Israel’s situation regarding Gaza cannot be understood without grasping two terms: hudna and tahdiya. Hudna is a binding religious concept based on the agreement that the Prophet Muhammad made with the Quraysh tribe, in which he undertook a total ceasefire. Hamas can declare a hudna only if it actually intends to stop firing at Israel. It has made clear that it will do so only if Israel withdraws to the 1967 lines and agrees to implement the Palestinain “right of return” within Israeli territory.
Since that, of course, will not happen, Hamas cannot stop directing fire at Israel. However, tahdiya – “calming” – can allow that to happen. The war with Israel continues but on a low flame, which is the situation at present. In its argument with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, Hamas contrasts its model of “resistance” – compatible with that of tahdiya or “calming” – with the model of Ramallah’s “talks.”
What should Israel do? It is clear what it should not do: reconquer Gaza. Entering Gaza is like the U.S. army’s entry into Faluja in Iraq; it means grappling with terror groups, armed from head to toe, in Gaza’s alleys and refugee camps. Moreover, the option of handing Gaza to Fatah does not exist, because Fatah does not exist in Gaza. Fatah is conflicted and divided, not even accepting Ramallah’s authority. The days of Fatah rule in Gaza were days of rampant anarchy, with no chance of clamping down on all the terror groups firing at Israel at will. Today Hamas has considerably more control of these groups.
If Fatah rule returns to Gaza, or even if the occupation is restored, it will play into the hands of Ramallah, which will be able to claim that “all of Palestine is occupied.” That will augment the demand for a Palestinian state in both parts of the Palestinian Authority and for a safe passage that would cut Israel in two.
What to do, then? The thing to do is wait. The Hamas regime has severe problems, even if no one is currently challenging its rule. One of the critical problems is infrastructure collapse. With Gaza floating in sewage, and electricity stoppages a routine of life, Hamas can still maneuver. But when the system for providing drinking water collapses, something has to be done. Only Israel can save Gaza from life-threatening thirst.
Within a year the problem will be acute. One can foresee all the Europeans coming to Israel to demand that the crisis be dealt with in “humanitarian” terms – that is, providing free water to Gaza. Israel, however, must demand something in return – the dismantlement of all terror infrastructures – just as the international community demanded that Assad dismantle all his chemical weaponry. This is the opportunity to bring about a change in Gaza.