Hamas, Israel Back to Square One in Gaza

A ceasefire agreement leaves neither side the winner in the Gaza conflict.

Eight days of cross-border conflict and hundreds of casualties later, representatives from Hamas and Israel were able to reach an agreement to stop the latest round of violence on Wednesday. The truce, which was pushed forcefully by Egypt, the United Nations and the United States, is remarkably similar to the ceasefire that occurred after Operation Cast Lead four years ago. Both sides have agreed to reach a period of quiet in the hope that the shooting of missiles toward Israel and the bombing of buildings in Gaza fades away for the foreseeable future.

On its face, the ceasefire agreement is hardly an innovative pact. Israel will agree to stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip in the event that Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups stop firing missiles and rockets on Israeli cities.

The truce is designed to terminate the fighting in the short term; the roots of the conflict that have lingered between Hamas and Israel for so long are not addressed, although the accord makes mention of loosening border and travel restrictions for Gazans. Nor is the mechanism used to monitor the deal very strong. Indeed, the possibility of a renewed and more deadly conflict is the only thing keeping Hamas and Israel from violating the ceasefire.

What is more interesting is how the ceasefire is being portrayed. Both parties are claiming success in the overall operation, all the while spinning the truce as a vindication of their strength.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu practically claimed victory after the deal was reached: “We hit their most senior officers, destroyed thousands of rockets that were aimed at southern Israel and most of the rockets aimed at central Israel. We destroyed Hamas’ control over the strip,” he declared.

Hamas officials are claiming victory for themselves by arguing that the movement has retained its military capabilities despite 1,500 airstrikes by the Israelis. According to journalists on the ground, many Palestinians in Gaza appear to find that line of reasoning compelling. Thousands have poured out of their homes and onto the streets, celebrating the end of hostilities with chants, screams and the waiving of Hamas and Palestinian flags.

It is difficult to determine who exactly turned out the winner. On the one hand, the Israelis destroyed hundreds of rocket launching pads, stores of rockets and one of Hamas’ main communications buildings. A senior Hamas commander who was responsible for some of the most audacious attacks on Israel was assassinated. But at the same time, Hamas managed to launch rockets at Jerusalem for the first time, striking a public relations blow to Israeli claims that the militant organization is degraded and on its death bed. And despite Israel’s attacks, Hamas still controls Gaza.

The truth may be that neither side has won, despite eight days of fighting and the deaths of innocents on both sides of the border. The violence may have stopped and the border is indeed at its quietest in weeks but neither of this can be called a genuine and lasting peace.

Hundreds of casualties and countless airstrikes and rocket attacks later, the Israel-Gaza border area is back to its previous environment. At present, that is the best Israelis and Palestinians could have hoped for.