The easiest prediction to make regarding the truce agreed between Israel and Hamas is that it won’t last forever. Indeed, as has been pointed out, the terms are almost identical to those agreed at the end of the last clash less than two years ago. The main elements are straightforward: Hamas agrees to quit firing rockets into Israel for a time; in return Israel agrees to stop retaliating and ease its blockade enough for Gazans to begin rebuilding. At least until a new round of fighting sets off a renewed bout of destruction. A conspiracy theorist might suggest Hamas is largely financed by the international construction trade.
If it wasn’t so tragic it would be comical. Is there anyone who couldn’t have forecast this result when the conflict began 50 days ago? As usual the fighting began after Hamas insisted on aiming rockets at Israeli targets in hopes of killing some civilians. The motive, presumably, was to demonstrate its “defiance” and to illustrate that – while it might not be good at much else – it still has the wherewithal to smuggle limited supplies of weaponry past the Israeli blockade.
As usual Israel put up with the provocation long past the point at which any other country would have responded in force. Long experience has taught Israel that any response on its part, no matter how justified, would be greeted with accusations of aggression and claims that it was it blame for starting the fight. As usual, civilians in Gaza paid the highest price, the result of Hamas hiding its operations near schools, hospitals and residential areas. As usual Israel was targeted with outrage any time a missile hit one of these targets, enabling Hamas and its sympathizers to accuse it of war crimes.
If there was a new development to interrupt the tired parade of predictable tragedy it was this: Israel’s government appeared less inclined than usual to bring a speedy end to it. It displayed its willingness to call off its attacks if Hamas would similarly agree to terms suggested by Egypt. An Israeli official announced: “Israel has accepted an Egyptian proposal for a complete and unlimited-in-time ceasefire. Israel accepted already the Egyptian proposal on 15 July. Israel has always supported an unconditional, open-ended ceasefire.” But Hamas hadn’t had enough death and destruction yet, and withheld its compliance until now.
Predictably, it has declared victory. More Gazans dead, more families devastated, more misery for one of the world’s most miserable corners. But a Hamas spokesperson maintained that it had accepted the Egyptian proposal “after achieving our goals”. Those would appear to consist almost entirely of withstanding Israel’s battering without being eliminated as a force for terror and disruption. “We defeated them by our standing and our resistance. We will stand by our people and we won’t leave them,” said the spokesman.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resisted the usual cries of canned outrage that he would dare to defend the country he leads against efforts to kill its people. Israelis are accustomed to these accusations. It may be that repetition is diminishing its inclination to be influenced by international response. It could also be that the conflagration of hatred that is consuming large parts of the Middle East, most notably in Iraq and Syria, has so appalled the world that the expression of sympathy for murderous groups like Hamas is no longer viewed as “progressive” or fashionable. In any case, Israel appears not to have suffered much in the way of international standing for its determination to eliminate as many Hamas missiles, tunnels and commanders as possible before its “victorious” opponents finally agreed to call it off. Mr. Netanyahu accepted the truce despite calls from within his own government to carry on. Talks are to take place over additional demands on both sides, but they won’t go anywhere. Not unless Hamas agrees to disarm and quit smuggling in weapons, which it won’t do, because to do so would nullify its reason for existence.
Some Palestinians know this. Mahmoud Abbas, president of that faction of the Palestinian community not controlled by Hamas, noted cogently: “The question is now ‘What’s next?’ Gaza suffered three wars and are we expecting another one? We will consult friends and the international community, and we can’t continue with cloudy negotiations.”
Unfortunately, “cloudy negotiations” are about all that’s on the menu. The cycle won’t change until Palestinians accept that Israel isn’t going away, and that no amount of Hamas rocketry will change things. The fact that Mr. Netanhyahu is under fire at home for having accepted too little in return for peace only suggests the next Israeli response will be even fiercer and prolonged.
Palestinians won’t get a better life until they disavow violence. Until then they’re stuck with “victories” in which their homes are ruined, their lives degraded and more of their people die.