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“I don’t have any doubt that the Israeli government between now and September because of the UN vote, and because of other international constraints, is going to do its utmost to avoid conflict in Gaza,” Karsh said. “But here again you have the element of luck. If the bus wouldn’t have taken off the kids five minutes earlier, then you might have had twenty Israeli kids killed in the bus by the missile, and then the Israelis might have been involved in a deeper operation in Gaza already. So you can never know.”
This is a consideration for Hamas as well, because they know that a certain amount of violence will be tolerated by Israel, as long as it remains on the periphery. “But if it will go above this [Israel will] have to do something,” Karsh said. “But they don’t want to do it, that’s for sure.”
Israeli policymakers must also confront the shifting sands in their neighborhood. The Arab uprisings have upended a decades-old status quo, and he removal of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak has forced Israel to reconsider the stability of its southern border. Karsh said he is not nearly as nostalgic for Mubarak as some Israelis seem to be, but he does acknowledge that without Mubarak, the smuggling tunnels from Gaza to Egypt have significantly less resistance, and the Hamasniks can easily take advantage of the chaos on Egypt.
“So from a security point of view, the Egyptian development, at least in the immediate term, has had a very adverse consequence,” he said. You’d want to “think twice,” Karsh added, before signing an agreement with a divided government, one that has yet to establish itself as truly representative of its people, or one that seems temporary.
Karsh said that goes for the Palestinians as well. He said Israel is often admonished that they must strengthen Mahmoud Abbas because he is weak. “OK, he’s weak, so he may be gone tomorrow.” And if he is, and Fatah is weakened, it only increases the chances that Hamas will take control of the West Bank as well. And that would likely be the result if the uprisings sweep into the PA-controlled territory, he said—though he cautioned against expecting the uprisings to target the PA in the West Bank.
“At the moment the economic situation is relatively good in the West Bank,” Karsh said. “The world is financing them, Israel is not fighting them, and there is not much terrorism. So I don’t think that in the immediate term there is a reason for them to rise against the regime. But it might happen. Then again, the question is who is going to come [in their place]? I fear it is Hamas, which is quite strong even in the West Bank. But they haven’t made the move because politically it’s not suitable for them at the time to take over.”
Karsh also said that there has always been something of a disconnect between the Palestinian people and their leadership, but that the PA leaders have succeeded in greatly bridging this gap over time. Many Palestinians still do want peace, but he noted the anti-Semitic incitement contained in Palestinian children’s shows. Without an end to this, he said, prospects for peace are limited and growing dimmer by the day.
“What can you do, if you go to school at the age of five, six and they teach you the Jews are killers and murderers and so on and so forth?” he said. “That’s what you grow up with, so it’s very difficult to undo it. It’s exceedingly difficult. So in this respect, I am not very optimistic right now.”
Seth Mandel is a writer specializing in Middle Eastern politics and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Horowitz Freedom Center.
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