home killing four members of the family including an 11-year-old.

Hamas and Israeli leaders might have different reasons for their rejection of Abbas' initiative and the escalation of violence in Gaza. Whatever their political motivation, neither side has the right to punish civilians.

The author is a journalist and lecturer at Al-Quds University.
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