Gaza - Picking Up the Pieces

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moonThe dust is settling across Gaza as the ceasefire takes hold, and HAMAS cadres and supporters are celebrating their ‘victory’ over Israel during the period of hostilities that has just ended.

HAMAS cadres define ‘victory’ as having “stood up to” and “defied” their larger, stronger northern neighbor for 8 days, since Israel created a casus belli by killing HAMAS military leader Ahmed al-Jabaari.

The Israeli Defense Forces assess the outcome quite differently, regarding HAMAS’ effort as feeble. Most HAMAS rockets fell harmlessly and many others were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system; very few hit any target. Israel suffered only 6 fatalities, while nearly 160 Palestinians perished under Israeli fire.

From the Israeli point of view HAMAS had no option other than to agree to a ceasefire in the face of an imminent Israeli ground offensive. In any event, IDF sources point out, the HAMAS rocket offensive was unsustainable in the medium or long term.

In the interim, however, HAMAS propelled itself to center stage, as the eyes of the world turned to the carnage being inflicted on Palestinian civilians by the strong Israeli response to its own rocket campaign. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Western and NATO governments, the Arab League and other world players expressed concern and sympathy. Egypt’s President, Mohamed Morsi, gained great international prestige for his role in brokering the final ceasefire agreement.

Now, after signing the ceasefire agreement, both sides must turn to the business of actually working out what actually happens next.

Israel and HAMAS have both placed their demands on the table. According to the truce agreement, Israel has agreed to end all hostilities and targeted killings of militants. Palestinian groups are required to cease targeting Israel with rockets, and to end cross-border attacks.

Inside Gaza HAMAS is the big winner, having gained enormous prestige among Palestinian refugees in Gaza through its demonstrated determination and ability to ‘take the fight’ for Palestinian liberation to Israel. This increased following and stronger image will certainly translate into political gains at forthcoming elections for control of the Palestinian Authority, which runs Gaza.

Additionally, HAMAS has increased its international visibility, with more world governments focusing on the situation in Gaza. HAMAS hopes that this will provide the organization with the leverage it needs to secure further concessions from Israel in forthcoming negotiations. Israel, of course, will want to ensure that any negotiations do not facilitate HAMAS in ratcheting up terrorist operations against its citizens.

Israel and the US must now focus on moving toward a stable future in the Middle East, and particularly in Gaza. The Mid-East cannot afford endless rounds of periodic hostilities between HAMAS and Israel, all following a similar pattern and all ending in the same way – with a ceasefire that does nothing to alleviate the basic issues that militate against peace and security between Israel and the Palestinian people. The process must move forward to establish a more lasting foundation for peace.

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