On the morning of Saturday, March 19, Hamas militants fired dozens of mortar shells from Gaza into Southern Israel, effectively ending a cease-fire that had lasted since the Israeli military operation ended in Gaza more than two years ago.
Read more about it on the HuffPost (Article by Reuters) here, and two articles on the New York Times here and here.
My initial reaction upon reading the news somewhat amused me; maybe the leaders of Hamas had decided to make its play now in hopes of being overlooked because of all the other conflicts currently going on in the Middle East. The world has its eyes on Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, even Syria, they can’t possibly have time to check out what Hamas has been up to, can they?
The short post by the New York Times points out that there might be internal conflicts within Hamas:
“… there were signs of internal differences within Hamas, particularly between the hard-line military wing and the government, which may have led to the escalation.”
It’s always prudent to keep in mind that thus far, we know very little of what really happened. This can keep us from jumping to conclusions and making false judgments, whether on the actions of Israel, Abbas, or Hamas. We can, however, speculate; it maybe well be that the moderate, pro-negotiation wing of Hamas had no knowledge of the mortar attack on Israel, that it was launched by a rogue group within the hard-line wing. Or, as the HuffPost / Reuters article suggests, this could have been a calculated timing attack to see the extent of Israel’s retaliation and to put Abbas in a difficult position.
Speaking of which, Mahmoud Abbas has had his work cut out for him for quite a while, but this latest attack by Hamas takes it to a whole new level. If he tries to reconcile with Hamas, Israel will see it as both Hamas’ government and his as a united threat, which would undoubtedly hinder any peace talks with Israel. If he goes continues negotiating with Netanyahu without Hamas, he won’t be seen as the leader of all Palestinians.
All this is happening while the United States is trying to act as a mediator, as evident by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s numerous visits there.
This new development on the decades-(centuries, even) old Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be viewed as a cap off of all the conflicts going on in the Middle East today. It was the center of Middle East politics a thousand years ago, and it remains so, because of its gravita and the hope it brings if peace is achieved. On the other hand, it could also be viewed that the rest of the region is progressing with its yearn for change, leaving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict behind in what seems to be a never-ending saga.
We won’t be able to tell which is which, maybe not for decades. But we it is now evident that the Middle East will be the epicenter of international politics for a long time to come.