The ceasefire that never was


If Hamas has achieved anything in rejecting Egypt’s ceasefire call it has certainly not been to burnish its own claims of resilience and ability to fight on. Its sole achievement has been to give Israel a significant propaganda victory in guaranteeing the latter’s resumed bombardment of Gaza yesterday a degree of international cover that it previously lacked.

The international community may – mostly, does – view the Israeli actions in Gaza as excessive and disproportionate to the provocation from Hamas, and many would say in exposing civilians to this degree, illegal in terms of the international rules of war, but there will be little willingness, if any, to take Israel to task.

Hamas’s strategic ineptness will simply compound the moral outrage most feel about its random rocket attacks on Israel, however ineffective – Palestinians, not least the 180 who have died in Gaza in recent days, have not been well-served by a leadership which regards international political sympathy as of no value whatsoever, entirely expendable. Yet, faced with the certainty that they will never overcome Israel militarily, Palestinians have no other currency with which to wage their legitimate campaign for statehood.

Hamas’s isolation has been compounded following Egypt’s coup by the latter’s deep hostility to its Muslim Brotherhood associations. While Cairo could act as an honest broker for previous peace agreements, it simply does not have leverage any more. In the circumstances Hamas’s ceasefire precondition aspirations are almost laughably removed from the realities of the balance of power on the ground: from the demand for payment of salaries of thousands of Gaza civil servants to the release of prisoners arrested in the West Bank after the kidnapping-murder of three Israeli teens last month, to the lifting of the eight-year blockade of Gaza and the opening of Egypt’s border crossing ... However reasonable individually, and some were available should the ceasefire hold, Hamas is simply not in a position to be, as the French say, “demandeur”. It has seriously overplayed its hand.

There is a real and terrible possibility now that Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, urged on by security cabinet hawks foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman and right wing party leader Nattali Bennet, will again order a partial or full invasion of Gaza. The price in terms of lives is likely to be terrible. His dissidents – and they have support in public opinion – insist the government must once and for all crush Hamas, destroying both its stocks of weapons and ability to fight. Yet the complete elimination of a Palestinian threat is no more possible than Hamas’s dreams of victory over Israel. A bitter new generation will bide its time and then rise, and quite possibily in a form and with a ferocity that would put Hamas in the shade. There is no security for Israel that way.