What will it take to stop the war on Gaza?
By : Ghassan Khatib
By now it has become clear that ending this third Israeli war on Gaza is not going to be as easy as starting it. After about a month, the heavy fighting appears to have been supplanted by low-intensity confrontations in parallel with intensive negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli delegations, Egyptian mediation and an American presence.
As much as both sides had strong motives for starting the war, the escalation has gained its own dynamic that is making it difficult for the fighting parties and mediators to end it.
At the beginning of the war, Hamas was able to rally public support for its role, resisting Israel by declaring its objective as ending the blockade of Gaza. The heavy losses and individual sacrifices incurred are now making it politically difficult for Hamas to stop the war without any achievement in this regard.
What makes Hamas even more desperate for an achievement is that the new regional political reality suggests that this war might be the last opportunity for a breakthrough for the Islamist faction. The opportunities Hamas had during the Egyptian revolution and the year the Muslim Brotherhood was in power in Cairo will not likely be repeated after this war.
Israel is finding it difficult to live with the fact that neighboring Gaza can respond to attacks
Israel is finding it difficult to live with the fact that neighboring Gaza can respond to attacks, launching rockets or ceasing fire whenever its fighters please. Israel assumed that the isolated and besieged Hamas would be deterred after a few days or even weeks of bombardment during which each Gazan was punished brutally and Hamas and other fighting factions were put under pressure.
As such, Israel finds it difficult to stop now. Hamas is still able and determined to fight. In addition, Israel seems to believe that if it cannot disarm or deter Hamas today when the regional reality is conducive to this, it will be able to do so in the future.
And so, as long as Hamas is unable to end this war without any progress towards ending the blockade, and Israel refuses to ease the blockade in a way that might enable Hamas to resume its military arsenal build-up, it will be difficult to create a lasting and durable ceasefire.
Recognizing this leaves the international community with two important ways forward. First, there must be more sustained and serious humanitarian efforts, both to prevent Palestinian civilians from being targeted by indiscriminate Israeli brutality, and to alleviate the suffering of those affected.
Second, there must be attempts to break the stalemate by a third party that will set up arrangements guaranteeing to Palestinians free movement of persons and products to and from Gaza, and guaranteeing to Israel that such arrangements will not be used to arm Gaza.
The establishment of such arrangements would be an achievement even considering the sacrifices the Palestinians have made, at least in the cynical calculations that political actors must make. Israel would also be able to view such arrangements as a step towards its objective of disarming Gaza.
Ghassan Khatib is vice president for Development and Communications and lecturer of Cultural Studies and Contemporary Arab Studies at Birzeit University. Previously, he served as director of the Palestinian Authority Government Media Center (2009-2012), Minister of Labor in 2002 and Minister of Planning (2005-2006). Khatib was Vice-President for Community Outreach at Birzeit University (2006-2009), and founded and directed the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center, which specializes in research, opinion polling and media activities.