If it holds, the much-anticipated cease-fire between Hamas and Israel represents a tentative first step toward normalcy in Gaza after 50 days of war. But normalcy isn’t really a solution to the tensions that have caused more than 2,000 deaths over the past two months. Since 2007, normalcy there has meant 1.8 million Palestinians living under a blockade. It has also meant 8 million Israelis living with the possibility of rocket fire raining down from Gaza. Although the cease-fire agreement reportedly calls for the easing of border crossings between Israel and Egypt, and a widening of the zone in which Palestinians are permitted to fish in the Mediterranean Sea, the deal seems to tweak, but not fundamentally change, the situation on the ground. For this cease-fire to mean more than previous agreements, it must provide an effective mechanism for opening the border to food, medicine, and other civilian goods, while keeping weapons out.
Although Secretary of State John Kerry has pledged US assistance in rebuilding Gaza, the futility of rebuilding a place that seems destined to be destroyed again must be apparent, even to him. This was the deadliest of a series of confrontations with Hamas in Gaza. Among the victims of the violence this summer were more than 400 children. Across the border, Israelis are mourning the deaths of 64 soldiers and six civilians. Despite this bloodshed, neither side seems to have achieved its core objectives. Israeli officials, who hoped to defeat or perhaps even remove Hamas from power in Gaza early in the conflict, fell short of that goal. Meanwhile, Hamas’s greatest victory so far has been mere survival.
Hamas’s demands for a seaport, the reopening of the Gaza airport, and the release of prisoners held in Israeli jails will reportedly be discussed in Cairo in the coming weeks, along with Israel’s demands for a demilitarized Gaza Strip. If Hamas does succeed in obtaining the release of prisoners or its other demands, then the militant group will arguably have gotten more out of Israel with seven weeks of violence than Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas achieved with seven years of peace talks.
This sends a bad message. Indeed, Abbas has suggested that he will not return to the negotiating table with Israel, and will instead pursue a solution at the United Nations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had an historic opportunity to make peace with Abbas, who renounced violence long ago. But talks went nowhere, and even good-faith gestures, such as the release of prisoners Abbas wants from Israeli jails, proved too difficult politically for Netanyahu to pull off. If Netanyahu is unable to solve Israel’s problems through diplomacy or through war, then perhaps it is time for Israelis to begin looking for another prime minister.