The negotiations for a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza are complicated and are destined to be drawn out. This is mainly due to Hamas’ determination to leave the battlefield with clear achievements for its military wing, especially in the eyes of the Gaza population. These achievements should be clear enough to justify to the Palestinian street – in Judea and Samaria as well – the escalation of the fire on Israel, which resulted in Operation Protective Edge. Also, Hamas does not see Egypt as an honest broker and wants Qatar and Turkey involved in the negotiations, viewing them as without bias. In fact, what is happening now is negotiations about the negotiations, with fighting.
Meanwhile, those suffering are the people of Gazan population, among whom Hamas is hiding and fighting. Until the sixth day of the IDF operation, it appeared Gaza’s civilians supported the coalition of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, in particular their military wings, who are managing the fighting. Tuesday saw a reversal of this support.
The civilians of Gaza, including Hamas supporters, have begun to express resentment towards the militant organizations that have made their lives hell. Such expressions of dissatisfaction, both to foreign reporters and in private conversations, have become more and more common, and could well signal the beginning of unrest against Hamas.
Among the members of Israel’s defense establishment, this was seen as a sign that the objectives of the operation, primarily weakening Hamas, were in reach, and they began to believe that the organization would soon seek to end the fighting. But surprisingly, no such predictions have come to pass. Hamas is insisting on certain conditions for the negotiations – not only regarding the choice of mediator, but also intrinsic demands of Israel, Egypt and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). In this, the respective leaderships of Islamic Jihad and Hamas are entirely coordinated and have the same demands.
Israeli defense chiefs were also surprised at the lackluster response to IDF leaflets and electronic messages warning residents of neighborhoods in northern Gaza to evacuate. The IDF informed the more than 100,000 people in these areas that it was preparing to attack and they should leave to avoid harm. Of the 120,000 or so people in those neighborhoods, just 20,000 took shelter in UNRWA facilities. The majority remained in their homes following Hamas threats. If they did leave, Hamas announced, it would settle the score with them after the war.
Hamas also instructed UN refugee agency UNRWA not to open its facilities as shelters for those fleeing the neighborhoods that received IDF warnings. UNRWA officials refused, and it is likely that Hamas will seek to settle accounts with them as well after the operation.
But the key problem is that Gazans are more afraid of disobeying Hamas than they are of disregarding IDF warnings. Israel had a very different assessment of this before the operation, when IDF officials surmised that most of the population in the northern Gaza neighborhoods would be vacated, as was the case in southern Lebanon during the Second Lebanon War.