Despite last week’s violence, there is a quiet pact in force between Israel and Hamas

The movement that controls the Gaza Strip had to lob a few rockets over the border on Friday, just to prove it is not growing too close to Israel


Israel and Hamas have been getting along so well over the past week or so that Hamas had to set off two rockets of its own on Friday night, just to prove to its Palestinian rivals that it had not grown too close to the hated Zionists.

Iron Dome intercepted the rockets and Israel responded a few hours later with a couple of airstrikes.

Unlike those of the previous week in which members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) were targeted, in Hamas’s case, Israel made sure to strike only empty positions.

The last round of hostilities between Israel and Gaza have left Hamas in a curious situation.

For 50 hours of fighting — in which 34 Palestinians, including a senior PIJ commander and a family of eight, were killed — the main Islamic movement that controls the coastal strip remained on the sidelines.

This was not an easy position for Hamas, which styles itself as a moqama (resistance organisation).

Some of its more militant and younger cadres are angry with the leadership. In some cases, Hamas leaders who visited the mourners tent of those killed in the airstrikes were cursed and forced to leave.

Both rival movements have kept up an appearance of Palestinian unity.

Hamas chiefs were present in the “joint resistance command room” throughout the escalation and did not try to prevent PIJ from launching rockets.

On Friday, after the fragile ceasefire came into effect, leaders of both groups met publicly in Gaza.

But none of this papers over the fact that Hamas and Israel had observed a ceasefire of their own throughout the week and the assassination by Israel of a rogue PIJ commander had removed a nuisance for both sides.

The interests of both Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in Gaza, coincide. Mr Netanyahu is happy for Hamas to remain in control of Gaza as that perpetuates the split with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and weakens Palestinian demands on Israel to make any concession.

For Mr Sinwar, who is anxious to bolster his own claim to leadership of the Palestinian people, stabilising Gaza is crucial.

For that, he needs a long-term truce with Israel to enable much-needed building and infrastructure projects to go ahead in Gaza and an easing of the Strip’s seven-year closure by Israel and Egypt.

But while such a deal is the interests of both leaders, many obstacles remain.

They do not deal directly with each other, but through Egyptian mediators and the UN. For political reasons, neither can allow themselves to be seen as having compromised with the other side.

And while Israel demands the release of Israeli citizens and the bodies of two IDF soldiers held in Gaza as part of any long-term agreement, Hamas insists that these have to be part of a separate deal in return for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

In the absence of a comprehensive deal, progress is still being achieved with Hamas enforcing longer periods of ceasefire, Israel allowing more Palestinian workers to enter Israel as day-workers and Qatari money entering Gaza for payment to civil servants and benefits for impoverished families.

Now that Hamas has kept out of the latest escalation, Israeli officials are expecting them to intensify their demands for further concessions. But a temporary Netanyahu government that relies on the far-right is unlikely to be able to accede to those demands right now.

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