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Delusional victory holds the promise of change

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Friday, 31 October 2014


Although the expected resumption of indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas in Cairo was postponed, it will likely take place in the next few weeks as the two sides appear to seek a new and more sustainable ceasefire. Should Israel and Hamas achieve their stated objectives – namely, the complete lifting of the Israeli blockade as well the building of sea and airports as demanded by Hamas, against the total demilitarization of Gaza as demanded by Israel – the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, as a whole, will take a dramatically different turn, change the nature of the conflict, and substantially improve the prospect for peace. The question is, will their political circumstances and the reality they face lead to such an outcome?

It should first be noted that while they deny each other's right to exist, the fact that they are negotiating, albeit indirectly, amounts to a de facto recognition of each other's reality and certain prerogatives.

Second, contrary to their claims of victory, the last war produced no winners – only losers – and their weaknesses and failures were on full display, forcing them to reassess their plans and objectives for the future.

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Israeli intelligence was taken by surprise about how extensive Hamas' tunnel network was and how they were strategically constructed to attack Israel from the rear. The military assigned untrained, poorly informed, and ill-equipped soldiers to destroy the tunnels.

In fifty days of fighting, the military ran low on munitions and called on the US to come to its rescue while suffering from intense international condemnation for the death of nearly 1,500 Palestinian civilians.

Hamas' ability to rain nearly 4,600 rockets on Israel sent shockwaves throughout the country, forcing thousands of Israelis to flee to shelters while Hamas continued to fire rockets up to the last minute; it was still left with thousands more that Israeli forces could not destroy.

Hamas did not fare any better. It subjected Gaza to destructive Israeli air raids, far surpassing previous fighting that left nearly half the Strip in ruins along with the destruction of tunnels, on which hundreds of millions of dollars were spent.

While Hamas is claiming victory, it emerged more isolated than ever before and remains vulnerable to Israel's military incursions and at its mercy to ease the blockade.

In an interview with Egyptian television, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas said: "I don't delude myself by saying, 'It was a victory.' What victory?... For what did we suffer through those 50 days? We had 2,200 fatalities, 10,000 injured, 40,000 homes and facilities and factories destroyed. Tell me, what did we achieve?"

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Notwithstanding what both sides have suffered, under the current circumstances, Israel will not meet Hamas' demands to lift the blockade and allow it to build a sea and airport. Conversely, Hamas will reject Israel's demands to demilitarize Gaza and surrender its cache of rockets.

That said, is there any prospect that they can still achieve their goals, and under what circumstances? Hamas knows the futility of provoking Israel and the destruction it would incur, and conversely, Israel knows that Hamas is a reality, a grassroots movement, resilient, can sustain pain and pressure, and is there to stay.

There is a strong likelihood, then, that another ceasefire agreement will be reached that would entail concessions by both sides: Israel would ease the blockade provided that PA security personnel be permitted to monitor the border crossings, and UN observers would ensure that all building materials are used for housing and infrastructure.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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