World News

What to Know About Gaza’s Latest Flare-Up

Posted November 13, 2018 7:25 p.m. EST
Updated November 13, 2018 7:30 p.m. EST

An eruption of hostilities between Israel and Hamas militants, once again, raised the specter of war in the Gaza Strip in recent days.

But by sundown Tuesday, Israel and Hamas — the Islamic militant group that controls the impoverished enclave — signaled a willingness to end clashes in a deal brokered by international parties. The tensions threatened a tenuous détente in the slow-burning conflict.

While the deal allowed a fragile calm to take hold, the violence was the worst since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas. And it raised questions about how the two sides got here again and what the implications might be for any potential peace process.

Here are some key things to know about the conflict.

Why did tensions rise?

The latest clashes started after a botched intelligence mission by undercover Israeli commandos over the weekend. The covert operation ended in a firefight that left one Israeli soldier and seven Palestinian fighters dead.

Hamas and other armed groups responded with force, launching rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel. One Palestinian civilian was killed inside Israel on Monday and Israeli airstrikes killed at least seven Palestinians in Gaza on Monday and Tuesday.

Since March, tensions have run high as large-scale Palestinian protests against Israel at the Gaza border fence erupted into violence. At least 170 Palestinians were killed over the months of clashes, mostly as Israel fired live bullets at protesters who approached, or tried to damage or breach, the border fence. Palestinian demonstrators torched Israeli farmland.

But in the months since the border clashes, multilateral talks aimed at resolving the standoff have eased the tension. Days before the latest clashes, Israel had shifted its tactics, alleviating a blockade and allowing aid, food and cash to flow into Gaza.

A narrow strip of land 5 miles wide and 25 miles long, Gaza is home to nearly 2 million Palestinians who live largely cut off from the world behind a border fence strictly controlled by Israel and Egypt.

How did Gaza get here?

Gaza’s borders were drawn up as part of the 1949 armistice agreement between Egypt and Israel that halted a conflict over the creation of the state of Israel a year earlier. Egypt occupied Gaza until the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, when Israel seized the territory, sent in troops and established Jewish settlements.

In 1994, after the Oslo Accords, which aimed to end the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the first Gaza-Israel fence went up. In 2005, Israel withdrew from Gaza, removing its soldiers and vacating settlements. But it maintained tight control over the border.

The border fence, which critics say virtually turns Gaza into an open air prison, has been a source of friction ever since. So have the blockades imposed by both Israel and Egypt since Hamas seized power 11 years ago.

Conditions for Palestinians living in the territory have steadily worsened. The area is home to more than 2,000 of Palestinians who fled there after Israel’s founding.

The 2014 Israel-Hamas war ravaged the territory further and left thousands of Palestinians dead.

“The humanitarian situation was already disastrous,” said Christopher Gunness, the chief spokesman for UNRWA, the U.N. agency responsible for the welfare of Palestinian refugees. “There’s more than a decade of an illegal blockade. It’s collective punishment.”

For those living in Gaza, the threat of war and isolation are near constants. War between Hamas and Israel has broken out three times since 2008.

How could this affect a potential bid for long-term peace?

In the current climate, a solution that leads to broader Israeli-Palestinian peace appears to be out of reach, experts say. Long-term, internationally supported peace negotiations have been stalled since 2014, said David Makovsky, an expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“You’ve had kind of an utter impasse,” Makovsky said, describing any attempt at peace as a “multilayer chess game” that would have to involve the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas.

A Trump administration plan for peace, which the White House has pledged repeatedly to release, is believed to rely heavily on Abbas. He is the political leader of the second Palestinian territory, the West Bank, and the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the main representative of the Palestinian people. He is seen as an important participant in peace in the region.

After Hamas won election in 2006 and seized control of Gaza a year later, the two Palestinian territories have operated under different administrations. Any attempts at reconciliation so far, seen by many as a prerequisite for any comprehensive peace, have failed.

“Somehow, Gaza would have to become part of that Palestinian Authority orbit. But right now, they are completely two different systems,” Makovsky said.

Meanwhile, monthslong multilateral talks aimed at calming the more immediate issue have had some short-term success.

“There were good efforts here to have what I would call ‘calm for calm’, where the Palestinians would get more electricity and more fuel and in return the protests that are going on at the Gaza fence would abate, at least somewhat,” Makovsky said. “With what happened in the past 48 hours, it all seems to be up in smoke now.”

Could this lead to another war?

Leaders on both sides have indicated they are ready for the latest flare-up to end. On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said he was doing everything he could “in order to avoid an unnecessary war.”

Ismail Haniyeh, the political leader of Hamas, said Tuesday that if Israel “stops its aggression,” it would be possible to return to the cease-fire understanding of before.

The parties involved in brokering the latest truce were Egypt; the U.N. Middle East peace envoy, Nickolay Mladenov; and diplomats from Qatar and Norway.

Some say the willingness of Israel recently to allow aid into Gaza could indicate a new effort to resolve the conflict peacefully.

“The Israeli security establishment is kind of an interesting player here because they have fought three wars with Hamas and Gaza,” Makovsky said. “Their view is they are not looking for a fourth one.”