Talking About ‘Regime Change’ in Gaza

When it comes to the constant rocket barrage targeting Israeli towns and villages close to the border with Gaza, one thing is for sure: there are no easy options to deal with the problem, and Israel has obviously not had any success so far. As Frida Ghitis describes in her WPR commentary, talking to Hamas is one of the options being debated; at the opposite end of the range is the option of launching a large-scale military operation aimed at rooting out the infrastructure of the militants. A rather telling illustration of the dilemmas involved in the decision-making is the fact that, for each option, one can argue that it is exactly what Hamas wants.

Rumors about offers of a hudna (a cease-fire) or, alternately, a tahadiyeh (a lull in the fighting) have been around for quite a while, and since Hamas would not just agree to “quiet for quiet,” but come up with some additional demands, any deal would allow the movement to claim that militancy pays. At the same time, it is clear that a military incursion into Gaza by Israel would allow Hamas to make the most of its claim that while the “Ramallah government” of Mahmoud Abbas collaborates with Israel and the United States in search of a negotiated peace, Hamas is keeping up the heroic resistance.

It is interesting to note in this context that in a recent interview with the Jordanian daily al-Dustur, Abbas elaborated on the question of armed resistance, noting: “It is common knowledge when and how resistance is detrimental and when it is well timed”; he also took the opportunity to remind everyone that it had been his Fatah movement that “had the honor of leading the resistance and we taught resistance to everyone, including Hezbollah, who trained in our military camps.” No less interesting was the reaction of Israeli government officials to Abbas’ statement: Instead of the usual protests against any glorification of militancy, this time Israeli officials did not want to get “too excited” and downplayed the remarks made by Abbas as just “meant for internal consumption.”

To be sure, if Israel launched any large-scale military incursion into the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah would protest loudly — and so would much of the world. If Israeli efforts to prepare “world opinion for the possibility of a large-scale incursion into Gaza” will make much of a difference remains to be seen, particularly if, as reported by the Jerusalem Post, the goals of such an operation would indeed “not ‘merely’ be to reduce the threat of rocket fire and rocket manufacturing in the Gaza Strip, but would also likely entail paralyzing the Hamas government’s ability to operate, and even include ‘regime change.'”

Talk about “regime change” will inevitably trigger unhappy associations and thus arouse much suspicion and alarm. But it is by no means only Israeli hawks or Western “neocons” who contemplate regime change in Gaza — the demand that “Hamas Must Stand Down” has also been made in the Saudi English-language daily Arab News, where Osama al-Sharif argued recently:

Hamas must decide if it is acting as a government for all Palestinians or at least the Gazans, as some of its leaders have claimed, or as a militant group dedicated to fighting Israel. If it is the first choice, then it must show that it is concerned with the fate of its citizens who are enduring a huge humanitarian ordeal. If they choose the latter, then they must part ways with political grandstanding and accept to hand over responsibility for the welfare of Gaza to the PNA.

It seems that Hamas has made this decision by firing Iranian-made Grad missiles at Ashkelon, an Israeli city of some 120,000 people who live some 10 miles up the coast from the Gaza border.