Despite his claims to have crippled Hamas, Netanyahu has elevated them into contenders for the leadership of the PLO
An Excellent Editorial
"Outside the confines of an Israeli election campaign, it is hard to see the last eight days of aerial bombardment of Gaza as a tactical success. What started from the Israeli defence establishment's view with a moment of elation – the pinpoint strike on the car of Hamas's military commander Ahmed al-Jaabari – ended with Hamas and other militant groups breaking two taboos: firing rockets repeatedly at Tel Aviv (not even Hezbollah during the height of the second Lebanon war did that); and returning to the tactic of bombing buses. If the agreement announced on Wednesday night holds, Hamas is hardly ceasing fire while in full retreat.
Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak now find themselves in a similar position to the one Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni found themselves in at the end of Operation Cast Lead in 2008 – struggling to pull something out of the rubble that justifies the decision to attack in the first place. They will claim that they established deterrence against the militant groups in Gaza for at least a couple of years. Hamas has agreed to not fire rockets, detonate bombs or engage in any cross-border activity, but all of that was on offer, and had been the subject of negotiations through intermediaries, before Operation Pillar of Defence was launched. Further, the agreement signed on Wednesday states that all crossings into Gaza – presumably not just the Rafah border with Egypt but the ones on the Israeli side as well – will be open to the movement of people and goods. In other words, the siege of Gaza, which Israel fought so bitterly and for so long to maintain, has just ended. The agreement refers to the fact that procedures for implementation will be "dealt with" within 24 hours of the start of the ceasefire. This was Hamas's central demand, and it appears to have been met. Israeli negotiators had two demands: that the ceasefire last for a stated minimal period of time and that a no-fire zone be established on the border. Neither are in the agreement.
Strategically, the judgment on the last week of war looks even worse. Look no further than what has been happening all this week in the West Bank. In 2008, it was a mortuary and Ramallah seemed to be on a different planet. Not a Palestinian voice dared to be raised against the Israeli ground incursion into Gaza. Dissenters were swiftly locked up by Palestinian policemen. This week, in contrast, the Palestinian police have been strangely inactive. Demonstrations have erupted in major West Bank cities, molotov cocktails have been thrown. On Wednesday both nationalist and Islamic politicians called for a strike in the Hebron region. These are scenes not witnessed since the end of the second intifada. Just as the final link in the physical separation of Hamas in Gaza appears to have dissolved, so the taboo on its political reappearance in the West Bank appears to have melted away also. For the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, this is terrible news. Unity between Fatah and Hamas is de facto being forged, despite his, America's, and the Middle East Quartet's best efforts to exclude the Gazan militants from the political process until they recognise the state of Israel. Wednesday night ended with praise being showered by Israel and Hillary Clinton on the Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi. They have just cemented the international standing of a man whose chances they tried their best to undermine five months ago.
Mr Netanyahu claimed that he had crippled Hamas and in heeding the warnings about a ground incursion, he will have cemented his western support. But that has been at the cost of elevating Hamas's position in the Arab world. He has now done to the organisation what he did to Khaled Meshaal, when he ordered his assassination by poison and was then forced to supply Jordan with the antidote. Meshaal's career was propelled as a result. In the same way, Hamas has been elevated into the position of a contender for the leadership of the PLO. Is this what the Israeli premier intended? Or has he just discovered the limits of the use of force? Instead of trying to wipe Hamas out, perhaps Mr Netanyahu should try talking to them."