Tel Aviv, Oct 8: For years, the various governments led by Benjamin Netanyahu took an approach that divided power between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank -- bringing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to his knees while making moves that propped up the Hamas terror group, media reports said on Sunday.
The idea was to prevent Abbas -- or anyone else in the Palestinian Authority’s West Bank government -- from advancing toward the establishment of a Palestinian state, the report said.
Thus, amid this bid to impair Abbas, Hamas was upgraded from a mere terror group to an organisation with which Israel held indirect negotiations via Egypt, and one that was allowed to receive infusions of cash from abroad, Times of Israel reported.
Hamas was also included in discussions about increasing the number of work permits Israel granted to Gazan laborers, which kept money flowing into Gaza, meaning food for families and the ability to purchase basic products, the report said.
Israeli officials said these permits, which allow Gazan laborers to earn higher salaries than they would in the enclave, were a powerful tool to help preserve calm.
Toward the end of Netanyahu’s fifth government in 2021, approximately 2,000-3,000 work permits were issued to Gazans. This number climbed to 5,000 and, during the Bennett-Lapid government, rose sharply to 10,000.
Since Netanyahu returned to power in January 2023, the number of work permits has soared to nearly 20,000. Additionally, since 2014, Netanyahu-led governments have practically turned a blind eye to the incendiary balloons and rocket fire from Gaza, Times of Israel reported.
Meanwhile, Israel has allowed suitcases holding millions in Qatari cash to enter Gaza through its crossings since 2018, in order to maintain its fragile ceasefire with the Hamas rulers of the Strip, the report said.
Most of the time, Israeli policy was to treat the Palestinian Authority as a burden and Hamas as an asset. Far-right M.K Bezalel Smotrich, now the Finance Minister in the hardline government and leader of the Religious Zionism party, said so himself in 2015.
According to various reports, Netanyahu made a similar point at a Likud faction meeting in early 2018, when he was quoted as saying that those who oppose a Palestinian state should support the transfer of funds to Gaza because maintaining the separation between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza would prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, Times of Israel reported.
The same messaging was repeated by right-wing commentators, who may have received briefings on the matter or talked to Likud higher-ups and understood the message.
Bolstered by this policy, Hamas grew stronger and stronger until Saturday, Israel’s “Pearl Harbor,” the bloodiest day in its history -- when terrorists crossed the border, slaughtered hundreds of Israelis and kidnapped an unknown number under the cover of thousands of rockets fired at towns throughout the country’s south and center, Times of Israel reported.
The country has known attacks and wars, but never on such a scale in a single morning. One thing is clear: The concept of indirectly strengthening Hamas -- while tolerating sporadic attacks and minor military operations every few years -- went up in smoke Saturday, the report said.