Is what started on 7.7 going to really end after seven weeks? Will both sides finally stop shooting at each other, wrap up Operation Protective Edge and start recovering from it?
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The feeling in Tel Aviv is that this time the end is really near, on the assumption that the mutual concessions on the table are enough for both Israel and Hamas – or more accurately, are preferable to sticking to objectives that are not currently achievable.
A cold calculation of costs vs. benefits compared to the situation that prevailed on July 7 seems to show that Israel lost more. All it got was a restoration of the previous situation without anything to show for it, while it paid with 68 deaths, hundreds of wounded, and thousands of people uprooted from their homes. Although in each of those categories Israel’s loss represents only about 3 percent of what the Palestinians in Gaza suffered, there was no perceptible return on Israel’s investment. The Palestinians bled a lot more, but after less than two months of fire they can point to a potential improvement in their situation, which is the goal of any show of force.
In addition to the Israeli casualties, Hamas managed to disrupt life in Israel in a number of ways: A partial suspension of flights into Ben-Gurion Airport; the delay of the opening matches of the Premier League soccer season, and the cancellation of numerous concerts, performances, demonstrations and other public events, and the threat of a possible delay in opening the school year. For a time the communities near the border fence became an updated version of “Gush Katif,” the settlements that had to be evacuated from Gaza nine years ago.
Hamas deterred Israel’s defense minister, the celebrated hero of the paratroopers and the General Staff, from visiting Nahal Oz, on grounds that the damage caused by a mortar shell or by being forced to take shelter from one would give Hamas a photographic prize, as if there is no victory in forcing the defense minister to avoid visiting in the first place.
Israel extracted a tactical and not substantive concession from Hamas with regard to demilitarization that is effectively an Israeli concession. The Israeli demand to demilitarize the Strip was not realistic from the start. A demilitarized state can be established as a condition for transferring control there to a new sovereign – for example, in the West Bank, when the Palestinian Authority becomes a state – or following the surrender of the regime in it, as in Japan and Germany, where the Americans, within only a few years, came to regret their demands at the end of World War II as they sought strong allies for World War III, against the Soviets.
To expect Hamas, an organization that controls the Strip, to carry out a suicide attack by firing thousands of rockets and turning all the others into scrap, was noble but not serious. Insistence on it extended the conflict until in the end Israel folded and consigned demilitarization to the future. Hamas’ concession is that it agreed to allow demilitarization to be floated as a concept, to be addressed during future talks that may or may not take place, rather than having it dropped as if it had never been mentioned. When the time comes, a softer term will be chosen, like “arms control” or “thinning,” which without a mechanism for inspection, enforcement, and punishment for violations will also be of limited significance.
Speaking with Hamas, which as far as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is concerned is akin to talking with the Islamic State, let alone coming to an agreement with one of these murderous Muslim groups, is just the tip of the iceberg on which Netanyahu is stuck. The patron of the talks will continue to be Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sissi, who, in consultation with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, will be presenting Netanyahu with a big bill to pay.
What will be included in is pretty clear. The late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, after all, refused to make peace with Menachem Begin without conditioning it on talks with the Palestinians. To move forward, Sissi and Abbas will look backward, to Security Council Resolution 242, whose essence is land for peace.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, knows he cannot let Operation Protective Edge drag into September, the fall holidays, and onward endlessly. He must bring it to an end, even though the last day of the military operation will also be the first day of the next general election campaign.