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So… who has won the Gaza war? (JMD quoted on Al Arabiya)

If the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas holds, the 50-day Gaza war leaves much speculation over who has emerged victorious

By Eman El-Shenawi | Al Arabiya News Wednesday, 27 August 2014

An agreement has been reached, but one ultimate umbrella question remains. If the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas holds, who has emerged victorious from the 50-day Gaza war? On Sunday, the Palestinian death toll had exceeded 2,100 and the Israeli destruction of Gazan infrastructure had been ramped up to target Hamas offices in high-rise buildings. On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers and six civilians were killed. Then, an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire calling for an indefinite halt to hostilities was struck.

Israel has agreed to Egyptian proposal for ceasefire that will be unlimited in time. — Israel Foreign Min. (@IsraelMFA) August 26, 2014

“If Hamas abide by their commitment to cease all hostilities against Israel then both the Israeli and Palestinian people will be the winners. Time will tell,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Paul Hirschson told Al Arabiya News on Wednesday. Both sides are claiming achievements but major sticking points remain.

Claiming victory

Israel’s goal of demilitarizing Gaza has not been reached with Hamas in control of Gaza with part of its military arsenal still intact. Meanwhile, Hamas’ previous demands for Israel and Egypt to lift border closures imposed in 2007 have also not been fully met, with Israel confirming it would “ease” its blockade of the hemmed-in enclave to allow humanitarian and construction materials to enter the Palestinian territory. Below you can find the immediate steps to the deal in full. But apart from an agreement that intends to guarantee a period of calm, can either Hamas or Israel really claim victory? “The long-term ceasefire agreed between Israel and Hamas is neither a defeat nor a victory for any side,” Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, told Al Arabiya News on Monday. “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one in which all wars have had no winners because the human cost of the wars negates their military gains,” added Khatib. Still, the unfulfillment of both sides’ full initial demands has not stopped celebrations in the Gaza Strip. Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement on Sunday: "Today we declare the victory of the resistance, today we declare the victory of Gaza.”

Senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar (L), appearing for the first time since the start of the seven-week conflict. (AFP)

While the Israeli government has not directly claimed victory, the Israeli media is reporting how Israel made Gaza “crawl” to a ceasefire.

“Hamas was not promised anything except that which had been offered at the start of the military campaign,” writes Yossi Melman in the Jerusalem Post, “Full of itself and arrogant, it miscalculated. If Hamas had not rejected the offers, Israel would not have launched a ground incursion. Hamas’ 32 attacking tunnels would not have been destroyed. Its rockets and mortar shells wouldn’t be reduced to a residual arsenal of 20 percent – from 10,000 to approximately 2,000.” But this view omits other points, explains Middle East analyst James Dorsey. “Short term, I would argue that Hamas won more points than Israel in terms of forcing a debate in Israel on military and intelligence strategy, denting Israel’s international standing as well as its relations to key allies such as the United States and Britain, restoring Palestinian resolve, maintaining a degree of Palestinian unity and refusing to accept Israeli terms for the negotiations. What those points are worth will only emerge over time,” Dorsey told Al Arabiya News.

Victory ‘in the eye of the beholder’

The rhetoric over who won the Gaza war is reminiscent of the 2006 Lebanon War, noted Melman, in which Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah declared victory after Israeli defense commentators criticized the war’s conduct by then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government. Describing Nasrallah’s declaration as a “false” victory, Melman wrote: “Eight years later, it is quite clear that war brought Israel significant gains at the strategic level. Northern Israel has enjoyed peace and tranquility.” Still, Nasrallah’s statement was enough for The Economist’s August 2006 edition to splash “Nasrallah wins the war” on its front cover.

But how are the winners of such wars determined against a backdrop of the decades-old Arab-Israeli conflict? In Gaza’s case, “the only scenario in which we could speak of ‘winning’ is if a full resolution of the conflict is reached, and then it would not be a win at the expense of an opponent's defeat, but a consensual victory for peace,” said Khatib. For that victory to occur, Hirschson says weakening Hamas would be a “positive contribution.” “We are hopeful that the Palestinians will return to negotiations with Israel as well as the entire Arab world, beyond Egypt and Jordan with whom we already have friendly and peaceful relations. There is no question the weakening of Hamas is a positive contribution to this aim as well,” the Israeli spokesperson added. While Hamas remains steadfast in its claim of victory, the terms both sides have agreed to (that ended more than a week of fighting in 2012) are seemingly the most tangible way to gauge any tactical advantages. “In many ways, victory is an issue of perception and in the eye of the beholder,” according to Dorsey. “No one vanquisher emerges from these conflagrations. As a result, victory is measured in terms of tactical advantage achieved and the degree to which that advantage strengthens a negotiating position. I would argue that, at least in the short term, the Palestinian rather than the Israeli negotiating position has been strengthened,” he added. For Gaza, it’s clear the celebrations are hopeful of an end to the death and destruction seen in the past seven weeks. For Israel, the end to an offensive weighing heavily on the country’seconomy and international image most probably provides some relief. Indirect talks on more complex issues surrounding the Gaza conflict are due to begin in Cairo within a month.


IMMEDIATE STEPS * Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza agree to halt all rocket and mortar fire into Israel. * Israel will stop all military action including air strikes and ground operations. * Israel agrees to open more of its border crossings with Gaza to allow the easier flow of goods, including humanitarian aid and reconstruction equipment, into the coastal enclave. This was also part of a ceasefire agreement after the last conflict between Israel and Hamas in November 2012, but was never fully implemented. * In a separate, bilateral agreement, Egypt will agree to open its 14 km (8 mile) border with Gaza at Rafah. * The Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, is expected to take over responsibility for administering Gaza's borders from Hamas. Israel and Egypt hope it will ensure weapons, ammunition and any "dual-use" goods are prevented from entering Gaza. They also expect tight monitoring of imports of construction materials like cement and cast iron to make sure they are used to rebuild or build homes rather than tunnels that have been used to attack Israel. * The Palestinian Authority will lead coordination of the reconstruction effort in Gaza with international donors, including the European Union, Qatar, Turkey and Norway. * Israel is expected to narrow the security buffer - a no-go area for Palestinians that runs along the inside of the Gaza border - reducing it from 300 meters to 100 meters if the truce holds. The move will allow Palestinians more access to farm land close to the border. * Israel will extend the fishing limit off Gaza's coast to six miles from three miles, with the possibility of widening it gradually if the truce holds. Ultimately, the Palestinians want to return to a full 12-mile international allowance. This was also part of the previous ceasefire deal in 2012, and was briefly implemented before being rescinded in March 2013.


* Hamas wants Israel to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners rounded up in the occupied West Bank following the abduction and killing of three Jewish seminary students in June, an attack that led to the war. Hamas initially denied involvement in the killings, but a senior Hamas official in exile in Turkey last week admitted the group did carry out the attack. * President Abbas, who heads the Fatah party, wants freedom for long-serving Palestinian prisoners whose release was dropped after the collapse of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. * Israel wants Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza to hand over all body parts and personal effects of Israeli soldiers killed during the war. * Hamas wants a sea port built in Gaza, allowing goods and people to be ferried in and out of the enclave. Israel has long rejected the plan, but it is possible that progress towards it could be made if there are absolute security guarantees. In antiquity, Gaza was a major port in the eastern Mediterranean, a critical point for spice trading. There have been plans to build a new port since the Oslo peace accords in the mid-1990s, but no progress has been made. * Hamas wants the un-freezing of funds to allow it to pay 40,000 police, government workers and other administrative staff who have largely been without salaries since late last year. The funds were frozen by the Palestinian Authority. * Israel has in recent weeks said it wants the full "demilitarization" of Gaza. The United States and European Union have supported the goal, but it remains unclear what it would mean in practice and Hamas has rejected it as unfeasible. It is possible that Israel will raise it again as talks progress. * The Palestinians also want the airport in Gaza - Yasser Arafat International, which opened in 1998 but was shut down in 2000 after it was bombed by Israel - to be rebuilt.

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