Again civilian deaths in endless conflict: what do Hamas and Netanyahu have to gain?

Dozens of dead on the Palestinian side and some on the Israeli side, including women and children. The longer the Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip and the rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel continue, the higher the toll paid by both Israelis and Palestinians.

It is the third time that Israel has waged war with Hamas, the group that has ruled Gaza since 2007. While experts agree that violence cannot resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, neither side seems willing to back down anytime soon.

Because despite civilian deaths and destruction, both Hamas and Netanyahu have an interest in this conflict.

‘Hamas is locked up’

The air strikes started on Monday. Hamas decided to fire rockets from Gaza at Israel after Israeli agents raided Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites for Muslims.

Erwin van Veen, Middle East expert at Clingendael Institute, sees the rocket attacks primarily as a political statement. “They are not militarily relevant, but they do express resistance – with tragic consequences,” he explains. The vast majority of Palestinian missiles are intercepted by the Israeli anti-aircraft system before landing.

But while Hamas’s actions are mostly symbolic, the leaders of the group do have something to gain from the violence. “Ultimately they are locked up in the Gaza Strip,” says Van Veen. The rocket attacks are an opportunity for Hamas to profile itself among Palestinians so that they can exercise power in new elections not only in Gaza but also in the West Bank.

Netanyahu wants to remain prime minister

The Israeli military responded to the missile attacks with much more precise aerial bombardments. “Hamas has paid a high price, and will pay an even higher price,” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said. In addition to a police station, apartment buildings were also bombed in Gaza, albeit after warnings so that residents could get out in time.

The military operation would take time, Netanyahu said. According to correspondent Ankie Rechess, this is politically convenient for the prime minister. In Israel, elections have been held four times in the past two years, with Netanyahu never being able to form a government. “Then the formation was transferred to an alternative, much more left-wing government,” says Rechess. “And that formation was almost complete, before this conflict brought everything to a standstill.”

The longer the formation is delayed, the better for Netanyahu’s position. “If the alternative coalition fails to propose a government within the legal three-week deadline, there is a chance that another election will be held and Netanyahu will be re-elected,” Rechess said. Much is at stake for the Prime Minister. “He has three criminal cases against him and is trying to do everything to stay out of prison. If he remains prime minister, or remains prime minister, he can postpone those criminal cases endlessly.”

Ground war?

So both Hamas and Netanyahu have an interest in the conflict continuing for some time. In addition to the air offensive, Israel has even prepared ground troops near Gaza in recent days.

“A ground war like that could be a realistic scenario,” says Rechess. “The Israeli army spokesman said all options are open.” But according to Middle East expert Erwin van Veen, this is also mainly about symbolic politics, and there is little chance that Israel will continue the ground offensive. “Then you will have a guerrilla war in an urban area, with a lot of deaths on both sides.”

End to the violence

If there is no ground war with a clear winner and loser, how will the violence end?

Diplomatically we are working hard on a solution. Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations are both trying to push for the ceasefire. Van Veen has little faith in it. “Israel does not listen to the UN. And what Qatar thinks of it will not interest them that much. The only one who can make a fist is the US. And I do not see that happening yet.”

In the longer term, according to correspondent Ankie Rechess, it would be good to see a new leadership in both Israel and the Palestinian territories. “A leadership that wants to work for the sake of the people. Not to fill their own pockets or to stay out of prison.”

But the current conflict has paused formation in Israel. The elections to be held in the Palestinian territories this spring have already been postponed. “It makes you cynical”, Ankie Rechess summarizes the situation. “And we almost are.”

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