On Wednesday, speaking to Channel 10 television, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman confirmed Haaretz’s report that Israel had received indirect proposals from Hamas for a long-term truce in the Gaza Strip. Lieberman was quick to dismiss the possibility, saying that as long as Hamas refuses to commit to complete disarmament in Gaza and give up its rockets and tunnels, there’s nothing really to talk about.
At the same time, Yahya Sinwar, who heads Hamas in Gaza and is the person behind the recent proposals, intensified his aggressive tone against Israel in advance of the latest Palestinian demonstration on the Gaza border Friday.
“The voracious tiger has gotten out of his cage,” Sinwar said. “It will no longer be possible to stop him. We won’t give up on our principles, even at the price of millions of martyrs. We won’t consent to die oppressed.”
The previous Friday, for the first time since the Gaza protests began on March 30, no Palestinians were killed by Israeli sniper fire at the fence. The Palestinians, in addition to sending flaming kites over the border to start fires, used drones carrying small quantities of explosives. The Israel Defense Forces also found dozens of bombs that had been planted along the fence undercover of the demonstrations.
The IDF, one senior officer said recently, “has no problem, from a technical standpoint, killing 200 people in a violent demonstration of 20,000 people. But that would be a moral mistake and would cause us strategic damage.”
The next date for which both sides are gearing up is this Tuesday, May 15, which the Palestinians mark as Nakba Day. Friday’s demonstrations will be nothing more than a mutual warm-up.
But tensions in the territories are expected to start rising Monday when the United States moves its embassy to Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority plans demonstrations throughout the West Bank, whose residents have so far been demonstratively indifferent to the killing of dozens of their brethren in incidents along the Gaza border.
The IDF is having trouble predicting what kind of crowds the West Bank protests against the embassy move will draw. Whether or not this is any indication, the picture of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat with a road sign pointing to the U.S. Embassy was the main image on social media in the territories this week.
The IDF Central Command is preparing for clashes on a limited scale in which the PA security forces would exercise some degree of control over events. It’s also preparing for renewed attempts to commit attacks by lone-wolf terrorists.
The military is worried by the gradual crumbling of the PA’s foundations in light of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ worsening health and declining control over the situation. The IDF still defines preserving the PA’s stability as an Israeli security interest because of the need to have an address on the other side. This seems preferable to anarchy that could well end with Israel resuming full control of the West Bank and full responsibility for the daily needs of its almost 3 million Palestinians.
Despite the PA’s declared boycott on any contacts with the Americans due to its claim that the Trump administration is biased toward Israel, security talks are taking place behind the scenes. Shortly before beginning his new job as secretary of state, then-CIA director Mike Pompeo hosted PA intelligence chief Majid Faraj in Washington. The PA is too dependent on American aid and military guidance to burn all its bridges.
The U.S. administration also continues to show interest in events here on other issues that relate to Trump’s campaign promises. A defense delegation that included army representatives and homeland security experts recently toured Israel to study the fence the IDF built along the Egyptian border.
Trump has repeatedly promised to build a wall whose like the world has never seen along America’s border with Mexico. But Israeli officials got the impression that their American guests didn’t yet know exactly how this giant project would look, and it this stage, it still seems fanciful.