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Insight on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

In order to gain an understanding of the outcome of the 50 day mini-war that Israel had been forced to wage against Hamas, I share with you the insightful perspective of Avi Issacharoff, one of the foremost analysts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His piece was originally published in the Times of Israel.

As expected, minutes after the Palestinian-Egyptian announcement of a ceasefire in the conflict with Israel, Hamas leaders took to the streets of Gaza to celebrate “victory.” The same cruel and cynical Hamas leaders, who had led Gazans to one of the worst catastrophes the Strip has known, hailed their achievements and successes. Like a choir that had been practicing for weeks, down there in the tunnels and the bunkers, they held forth about the resilience of the Palestinian people and about their own wonderful organization that had succeeded in hitting the Zionists. A few hours later the Hamas military wing published a statement “allowing the settlers who live around Gaza to return to their homes.” That announcement did not refer to the tens of thousands of Palestinians who, thanks to Hamas, have no homes to return to in Gaza.

Hamas has been humiliatingly defeated. There is no other way of describing the ceasefire terms. There is no need to be dismayed by the manufactured scenes of celebration on the Palestinian side. There is also no need to be too bothered by critics from left and right of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who are already claiming that Israel strengthened Hamas and that it has the upper hand. The terror group that controls Gaza can claim some achievements in this war. It kept firing rockets until the last moment and proved a capacity for resilience. It won support in the Arab world, among some residents of the West Bank, and even to some extent internationally. At the same time it should be remembered that Israel did not seek at any point to bring Hamas down. To weaken it, yes, but also to ensure its capacity to survive — to enable it to continue to serve as the Gaza leadership address, a partner to deal with.

Hamas’s defeat lies in the area it counts as most important. With all due respect to the international community, or to al-Jazeera which emerged as the Hamas propaganda arm, what interests Hamas is public opinion in Gaza and in the West Bank. Time and again its leaders — including military wing chief Muhammad Deif, of whom it is not clear what remains after the IDF airstrike that targeted his home — bragged and made promises to the Gaza public that this conflict would continue until the siege was lifted. And until the re-arrested prisoners from the Shalit deal were released. And until an airport was opened. In their enthusiasm for these causes, they cost hundreds of thousands of Palestinians their homes. Two thousand, one hundred and forty-four men, women and children who were killed in a war that they were assured by Hamas simply had to continue until those goals were achieved. The Hamas leadership swore that without a seaport (getting the Rafah border crossing reopened was not deemed a sufficient achievement because it is controlled by the Egyptians) the rockets would continue to fall on Sderot and Tel Aviv, Ashkelon and Netivot.

Hamas further promised that there would be no return to the understandings that ended Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 or to the realities of recent years. Time after time, for almost 50 days, they rejected the Egyptian initiative, which included, almost clause for clause, the elements of the 2012 agreement. And then, on Tuesday afternoon, when first word of the ceasefire began to emerge, it became clear that Hamas had capitulated, retreated with its tail between its legs, and abandoned everything it had insisted upon. No seaport and no airport. No release of the Shalit prisoners who were re-arrested in June after the murders of the three Israeli teens. No lifting of the blockade.

The residents of Gaza — their lives, their economy, their health — will still depend on the attitude and policies of the Israeli government on one side, and the Egyptian government on the other. In a month’s time there will be negotiations on all of Hamas’s demands. In the realities of the Middle East or more accurately the realities of today’s Egypt, that means one thing: Forget about it.