How can Hamas claim victory after this war?

Published on Haaretz

It’s the same queasy feeling as I had after the last two wars in Gaza; so much death and destruction, so little progress toward a long-term solution that neither the leaders of Israel nor Gaza want.

Watching the scenes of Gazanscelebrating Hamas ” victory’in the conflict with Israel made me feel heartsick. Despite my firm belief that there must be a Palestinian state, Hamas is my enemy, and a brutal enemy, and I hate to see their supporters jubilant. I would understand the relief of Gazans that our attacks had stopped, but the fact that Hamas is declaring victory is an explicit assessment that they won and we were defeated.

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On any objective scale this would seem not just absurd but obscene. If the widely reported numbers are accurate, the war caused the deaths of more than 2,100 Palestinians, including almost 500 children, and the devastation of whole Gaza neighborhoods. The Hamas secret tunnels were exposed and destroyed, and Hamas used up much of its missile arsenal, causing relatively few casualties on Israel’s side.

We lost 70 Israeli soldiers and civilians, each one dear to us, each loss painful, terrible for every family, and residents of the south went through another harrowing summer, but there was no existential threat to our nation, and nothing to compare to the nightmare the Gazans lived through for seven weeks.

If Palestinian suffering was so vast, why do they seem so elated while we feel so disappointed and anxious? What are they celebrating? Their survival? But thousands did not survive, and tens of thousands have no homes. Their steadfastness? They had no choice. They had no place to run, and if they tried to surrender, Hamas would have killed them.

I know that Hamas has to put on a show to justify the horrors they brought upon their people. Their leaders are narrow-minded men, adhering to a primitive code that idealizes martyrdom in lieu of compromise and hope, and they have to keep the testosterone pumping among their foot soldiers. Not only do they try to kill us indiscriminately, they sacrifice Palestinian lives in a way we find incomprehensible. So they must pretend that they won to keep up the morale of a population that is mourning its dead, tending its wounded, trying to find food, water and shelter and struggling to stave off diseases that are rapidly spreading through the population.

There is clearly a cultural chasm that even many of us on the left who have been lobbying for decades for a Palestinian state find difficult to cross.

And where does this leave the Palestinians? Ever since Arafat spoke out of both sides of his mouth at once, they have continued to be represented by a two-headed entity; one talking peace, compromise and two states, and the other talking Israel’s destruction. This duality has prevented Jewish Israel from taking the leap of trust in Palestinians necessary to make compromise, and helped destroy the left in this country.

I knew our prime minister’s unrealistic demand that Gaza be completely disarmed was as much as a fantasy as our enemy’s calls for a Hamas-controlled seaport and airport, so I was not disappointed that the fantasy of demilitarization was not realized. Thankfully, he chose to spare us the bloody reoccupation of Gaza that would have been required to attempt to achieve this goal.

In the meantime, Israel’s international standing was badly damaged, with those who believe we slipped precipitously from the moral high ground including not only our sworn foes, but some of our most dependable allies and friendly critics. So I ask what we gained from these seven weeks of battle.

Exposing and destroying the tunnels rids us of a threat we didn’t even know was there. A new anxiety – that death or abduction might come not only through the air but from underground – was at least temporarily erased before it could establish itself too deeply in our psyche. It is a genuine achievement, and we will try to console ourselves that it was worth the lives that we lost and the lives we took to eliminate this danger.

Israeli Jews showed remarkable solidarity the summer, and almost universally stepped up to support our troops and the residents of the South, that distant country, almost a full hour away form the country’s center. They bore the brunt of the attacks while the rest of us trundled through our routines in a constant state of distraction, overdosing and detaching ourselves from news reports like recurring addicts, startled awake by the occasional siren.

My leaders are telling me to ignore the Hamas celebrations, that their posturing doesn’t matter, that weachieved our goals. We forced Hamas to accept both a hostile Egyptian mediator and the same terms of settlement that we have been offering all summer. They assure me that Hamas has suffered a huge blow, both to their leadership and their operational capacity, and despite appearances to the contrary, their place at the international negotiating table and the global trough has been diminished, not exalted.

But I have the same queasy feeling I had after our last two wars in Gaza; so much death, so much destruction, and so little progress toward a long-term solution. Our leaders don’t want it and neither do theirs. Can it be that after seven weeks of war, and the horrible lead-up to the conflict, with its kidnapping-murders and explosion of hatred against Arabs within Israel, that we are back to saying it would be better to recognize the Palestinian unity government and try to neutralize Hamas by making Abu Mazen stronger, rather than declaring war on Hamas and continuing to try to undermine the Palestinian Authority? Does all this misery lead to a gigantic, I told you so? The month until the negotiations will surely be used by both sides to design new attack strategies. We will have to wait to see if this period of time yields new peace strategies as well.

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