It was inevitable that a new conflict would emerge in Palestine. The Arab Spring emboldened those who thought Egypt might be more supportive of pressure on Israel. The heroism of Syria encouraged those seeking to challenge a powerful foe. And Iranian agents have been stirring up anti-Israeli hostility throughout the region.
As it happens, however, the trigger was the success of the Mahmud Abbas regime in the West Bank. Abbas’ looming effort to seek UN recognition for his government in Ramallah could have rendered the Hamas regime in Gaza isolated, even irrelevant. So Hamas, encouraged by Iran and hoping for stronger support from the Brotherhood leaders in Egypt, has kept up a sporadic barrage of rockets into Israel, which in turn have provoked periodic counter-strikes by Israeli forces, over the last year.
But the attacks have escalated in the last week, as Israel killed a high-level Hamas commander, Hamas raised its counter-strikes, and Israel raised its strikes in return. For no good reason and in pursuit of no clear goal — as often in this region — dozens have been killed and hundreds injured.
Where will this lead? Most likely to another cease-fire. Israel has no desire to re-occupy Gaza, and Hamas has no desire to see Gaza face another ground invasion. So most likely third parties will broker a slow-down in which Hamas agrees to halt its rocket attacks and Israel agrees to halt its cross-border air and artillery strikes.
Unfortunately, this event will reinforce the conservative, anti-Palestinian turn in Israeli politics, which sees permanent occupation as the only path to preserve peace, and works to advance settlements and undermine Palestinian autonomy.
It is truly unfortunate, as for many years the Israelis said there was no one on the Palestinian side with whom they could make peace. Now, however, Abbas and his regime in Ramallah have achieved sufficient peace and order in the West Bank, and are willing to accept an Israel within the 1967 borders provided only that they are compensated for West Bank settlements and given back a portion of East Jerusalem. But there is no one on the Israeli side with whom Abbas can make peace.