The “permanent” truce between Israel and Hamas brokered by Egypt might have ended the 50-day-long Gaza war, but the peace can hold only if both sides agree on discussing the contentious issues that are at the root of the conflict. Over 2,100 Palestinians and 69 Israelites were killed and 11,000 Palestinians wounded and nearly one lakh left homeless in this pointless war. If a permanent solution is to emerge, next month’s talks must hinge on repatriating the 1.2 million Palestinian refugees holed up in the 360-square-kilometre area of Gaza for decades now, and Hamas’ problematic charter that refuses to accept Israel’s right to exist. The latest war against Gaza, the third since the Palestinian Authority was ejected by Hamas in 2007, has been more devastating than the 2008 Israeli invasion and the intensive bombing in 2012. Rather than any easing of the 67-year-long conflict — the longest running state of war anywhere in the world since World War II — this indicates a deteriorating ground situation. The increasing radicalisation, evident from the burst of celebratory gunfire and cheering in Gaza and the rumblings of dissent in the Israeli Cabinet, has been unabashedly fanned by the hawkish leaderships on both sides.
Not surprisingly, even as the ceasefire was being clinched, both Israel and Hamas traded bombs and rockets that demolished a 15-storey apartment and a high-rise commercial complex in Gaza and a family home in Israel. Despite the celebrations, the ceasefire offers precious little to Hamas beyond what was achieved after the cessation of hostilities in 2012. The ceasefire terms call for opening Gaza’s crossings with Israel and Egypt to allow the supply of aid and construction material which tantamounts only to a partial “easing” of the blockade that has remained in force since 2007. Gaza will also now gain limited rights to fishing on a 6-km-length of the coast. But Israel’s demand for demilitarisation of the Gaza Strip and return of bodies of Israeli soldiers and Hamas’ demands for opening a seaport, lifting the aerial blockade, and the release of prisoners remain unresolved.
Unless the talks slated to begin next month address these issues as a starting point for a longer engagement between Israel and Hamas, this hard-won peace could also be doomed.
The latest war holds several lessons for both Israel and Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embarked on the war promising to safeguard the lives and property of Israelis but his popularity ratings plummeted as the war dragged on, tourists stayed away, schools remained shut and the southern Israel economy suffered. Hamas, which gained the upper hand in Gaza by promising refugees a return of their lands through military action, has seen several of its leaders killed, its rocket stockpile considerably depleted, tunnels destroyed, and is faced with the daunting task of economic reconstruction after the huge toll of death and destruction wrought by the war. The Israeli gameplan of propping up Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas is quite evident from the fact that it was left to Abbas to announce the ceasefire. How this strategy will impact the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, that paved the way for the Palestinian unity government in June, remains to be seen. Back then, Israel had reacted angrily to the move.
Israel’s preference for Fatah now, after years of undermining it, indicates the shortsightedness of earlier policies. With Hamas holding out, Netanyahu must ask himself what was achieved by his 50-day-war of 2014.