Last Friday, July 11, the US House of Representatives unanimously passed Resolution 657 in support of Israel's right to defend itself against the rockets fired from the Gaza strip. A similar resolution has also been submitted to the US Senate. This reaffirmation of American support will be deeply appreciated in Israel. To make that support effective, however, a little more will be needed.
The House version "(1) reaffirms its support for Israel's right to defend its citizens and ensure the survival of the State of Israel; (2) condemns the unprovoked rocket fire at Israel; and (3) calls on Hamas to immediately cease all rocket and other attacks against Israel." The Senate version repeats those three demands in almost identical wording and adds a fourth: "Calls on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the unity governing arrangement with Hamas and condemn the attacks on Israel."
What the Congressional resolutions overlook is that Hamas has officially renounced its responsibility for governing Gaza, while the Palestinian unity government has already begun the process of taking over the administration of Gaza. Over a week ago (July 5/6), a senior Hamas official, Ahmad Yousef, was "asked about increased rocket fire on Israel in recent weeks" in an interview with Palestinian news agency Ma'an. His answer: "From a political point of view, (Prime Minister) Rami Hamdallah is responsible and he can give orders to security services to intervene. Hamas is not ruling the Gaza Strip and so it's not responsible for protecting borders"
Anyone paying due attention to recent Palestinian developments should know that this is correct. The unity government was formed because Hamas no longer had the funds to pay its own administration of 40,000 employees in Gaza. This was because the new Egyptian regime closed the tunnels connecting Egypt with Gaza and removed Hamas's two chief sources of income: money smuggled through the tunnels and taxes imposed upon the operators of the tunnels.
On the other hand, the 70,000 employees of the Palestinian Authority [PA] in Gaza, despite being dismissed by Hamas in 2007, have continued to receive their salaries from the PA until today. The unity government returned the first 3,000 of them to their posts already in May. The agreement between the PA and Hamas also stipulates that the 40,000 Hamas ex-employees should soon be integrated into the unity administration. Some PA officials (specifically Mofid al-Hasayneh) have expressly affirmed this obligation, while others have so far blocked payments to those ex-employees, but that is the intention.
Consequently, the PA – not Hamas – should be the primary addressee of Congressional resolutions. Moreover, it is not enough to back Israel's military actions against rocket fire. What is needed is an international plan, modelled on the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons, with two defined aims: to eliminate Gaza's entire arsenal of rockets and the capacity to produce them, and to eliminate the tunnels that Hamas has built underground from Gaza into Israeli territory (in order to kidnap more Israelis, or whatever).
That double demand was already made in two previous articles here on June 13 and on June 24, along with the need for such an international plan. It was also pointed out that Congress has the power to impose that demand upon the PA as a condition of further financial support for the PA. That is, instead of demanding the dissolution of the Palestinian unity government, as the Senate resolution states, Congress should demand that the unity government shoulder its responsibility to eliminate both the rocket infrastructure in Gaza and the tunnels.
In the meantime, the Israeli government has come round to the view expressed in those two articles. This was first reported on July 14 in the online Times of Israel: "The demands Israel is presenting as part of truce negotiations, at least since Friday, are that Hamas accept the terms of the 2012 agreement that came after Operation Pillar of Defense, empty the Gaza Strip of rockets, and close down the tunnels that run between the coastal enclave and Israel."
That is, a month after the publication of the first article, official Israel has settled for the same double demand upon the Palestinians. Only it still addresses that demand to Hamas, since it is too embarrassing to admit that the PA's unity government is now the designated ruler in Gaza.
A day later (July 15), Prime Minister Netanyahu confirmed that the double demand is indeed now Israeli policy. Speaking of the ceasefire proposed by Egypt, he told reporters: "We agreed to the Egyptian proposal in order to give an opportunity for the demilitarisation of the (Gaza) Strip - from missiles, from rockets and from tunnels - through diplomatic means."
Netanyahu went on to threaten that "if Hamas does not accept the ceasefire proposal, as would now seem to be the case, Israel would have all international legitimacy to broaden the military operation to achieve the required quiet." Yet Israel should keep this in mind: each time that it destroys the Hamas rocket capacities and Hamas rebuilds them, it remains an Israeli responsibility to destroy them again. But if the official Palestinian government now accepts responsibility for cooperation in the destruction of the rockets and tunnels, then the Palestinians will have recognized their responsibility to prevent also any recurrence of such phenomena.
Malcolm Lowe poses the question of who should, and will, be responsible for clearing Gaza of thousands of rockets. (Image source: IDF)
Note that this was precisely the result of Assad's agreement to cooperate in the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons. Assad is deterred from restarting production because he knows that the entire international community will not tolerate it. Had merely the US bombed some facilities in Syria, then the reconstruction of those facilities would have been seen as merely an American problem.
This has implications not only today in Gaza but also for any future arrangements in the West Bank. By accepting responsibility for rockets and tunnels in Gaza, the PA will be on notice that it is not allowed to tolerate anything of the kind in the West Bank either. So Israel would be advised to hold off, or strictly limit, a ground incursion in Gaza for the moment. While if it takes over the Gaza Strip entirely, it will become responsible for feeding a million and a half penniless Palestinians.
Notable is also the counter-demand made by Hamas, quoted in the Times of Israel report: "Hamas is demanding that 56 prisoners who were released as part of the 2011 prisoner swap for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, and were rearrested in the West Bank following the June 12 abduction and killing of the three Israeli teenagers, be freed. The terror organization is also asking that the Rafah crossing to Egypt be opened, and that the salaries of 40,000 former Hamas employees be transferred to the Gaza Strip."
This is confirmation indeed that recent events take their start from the bankruptcy of Hamas. This terrorist organization can no longer pay or feed anyone in Gaza. It was promised that its 40,000 activists would get paid by the PA, but the PA – which is itself nearly bankrupt – has so far not complied. So the last resort of Hamas was to start firing the thousands of accumulated rockets.
Finally, we can ask: How many Palestinians does it take to change a light bulb in Gaza? Apparently, 40,000 Hamas employees are capable of doing the work of 70,000 PA employees. Add them together and there will be at least three of them to change that light bulb. The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, evidently has on his payroll tens of thousands of idle Gazans who are available to root out and destroy those rockets and tunnels. Tell them all that this is the only way to get paid and feed their families – and why should they refuse?