Celebrations are taking place in war-torn Gaza. The occasion? An “unlimited” ceasefire, under the aegis of the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, has been reached between Israel and Hamas. The terms, though, are nothing for Hamas to celebrate; indeed, there is little difference between this agreement and the one the terror group rejected on July 15th. Reuters summarizes perhaps the only gain by Gazans (but not Hamas):
* In a separate, bilateral agreement, Egypt will agree to open its 14 km (8 mile) border with Gaza at Rafah.
* The Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, is expected to take over responsibility for administering Gaza’s borders from Hamas. Israel and Egypt hope it will ensure weapons, ammunition and any “dual-use” goods are prevented from flowing into Gaza.
There is something very strange one immediately recognizes about this “concession”: it’s not from Israel, not in the slightest. It is indeed “a separate bilateral agreement,” between Egypt and Hamas that could have, in theory, been reached outside the context of war. So in the final calculation, Hamas fought a war against Israel to extract a concession from a third party, who in this case was also the mediating party (as Hussein Ibish astutely observed early on).
There will, of course, be “further indirect talks starting within a month,” but they will likely amount to little; the threat of war is off the table, and both sides are unwilling to give an inch to the other for posterity.
Hamas is evidently not a winner, having launched thousands of rockets into both open fields and the waiting, wide hands of the Iron Dome–––and achieving next to nothing, except maybe a chance at exploiting some of the humanitarian aid promised (a prospect that I believe Barak Ravid blows way out of proportion).
Qatar, who according to some reports is responsible for extending Protective Edge well beyond its sell-by date, is another loser. Despite the brouhaha over Secretary of State John Kerry’s disastrous trip the region in July, Egypt maintained its position as the only mediator in town. Hamas was forced to negotiate with one enemy (Egypt) while fighting another (Israel). This dynamic pushed them to agree to a ceasefire they initially rejected, and for good reason: it’s a loss, and a major one at that.
Israel, as far as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is concerned, achieved its objectives. It destroyed terror tunnels, assassinated at least three important Hamas officials, and depleted Gaza’s rocket supply. Whether or not Netanyahu can translate this into political capital is an entirely different matter. Any election is at least ten or so months away, probably more. It’s possible Israelis will look back favorably on Netanyahu’s leadership, in comparison to the rash Bennett and unhinged Lieberman.
Yet, the specter of another round remains. Israel did not even begin to achieve its long-term of “demilitarization” in Gaza. But to cite this as a loss for Israel misses the point. This was hardly feasible without a significant, likely unilateral, Israeli escalation. It was a negotiating position, not a military objective, and it will remain so.
There are, however unlikely, unalloyed victors of Operation Protective Edge. They avoided the scars of war not just with their agility, but by not entering the battlefield to begin with. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is on the verge of regaining influence in Gaza. The Arab monarchies have seen a blow dealt to Qatar’s Palestinian proxy, Hamas. This would have been impossible had the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi not been ousted from power in a July 2013 coup backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who have begun to express their regional ambitions more vocally.
All in all, Israel and the Arab monarchies are in a relatively strong position in the Middle East. But the uniting threats of Iran and militant Sunni groups, from Hamas to ISIL, are not enough to vanquish the elephant in the room: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the anachronism which prevents any alliance between Israel and the monarchies from being formed.
Last week, Netanyahu spoke of a “new diplomatic horizon,” in the wake of Operation Protective Edge. It will take a hitherto unseen boldness for Netanyahu to actively seek it. It’s not always the fault of Israel that bilateral peace talks fail, but eager partners who hold significant sway with the Palestinians are now in the picture. It would be a shame if the deleterious status quo prevails for purely political reasons.