JERUSALEM — The rising confidence and bellicosity of Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, combined with rapidly deteriorating relations with Israel's would-be peace partner in the West Bank, are raising fears in Israel that a new Palestinian uprising could be near.
A number of prominent voices urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday to take steps to ease the tensions and bolster the Western-backed Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu's political rival, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, warned that renewed violence might not be "far off."
But the Israeli leader stood tough. Poised for re-election, it appears unlikely he will float a bold new initiative anytime soon. "We in the government have no illusions. We want a true peace with our neighbors. But we will not close our eyes and stick our heads in the sand," Netanyahu told his Cabinet.
Over the past month, Netanyahu has taken a series of steps that appear to have unintentionally emboldened the rival Palestinian leaderships in Gaza and the West Bank.
In mid-November, Israel carried out an eight-day military offensive in Gaza in response to months of intensifying rocket fire from the Hamas-ruled territory.
Although Israel claimed to inflict heavy damage, the operation failed to halt the rocket fire before an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire took hold and Hamas emerged intact. Hamas has claimed victory, won newfound recognition across the Middle East and boosted its popularity with the Palestinian public.