Although the expected resumption of indirect
negotiations between Israel and Hamas in Cairo was
postponed, it will likely take place in the next few
weeks as the two sides appear to seek a new and more
sustainable ceasefire. Should Israel and Hamas achieve
their stated objectives namely, the complete lifting
of the Israeli blockade as well the building of sea
and airports as demanded by Hamas, against the total
demilitarization of Gaza as demanded by Israel the
relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, as a
whole, will take a dramatically different turn, change
the nature of the conflict, and substantially improve
the prospect for peace. The question is, will their
political circumstances and the reality they face lead
to such an outcome?
It should first be noted that while they deny each
other's right to exist, the fact that they are
negotiating, albeit indirectly, amounts to a de facto
recognition of each other's reality and certain
Second, contrary to their claims of victory, the last
war produced no winners only losers and their
weaknesses and failures were on full display, forcing
them to reassess their plans and objectives for the
Israeli intelligence was taken by surprise about how
extensive Hamas' tunnel network was and how they were
strategically constructed to attack Israel from the
rear. The military assigned untrained, poorly
informed, and ill-equipped soldiers to destroy the
In fifty days of fighting, the military ran low on
munitions and called on the US to come to its rescue
while suffering from intense international
condemnation for the death of nearly 1,500 Palestinian
Hamas' ability to rain nearly 4,600 rockets on Israel
sent shockwaves throughout the country, forcing
thousands of Israelis to flee to shelters while Hamas
continued to fire rockets up to the last minute; it
was still left with thousands more that Israeli forces
could not destroy.
Hamas did not fare any better. It subjected Gaza to
destructive Israeli air raids, far surpassing previous
fighting that left nearly half the Strip in ruins
along with the destruction of tunnels, on which
hundreds of millions of dollars were spent.
While Hamas is claiming victory, it emerged more
isolated than ever before and remains vulnerable to
Israel's military incursions and at its mercy to ease
In an interview with Egyptian television, Palestinian
Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas said: "I don't
delude myself by saying, It was a victory.' What
victory?... For what did we suffer through those 50
days? We had 2,200 fatalities, 10,000 injured, 40,000
homes and facilities and factories destroyed. Tell me,
what did we achieve?"
Notwithstanding what both sides have suffered, under
the current circumstances, Israel will not meet Hamas'
demands to lift the blockade and allow it to build a
sea and airport. Conversely, Hamas will reject
Israel's demands to demilitarize Gaza and surrender
its cache of rockets.
That said, is there any prospect that they can still
achieve their goals, and under what circumstances?
Hamas knows the futility of provoking Israel and the
destruction it would incur, and conversely, Israel
knows that Hamas is a reality, a grassroots movement,
resilient, can sustain pain and pressure, and is there
There is a strong likelihood, then, that another
ceasefire agreement will be reached that would entail
concessions by both sides: Israel would ease the
blockade provided that PA security personnel be
permitted to monitor the border crossings, and UN
observers would ensure that all building materials are
used for housing and infrastructure.
Although historically reason has eluded Israelis and
Palestinians, I believe that the last war just might
have awakened both sides to a new bitter reality.
Israelis and Palestinians in the know, with whom I
spoke, strongly suggest that to prevent another deadly
flare-up, a new and longer-lasting ceasefire agreement
must not be an end in and of itself.
Since neither can wish the other away and because the
status quo is not sustainable, only an agreement that
consists of a number of phases over a period of at
least three years with the ultimate objective of
demilitarizing Gaza and lifting the blockade would
That is, built-in reciprocity would allow for
confidence-building, provided that both live up to the
commitments they make. For example, by destroying a
mutually agreed upon number of rockets, Israel would
allow the building of a seaport.
The second phase may entail the destruction of another
batch of rockets against allowing freer travel to and
from Gaza, etc. Each phase will have to be implemented
at specific intervals and monitored by an EU
commission, supported by the US, to ensure compliance
by both sides.
Indeed, as long as Israel undisputedly does not want
to reoccupy the Strip and Hamas does not want to see
Gaza in ruins time and again, such an agreement will
stand the test of time. It will make the peace process
between Israel and the Palestinians more substantive
and a peace agreement far more plausible than before.
Egypt's role as the facilitator now and in the future
is extremely important as Cairo has a national
interest in preventing another Israeli-Hamas war, and
also has concerns over the intensifying terrorist
activities in the Sinai. Moreover, Cairo wants to keep
Hamas at bay and distance it from Iran and Turkey.
There should be no public disclosure about the full
extent of the agreement, as both sides do not wish to
reveal how far they have gone in one swoop. Indeed,
only what will transpire on the ground and how
mutually beneficial it is, is what will matter.
Just as critical is the requirement that both sides
stop their acrimonious public narratives in order to
prepare their citizens for changing their attitudes
toward one another, with historic implications.
It should be remembered that the damage inflicted by
Israel in the West Bank during the second Intifada in
2000, which destroyed much of what the PA built since
1993, provided a rude awakening to the PA, which
realized that the use of force against Israel is
futile and counterproductive.
This lesson was not lost in Israel either, which
suffered from 117 suicide bombers that killed more
than 1,000 Israelis during the same period. This led
to a renunciation of violence by the PA and security
cooperation between the two sides.
The last Hamas-Israel war should be no less
instructive. Notwithstanding the ideological
differences between the secular PLO and the
religiously-committed Hamas, the latter will
inevitably come to the same conclusion as history has
shown even religious convictions will eventually adapt
to the unshakable reality and inevitable change.
Both reason and reality point to this direction, which
neither Israel nor Hamas can ignore without serious
and potentially ominous consequences.