If the open-ended cease-fire with Hamas is holding when you are reading these words, Israelis will be in the midst of evaluating their country’s 50-day war in Gaza in an effort to determine what went right, what went wrong and what comes next.
Unlike Hamas, which declared victory after leader Khaled Mashaal came out of hiding, the post-mortem in Israel is as messy as it is public. A Maariv poll found that 61 percent of Israelis believe their country did not win the war, a sentiment that should be quite disconcerting to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His approval rating has reportedly dropped from a wartime high of 77 percent to about 50 percent, according to a Haaretz poll. But Netanyahu may be too big to fail. The same Haaretz poll indicated that a plurality of Israelis — 42 percent — consider him best suited to be prime minister among other leading politicians.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu has been skewered for his conduct of the war. Right wingers in his cabinet, long critical of Israel’s largely measured approach to battling Hamas, blasted him for not running the cease-fire agreement by them before agreeing to it. And there is concern that the “quiet-for-quiet” cease-fire just sets the clock back to the end of the last war in 2012 without advancing Israel’s cause, despite the anguish and losses of the Gaza campaign.
To be sure, the agreement meets none of Hamas’ demands, particularly for a seaport and an end to the territory’s economic isolation. And Israel unquestionably dealt Hamas a serious blow. The Palestinian group entered the war with 10,000 rockets but is believed to now have 2,000 to 3,000. Many of their tunnels have been destroyed. Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinetz last week suggested that the war could mark the beginning of the end of Hamas rule in Gaza.
If so, what comes next? An elevation of the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas seems most likely. Yet, after peace talks with Israel collapsed earlier this year, Abbas revived his effort to work for Palestinian statehood through the international system. Last week, he warned that Israel would not escape punishment for “crimes and massacres” it committed during its war with Hamas. Neither of these are promising developments.
If there is still quiet when you read this, Israel, the United States and the Palestinians will have to find a new way forward. Because if Israeli and Palestinian leaders cannot overcome the inertia in their political systems, or if the colossal changes that are shaking the region don’t shift the Israeli-Palestinian reality, the conflict will be right back to where it was in 2012. And we all know what happened two years later.