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Analysis

Return of Gaza power crisis puts Hamas, and Israel, back in the hot seat

The terror group is having trouble making the Strip livable, and the Jewish state may suffer the consequences

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Palestinian protesters and medics carry a wounded man during clashes with Israeli security forces near the border fence east of Jabalia refugee camp on June 23, 2017. (AFP/MOHAMMED ABED)
Palestinian protesters and medics carry a wounded man during clashes with Israeli security forces near the border fence east of Jabalia refugee camp on June 23, 2017. (AFP/MOHAMMED ABED)

Just a couple of weeks after the Gaza electricity crisis seemed to have been averted, taking — it was hoped — the threat of a summer war off the table for the immediate future, emergency supplies are set to expire, raising once again the possibility that Hamas will ignite a cross-border conflagration.

For the last several days, the Gaza power plant has been able to make up for electricity cut off by Israel — at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s request — and then some, giving Gazans five hours of electricity for every 12 without.

But on Thursday, the fuel used by the power station was supposed to run out, and no indication has been received of new Egyptian fuel entering Gaza. The question now is how Gaza’s Hamas leaders will react to a new crisis.

Will the movement try to start a fight with Israel to distract from the internal problems, or do its leaders prefer to sit in the dark, literally, and avoid war?

So far, the organization seems to be doing quite a bit to improve relations with Egypt and stay away from conflict with Israel.

Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas stand by as bulldozers clear an area for a large buffer zone on the border with Egypt in the southern Gaza strip town of Rafah, on June 28, 2017. (AFP/SAID KHATIB)
Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas stand by as bulldozers clear an area for a large buffer zone on the border with Egypt in the southern Gaza strip town of Rafah, on June 28, 2017. (AFP/SAID KHATIB)

 

This week, Hamas, for the umpteenth time, declared a buffer zone on the Gaza-Sinai border. According to Hamas, no one is allowed to be located about half a kilometer from the border, frustrating tunnel-digging efforts.

The head of the Hamas political bureau in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, who is considered the most extreme of the extremists of the terrorist organization, is demonstrating exceptional leadership and is showing restraint.

He, like Hamas interior minister Fathi Hamad, prefers that conflict zones be created in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority is in control, to buffer Hamas’s rule in Gaza from any possible existential danger.

Egyptian fuel trucks parked inside the Gaza power plant in Nusseirat, in the central Gaza Strip, Wednesday, June 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Egyptian fuel trucks parked inside the Gaza power plant in Nusseirat, in the central Gaza Strip, June 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Hamad, Sinwar, and others understand that their situation in Gaza is complicated, and they need to navigate a maze of external threats and internal challenges, like a faltering economy and the possibility of waning popularity, to stay in power.

The organization promised the residents of the Gaza Strip during the 2014 war with Israel that their situation would improve, but it has been unable to fulfill its commitments. According to data from the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate in Gaza is about 67% between the ages of 20 and 24 (compared to 30% in the West Bank). This is a frightening statistic for Hamas, showing only one of three young men in Gaza gainfully employed.

Hamas is sitting on a time bomb and, short of a dramatic turnaround, may have to choose between being eaten alive by its own unhappy constituents and embarking on yet another military adventure against Israel.

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