TIME Israel

Israelis and Palestinians Ask if the Latest Fight Was Worth It

Palestinian men walk in a street of Gaza City's Shejaiya neighborhood in early morning dense fog among the ruins of their neighbourhood on Aug. 27, 2014.
Palestinian men walk among the ruins of Gaza City's Shejaiya neighborhood on Aug. 27, 2014 Roberto Schmidt—AFP/Getty Images

A bloody war is followed by a public-relations fight

Israeli and Palestinian leaders set out Wednesday to sell their constituents on what was achieved during the latest fighting between the two sides, a day into a cease-fire that ended 50 days of war.

Senior officials on both sides of the conflict declared victory, albeit in very different ways, and laid out the war’s purported achievements. But some found themselves questioning what was really accomplished — and at what price.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced severe criticism from both ends of the political spectrum — from left-wingers who think the war could have been avoided had he not squandered a recent round of peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and from right-wingers who say he didn’t go far enough in the latest Gaza war. Netanyahu resisted hawkish calls to have the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) attempt an overthrow of Hamas and a reoccupation of the Gaza, and he shelved his insistence on the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, which he had been promoting last month as a solution to the conflict.

Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s own Foreign Minister and among the most prominent critics in his cabinet, slammed the cease-fire deal.

“We object to the cease-fire which offers Hamas the ability to continue to grow strong and fight future battles with Israel whenever it feels like,” Lieberman wrote on Facebook.

Unlike other key national decisions, Netanyahu did not bring the cease-fire deal to his cabinet for a discussion or a vote. After coming under fire for not addressing the nation Tuesday evening when the cease-fire deal was signed, Netanyahu held a news conference Wednesday alongside his Defense Minister and the IDF Chief of Staff, aimed at touting what he said was a mission accomplished, one that will provide “a lasting quiet” for Israel.

“Hamas did not get one of its demands to end Operation Protective Edge,” Netanyahu said, using the name of the Israeli military operation. “It demanded a seaport, it didn’t get it. It demanded an airport, it didn’t get it. It wanted mediation from Qatar and Turkey, it didn’t get it.”

He listed other Palestinian demands — the release of prisoners, the opening of Hamas offices in the West Bank that Israel closed, money — and boasted that Israel refused all of these. Rather, he said, what Israel essentially agreed to was the rehabilitation of Gaza by allowing humanitarian goods to enter.

A thousand Hamas terrorists were killed, many of them commanders,” he said. “Thousands of rocket arsenals, launch sites and weapons caches were destroyed along with hundreds of command centers.”

Those figures highlight the disparity in Palestinian and Israeli casualties and even how each side measures them: while Palestinians say that at least 70% of the approximately 2,100 Palestinians killed were civilians, Israel says about 50% were Hamas fighters. Seventy Israelis were killed, 64 of them soldiers.

While Israelis debated the war’s outcome and whether it was worth it — more than half say there was no winner, according to a new poll — the mood was more jubilant and less analytical in Gaza City. Palestinians went out to shop, to the bank, to the beach, and in many cases, to see if their homes were still standing. “People are happy that they survived more than anything else,” said Gazan journalist Abeer Ayyoub. “I’m just glad to be alive and that my house wasn’t demolished.”

Hamas rallied its supporters Wednesday afternoon, and many top officials not seen during the past seven weeks of war emerged to speak. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the blood spilled in the war was “the fuel of this victory.” Wearing a black-and-white kaffiyeh-patterned scarf over his business suit, he counted Hamas’ gains. “This battle is a war that lacks a precedent in the history of conflict with the enemy,” he said, adding that the group was preparing for the “ultimate battle” for Palestinian liberation.

“The war began with fire on Haifa and ended with fire on Haifa,” Haniyeh said, referring to the longer-range rockets Hamas used to target one of the main cities along Israel’s northern coast.

Mkhaimar Abusada, a political analyst at al-Azhar University in Gaza, said many Palestinians view Hamas as victorious simply because of its resilience and its survival.

“If you look at the numbers, we had about 30 times the number of Palestinians killed as in Israel … From this point of view, we didn’t win,” Abusada tells TIME. “But the Palestinians look at it from a different perspective. With limited capability, the Palestinian resistance was able to withstand the Israeli aggression and continue to fight to the last minute. Let’s face it, Israel didn’t reach its goals, because Israel could not stop the launching of missiles, and I’m not really sure they succeeded in deterring the Palestinians.”

TIME Middle East

Israel and Palestinians Reach Open-Ended Cease-Fire Deal

The sign of victory as people gather in the streets to celebrate after a deal had been reached between Hamas and Israel over a long-term end to seven weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip on Aug. 26, 2014 in Gaza City.
Palestinians in Gaza City celebrate in the streets after a deal had been reached between Hamas and Israel over a long-term end to seven weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip on Aug. 26, 2014 Momen Faiz—NurPhoto/Corbis

Truce ends the seven-week war, but it's an open question whether longer-term political talks will resume

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced Tuesday that Israel and various Palestinian militant factions including Hamas and Islamic Jihad had reached a cease-fire deal to end seven weeks of devastating war, and to postpone negotiations over several remaining issues for one month.

The news follows weeks of intense efforts on the part of the Egyptian government to broker a truce between the sides, both of whom were keen to emerge looking victorious, or at least successful, from a bruising war that resulted in the death of nearly 2,200 Palestinians and 70 Israelis.

Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev told the BBC that the cease-fire would meet Israel’s primary goals of keeping its citizens safe. The deal, he said, “commits Hamas to ending all hostile activity against Israel from Gaza. Now if that in fact does happen, and we hope it does, that is, for us, victory.”

Abbas’ role in announcing the deal from his Ramallah headquarters in the West Bank was evidence of the more prominent role that Egyptian, Israeli and other officials have sought in Gaza for the Palestinian President, whose Fatah party and security forces were ousted from the coastal strip in a Hamas coup in 2007.

In an evening speech making the deal official, Abbas said that he would soon present a detailed plan aimed at establishing a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines, a reference to Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories Israel occupied in the Six-Day War. He also indicated that he would not return to another round of negotiations with Israel amid what seems like such a discouraging prognosis for progress; the last round of talks ended in failure in April.

“The question now is, What’s next?” Abbas said. “Gaza suffered three wars and are we expecting another one? We will consult friends and the international community, and we can’t continue with cloudy negotiations.”

What’s in the Deal
The deal calls for an “open-ended” cease-fire and an Israeli agreement to ease its strict closure policy on Gaza, which Palestinians consider a siege. In theory, this means Israel should ease access at five crossings into Gaza that it controls, opening them up for a better flow of commercial goods and humanitarian needs, and most importantly, for building materials at the Kerem Shalom Crossing.

This latter aspect, according to a Palestinian source close to Hamas, has held up a deal in recent weeks as Hamas thought it necessary to hold out for the free flow of materials such as cement and steel as part of the reconstruction of Gaza. Also included in the deal is an Israeli agreement to allow Gazan fisherman to fish in waters up to 12 nautical miles off the coast by the end of the year — more than doubling the distance they were able to travel offshore in recent years, leading to overfishing.

What Hamas did not get, but had demanded throughout the past month, are three other things that the sides have agreed to postpone discussing for one month. These include the creation of a Gaza seaport, an airport and the release of approximately 50 Hamas activists who were rearrested by Israel in June. After having let them go in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange in October 2011, Israeli forces arrested them in West Bank raids following the kidnap-murder of three Israeli teenagers in mid-June. A senior Hamas official last week took responsibility for that attack.

Also postponed for a month is the demand by Hamas for Egypt to open the border crossing at Rafah. Egypt said it would work that out in a separate, bilateral agreement, with sources suggesting that that Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi wanted to take a wait-and-see approach before agreeing to ease Egypt’s own closure of the Hamas-run territory. Abbas’ Palestinian Authority forces are expected to take over responsibility for administering Gaza’s borders from Hamas, Reuters reports.

The agreement seems to lack exact details as to what precisely it would mean for Israel to “ease” its blockade of Gaza, leaving room for disagreements as in past years. Moreover, the deal largely mirrored the November 2012 cease-fire agreement that ended a week of war known as Operation Pillar of Defense. Exactly how “open-ended” this cease-fire ends up being thus remains to be seen.

Hamas Declares Victory
Hamas proclaimed itself victorious on Tuesday night, as details of the deal leaked out. Gazans gathered in several places throughout the strip and shot celebratory gunfire into the air.

“We are here today to declare the victory of the resistance, the victory of Gaza, with the help of God, and the steadfastness of our people and the noble resistance,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said at a news conference at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital.

The deal fulfilled what the Palestinian group had hoped for during the weeks of negotiations, said Gershon Baskin, an Israeli academic who has acted as a go-between Israel and Hamas on several occasions, including in the lead-up to the Shalit prisoner exchange deal almost three years ago. “Hamas has been ready for an agreement for two weeks, and has made it clear its achievements would not be military but political. What was important to them was to get building materials into Gaza,” he said.

Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior member of the Hamas political wing who has not been seen in public in some time, was one of several top Hamas officials to speak to the crowd of thousands gathered in Gaza City’s Rimal neighborhood Tuesday.

“We’re going to build our port and our airport, and if they attack the port, they attack the port. But anyone who attacks the airport will have their airport attacked again,” al-Zahar said, according to an Agence France-Presse report, in a reference to the numerous rockets launched at Israel’s Ben Gurion International airport. Though none of these succeeded, a Hamas rocket that targeted a town near the airstrip caused the Federal Aviation Administration to suspend the landing of several U.S. airlines there for several days in July.

Netanyahu Faces Hard Sell
Israel seems less in the mood for celebrating. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who informed his cabinet of the cease-fire deal Tuesday evening, has a more complicated job of selling the war’s achievements to Israelis. While the vast majority of Israelis believed he was justified in going to war, according to polls, not all of them are ready to end Operation Protective Edge with Hamas seemingly undeterred — and many are fearful that a cease-fire is simply a time-out until the next round. Whereas 82% of Israelis supported Netanyahu in mid-July, when he first sent in ground troops, a new poll showed his approval rating sunk to 32%.

Three of Netanyahu’s most prominent right-wing coalition partners — Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Minister of Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovich — announced their opposition to the cease-fire deal. The heads of local councils in southern Israel also announced Tuesday night that they flatly rejected the cease-fire agreement.

Itamar Shimoni, the mayor of Ashkelon, one of the cities hardest hit by the rocket fire, called the deal a “surrender to terrorism” and added: “We wanted to see Hamas defeated and begging for its life, but instead we’re seeing Israel running to the negotiation table every opportunity that presents itself.”

The upper echelons of Netanyahu’s team and senior Israel Defense Forces officials, however, will present it much differently. “The Israeli spin will be that Hamas shot most of their rockets and that won’t easily be replenished, and that most of the tunnels were destroyed and can’t be rebuilt,” Baskin tells TIME. “The big question is whether the regional political process will restart, as it should.”

TIME Israel

Hopes for a Cease-Fire Rise as the Gaza War Drags On

A Palestinian walks on the rubble of a mosque that was partially damaged by an airstrike on Aug. 25, 2014 in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip.
A Palestinian walks on the rubble of a mosque that was partially damaged by an air strike in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip, on Aug. 25, 2014 Roberto Schmidt—AFP/Getty Images

The Gaza war has reached its eighth week, and people on both sides keep dying. But there are reports of a potential truce

Israeli and Palestinian media outlets were abuzz with reports Monday that the various factions involved in the Israel-Hamas conflict were close to agreeing on a cease-fire deal following renewed efforts by Egypt and Saudi Arabia to help negotiate a truce. Either way, the possibility of reaching a cease-fire with a longer shelf life seemed to increase the likelihood of the sides reaching a cease-fire that would also be the prelude to a return to peace talks.

Khaled al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad official attending the Cairo talks, was the source of reports that on the possible cease-fire. But a senior Hamas official, Izzat al-Rishq, said the sides had yet to agree on a cease-fire in Gaza, according to Israeli daily Haaretz, while another Lebanon-based Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, would only confirm in a Hamas radio interview that “efforts are under way to stop the Israeli aggression.” Late Sunday, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling on Israel and Palestinian factions to agree to a cease-fire without a time limit attached and to return to the peace negotiations.

A senior Israeli official reached by TIME says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office is declining to comment on the rumors of a possible cease-fire and suggests “exercising caution” in giving credence to the reports. A report on Israel’s Walla! news site suggested that Egypt would make an announcement on a deal late Monday, one that would include a reopening the Rafah crossing between southern Gaza and Egypt and the expansion of Gaza’s fishing zone to 12 nautical miles, two of Hamas’ demands. If the cease-fire is maintained, the report says, Israel will allow more commercial products into Gaza, including construction materials.

Still, Israel and Hamas have very different visions about how the conflict should end — which makes it challenging to reach an agreement satisfactory to all sides. “The dilemma is that Israel is not willing to talk before reaching a cease-fire, while there is still shooting going on, and the Palestinian factions insist that they want achievements in exchange for agreeing to a cease-fire,” says Ghassan Khatib, a veteran Palestinian political analyst and the vice president of Birzeit University in the West Bank.

Adding intrigue about what the week may hold, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview Saturday with the Egypt’s Sada El Balad station that in the coming days he would introduce his own plan for solving the greater Israel-Palestine conflict. Many analysts here have speculated that this will likely be built on the Arab Peace Initiative — also called the Saudi Peace Initiative — first put forward in 2002. In the plan, moderate Arab states would recognize Israel in return for Israel recognizing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Any such plan would, naturally, including a program for rebuilding Gaza, but Israel is concerned that materials like cement and steel will be used refresh Hamas’ military capabilities — including the tunnels that became the focus of the Israel Defense Forces’ recent Gaza invasion.

Abbas said he would be discussing the initiative this week with other top Palestinian officials in Ramallah. “It will be an unconventional solution, but I’m not going to declare war on Israel,” Abbas said in the interview. “I have diplomatic and political solutions.” He suggested that he doesn’t expect Washington to support his initiative but added that “in the end, our Arab brothers will go with us.”

Khatib believes that Abbas’s statement indicates that Saudi involvement would play a key role in a peace deal. “Saudi and international parties are trying to bridge the gap by giving guarantees, meaning that they would set up a mechanism by which a third-party will guarantee freedom of movement to and from Gaza, but check that this cannot be used for the rearming of Gaza.” Egypt, he says, would like to play this role — or at least a pivotal one. The three key European players — France, Germany and Britain — all are offering assistance as well. The three countries are reportedly working on a proposal for a U.N. resolution to end the fighting, according to a report leaked to Haaretz, as part of a plan to return Gaza to Palestinian Authority control under international supervision — the territory has been run by Hamas since June 2007 — end the Israeli embargo on Gaza and resume peace talks.

The alternative, it seems, is continued war. Each side has made it clear other over the past week than they are ready to keep fighting indefinitely. With the conflict between Israel and Hamas already dragging on far longer than expected — it is now heading into its eighth week — politicians on both sides in the conflict have begun to refer to the possibility of war of attrition. That’s a reference to the ongoing fighting following the 1967 Six-Day War, one that continued for another three years, pitting Israel against Egyptian, Jordanian, Palestinian and even Soviet forces. Netanyahu and his Defense Minister told Israelis on Aug. 24 to expect a protracted war and “if necessary,” a delay of the start of the school year next week, at least for schools that are in the line of fire from Gaza.

In the meantime, both sides have continued their attacks. Israel has carried out 70 air strikes in the Gaza Strip over the past two days, the IDF said in its Twitter feed, while over the same period Israel was targeted by more than 230 rockets and mortars from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant factions in Gaza. On Sunday a 4-year-old Israeli boy was laid to rest after he was killed in a mortar attack from Gaza on Friday, triggering an exodus of Israelis from communities near the Gaza border, which are not protected by the country’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. The boy’s death brought the number of Israelis killed in the ongoing war to 68, including 64 soldiers. That same day a Palestinian mother and her four children were killed in an Israeli air strike on Gaza. At least 2,120 Gazans have been killed in the conflict, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Barring a lasting cease-fire, both numbers will keep rising.

TIME Middle East

Israel-Gaza Talks Collapse as Fighting Resumes Where It Left Off

Destruction is seen from the bathroom of a Palestinian apartment in the northern Gaza Strip city of Beit Hanun, on August 18, 2014.
Destruction is seen from the bathroom of a Palestinian apartment in the northern Gaza Strip city of Beit Hanun, on August 18, 2014. Thomas Coex—AFP/Getty Images

Renewed rocket fire from the Gaza strip was met with Israeli airstrikes Tuesday, as Egypt negotiations were called off

Hostilities between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza resumed and peace negotiations in Cairo were called off Tuesday, with Israeli negotiators called home to Jerusalem hours before an already prolonged cease-fire was due to expire.

Militants in Gaza launched three rockets in the direction of the Israeli city of Beersheba at close to 4 p.m. local time on Tuesday afternoon, Israel Defense Forces reported. They fell in open areas and no one was injured. But the very fact of even a trio of rockets being launched tested the doctrine that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials had reiterated in recent days: that Israel would not negotiate under fire, and would not accept even a “drizzle” of rocket fire from Hamas and its allies in Gaza.

“If Hamas thinks that through the continued drizzle of rocket fire it will force us to make concessions, it’s mistaken,” Netanyahu warned on Sunday. The metaphor of this drizzle – or tif-toof as it’s referred to in Hebrew – has become the new catch-phrase being used in Israel to embody a zero-tolerance policy to rockets. Tens of thousands of Israelis, including residents of the southern parts of Israel who have often been subjected to rocket fire even when there isn’t a full-scale conflict going on, protested in Tel Aviv last Thursday night, demanding a more definitive solution to the problem.

Netanyahu’s right-wing Minister of Economy, Naftali Bennett, said after the renewed fire Tuesday that it was impossible to negotiate with Hamas. “When you hold negotiations with a terror organization, you get more terror,” he said. “Hamas thinks that firing rockets helps in securing achievement in negotiations, therefore it is firing at Israel even during a cease-fire. Rockets are not a mistake [for Hamas], they are a method.”

A Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, accused Israel of dragging out the talks and of not being serious about reaching an agreement. “Israel’s foot-dragging proves it has no will to reach a truce deal,” Abu Zuhri said. “The Palestinian factions are ready to all possibilities,” he added, presaging the likelihood of a return to further conflict.

He also said that he had “no information about rocket fire coming from Gaza,” making it unclear as to which group actually launched the rockets. There are smaller militant groups than Hamas operating in Gaza; the largest of them, Islamic Jihad, has a delegation attending the talks in Cairo.

The return to hostilities is hardly the outcome everyone was waiting for as negotiators neared the end of their deadline for reaching a deal to bring a brutal and bloody summer of fighting to an end. Only a day earlier, the Israeli and Palestinian delegations meeting in Cairo were reported to be very close to reaching an agreement, as the nearly week-long ceasefire was extended for another 24 hours.

However, there were still large gaps on key issues. Hamas has demanded a complete lifting of the closure on the Gaza Strip, as well as permission to build an international seaport in Gaza. Israel has said it will not allow Hamas to use looser restrictions to rearm or to rebuild tunnels into Israel.

After the three initial rockets, further rocket salvoes on southern Israel were reported Tuesday afternoon. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an IDF Spokesperson said that the IDF “will continue striking terror infrastructure, pursuing terrorists, and eliminating terror capabilities in the Gaza Strip, in order to restore security for the State of Israel.”

TIME Israel

Israel-Hamas Talks Show Changing Imperatives as Cease-Fire Nears End

Gaza Strip, Gaza City: A Palestinian look a heavy destruction in Al Shaaf neighbourhood during a 72 hours ceasefire on August 11, 2012. ALESSIO ROMENZI
A Palestinian man looks at heavy destruction during a 72 hours cease-fire in Al Shaaf neighborhood of Gaza City on Aug. 11, 2014 Alessio Romenzi for TIME

A 72-hour cease-fire is set to end Wednesday night

Almost three decades ago, Benjamin Netanyahu was the editor of a new book called Terrorism: How the West Can Win. He was then Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, and the 1986 book was part of the doctrine he was developing for himself and for Israel: We don’t negotiate with terrorists.

Times have changed.

Today Israel’s negotiators are in Cairo, where they’re engaged in indirect negotiations with the militant group Hamas—as well as other Palestinian factions—in an effort to reach a cease-fire agreement to end more than a month of war in Gaza. The stakes are high, with the latest temporary cease-fire set to expire Wednesday night. The talks are part of the search for an exit strategy from Operation Protective Edge, which Israel launched on July 8 in response to a barrage of rocket fire from Gaza. Hamas says it acted in retaliation for the arrests of its activists in the West Bank. But the very fact that Israel and Hamas are participating in a version of proximity talks—where the parties don’t sit in the same room but are close enough for a mediator to facilitate negotiations—shows how far both sides have come from their hardline positions.

Israel has made its stance clear: It will not negotiate with Hamas, which both Israel and the U.S. view as a terrorist organization. Hamas, for its part, doesn’t recognize Israel and calls in its charter for the destruction of the Jewish State, but has recently offered a 10-year truce, an idea that dates to the time of the Prophet Mohammed.

And yet, the two sides are talking, albeit indirectly.

Netanyahu, now Israel’s Prime Minister, has continued to emphasize that Israel sees Hamas as a force to be ostracized—in the same category as ISIS or Boko Haram, he told foreign reporters last week. Even the most pro-peace member of Netanyahu’s cabinet, Tzipi Livni, said earlier this week that giving in to Hamas’ demands would be “a signal of weakness” that would only encourage yet another round of fighting. “Nobody can afford to send a message to Hamas that those who act with terror towards civilians can get what they want,” Livni told reporters.

Rhetoric aside, though, Israel has found itself faced with two basic choices, says Dr. Jonathan Spyer, a senior research fellow at the IDC Herzilya, a university near Tel Aviv. Either continue with its military campaign, with an eye toward toppling Hamas and possibly re-occupying Gaza—a move bound to engender intense international censure as well as soaring casualty counts—or negotiate with the very people Israel says no one should recognize as legitimate. Netanyahu, Spyer notes, has decided not to go the route of regime change by force, despite pressures from hard-liners to do so. As such, there is nothing to do but to negotiate over the terms.

“If Israel decides that it’s not going to try to destroy Hamas, [it] then [has] to deal with this semi-sovereign enclave between Israel and Egypt, and you end up with a situation of ongoing conflict with a neighboring entity: a situation of no peace but now war, or maybe a war of attrition,” Spyer tells TIME. To let the war drag on indefinitely, he notes, would also be seen in Israel as a failure.

“If the Israeli communities on the border of Gaza become ghost towns, then we have a de facto disengagement from the south of Israel, and I don’t think any Israeli prime minister wants that,” he said.

The majority of Israelis who live in communities that surround the Gaza border, which have borne the brunt of more than 3,500 rocket and mortars fired at them from Gaza over the past month, have been seeking shelter in the center and north of the country. If Netanyahu wants to make good on his pledge to “bring back quiet,” there is no way to get there without doing business with Hamas.

While some analysts commend Netanyahu’s decision to choose cease-fire talks over further military action, he has also come under criticism. Writing in the New York Times, military analyst Ronen Bregman argued that the war has done “significant damage” to Israel’s deterrence. “And as much as Israel is seeking to marginalize Hamas and empower the weakened Mr. [Mahmoud] Abbas, Hamas is, for the first time in its history, on the verge of being internationally recognized as an equal party in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute,” Bregman writes.

Zvi Bar’el, a writer for the left-wing Haaretz daily newspaper, said Netanyahu’s policies have painted Israel into a corner, forcing it to negotiate with Hamas. “Israel’s insistence on viewing the Palestinian unity government as a ‘terrorist entity,’ or at the very least ‘a Hamas government,’ has actually trapped it, and once again forced it into negotiating with Hamas and Islamic Jihad while pushing Abbas into the position of an observer who is not authorized to sign an accord, should one be reached,” Bar’el writes. The end result will likely be to revive Hamas’ popularity, he predicts.

Mark Heller, an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, says the international censure coming down on Israel has steered the country’s leadership away from rhetoric around destroying Hamas, choosing a negotiated solution instead. “Israel has the ability to reoccupy Gaza and destroy Hamas, if it’s willing to pay the price, but one of the prices is the lives of troops and Israel’s international standing,” Heller says. “As Hamas still has effective control of Gaza and decides whether or not there will be firing from Gaza, the only way to pursue the possibility of a cease-fire is to speak with them.”

The latest 72-hour truce, meanwhile, expires Wednesday night—and it’s far from certain that the gaps between the two sides will be bridged before then.

TIME

Baghdad Power Struggle Adds to Chaos in Iraq

Obama Meets With Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki At White House
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki Olivier Douliery—Getty Images

Nouri al-Maliki is adding fuel to the fire in Iraq by refusing to make way for a new prime minister

For several months, the Obama Administration has made it clear that it wanted Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to step aside and make way for a more inclusive government, seen as a critical step to bringing Iraq back from the brink of disintegration along sectarian lines.

Now, in what is likely the biggest challenge yet to Iraq’s stability and integrity, the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) are capturing new territory in northern and central Iraq, sending thousands of Yazidis and Christians fleeing for their lives, and killing virtually any Shi’ite who stands in their path. Amidst this, Maliki is adding fuel to the fire and pulling the world’s attention back in the direction of Baghdad.

On Monday, Maliki defied calls to make way for Haidar al-Abadi as the country’s new prime minister, insisting that after two terms in the job, he is entitled to a third according to the Iraqi constitution. On Sunday, Maliki accused the country’s new president, Fouad Massoum, a Kurd elected by parliament, of carrying out “a coup against the constitution and the political process.” Maliki’s son-in-law Hussein al-Maliki told Reuters that the president’s decision to name Abadi as the new premier was “illegal”.

Upping the ante, Maliki has deployed his special forces and Shi’ite militias around Baghdad, suggesting he might use force to thwart any attempt to enforce the decision. The increased presence of forces in the capital takes place against the backdrop a recent string of car bombings aimed at Shi’ite neighborhoods, and indications that ISIS is looking for an opportunity to advance toward Baghdad.

Douglas Ollivant, a former Director for Iraq on the National Security Council under the Bush and Obama Administrations, suggests Maliki’s actions may be bluster. “We don’t know where Iran stands on this, but unless they back him on his bid to stay, I think he’s posturing—that’s what people do,” he says. “I think he knows that will really cross a red line for ‘peaceful retirement,’ which we presume is what he wants.”

Ollivant, now a Senior National Security Studies Fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, spoke to TIME immediately after a press conference given by President Barack Obama late on Monday afternoon. “There is no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq,” Obama said. “The only lasting solution is for Iraqis to come together and form an inclusive government.” Obama also noted that he had “stepped up military advice and assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish forces as they wage the fight against ISIL,” another name for ISIS.

The key goals for now are essentially to contain ISIS, helping Kurdish forces to keep Islamic militants from reaching outskirts of Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region, where the US maintains a consulate. “I think the president has made it clear that that’s all he’ll do until a new government has been formed,” Ollivant adds.

But Abadi has up to a month to do so. What happens to Iraq in the meantime?

“If they try taking Erbil or something on the border with Jordan or Baghdad, the U.S. airpower will engage them. Essentially, the airpower is holding them off from going any further,” Ollivant says. “If they can get a representative government, I think they [the Obama Administration] would like to do an attack on ISIS in the mold of what happened in Libya, combining foreign airpower with local ground forces in a more concerted effort,” he said, referring to the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.

Today, of course, Libya is a nation in tatters. The Obama Administration had hoped to leave Iraq in a much more stable place when it pulled out the last U.S. troops later that year, in December, 2011. A chorus of critics blame Maliki for his hyper-sectarian campaign that alienated Sunnis—and may have even pushed some of them into the arms of ISIS. Now, ISIS also has American weaponry in its hands, left behind by retreating Iraqi government forces when the militants seized Mosul in June.

“The US has basically armed ISIS, because they take these weapons over and they know how to use them. And they are drawing support deep within the Islamic consciousness and the Sunni uprising,” says David Andelman, an Iraq expert and the editor of World Policy Journal in New York. “Obama came into office on the platform of, we’re closing down wars overseas: Iraq and eventually Afghanistan. He believed he made good on that pledge, and now he’s discovering he didn’t. They left so many loose ends, and now we’re going to have to go in and clean them up.”

All of which leaves the Obama Administration—and the Iraqis and Kurds who are keen for massive military backing sooner rather than later—in a difficult place. America wants no boots on the ground, and no one in the Iraqi government wants to be seen as inviting them back. But airstrikes have their limits, and may not be enough to stop ISIS from reaching just a little farther.

TIME

Hamas, Israel resume hostilities as Gaza cease-fire ends

Three-day cessation in fighting proves to be a temporary reprieve

The post-war aftermath was just beginning to be calculated by both Israelis and Palestinians. Surveyors were going out to assess the damage in devastated parts of Gaza. People started referring to the war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the past tense.

But the reality is that the three-day ceasefire between the two sides, which expired on Friday morning, was only a temporary reprieve from a conflict that is not only unsolved, but, many fear, may be far from over. Palestinian militants in Gaza launched several mortars at Israel about two hours before the cease-fire ended, and then, as the 72-hour truce officially expired at 8 a.m., Hamas and other armed groups launched rockets at Israel, totaling about 40 by 2 p.m, according to the Israeli military. Two Israelis were seriously injured, one of them the director-general of the main college in southern Israel. The Israeli Air Force resumed airstrikes in Gaza, including one that killed a 10-year-old boy, according to local doctors.

Both Israel and Hamas see themselves as successful if not quite victorious in the past month of fighting, and assess that they have the strength and moral justification not to bend towards the other side’s demands. Hamas says it wants Israel to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip, allow for the opening of an airport and a seaport, and to release Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, in addition to several other demands. Israel says it will not promise to relax limits on access for raw materials to and from Gaza because this will only be used for replenishing Hamas’ arsenal, and perhaps, rebuilding tunnels. In addition, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is calling for the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip as part of any rebuilding plan, a suggestion that Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups consider a non-starter.

“It’s very embarrassing for Hamas for a month-long war with such massive casualties and destruction to end without any achievements. They need to justify it, and if they stop without achievements at all, they will look ugly to the Palestinian public,” says Ghassan Khatib, a former minister in the Palestinian Authority and now the Vice President of Bir Zeit University, near Ramallah in the West Bank.

“So Hamas has to keep pressing to get something,” Khatib tells TIME. “But on the other hand, what they want from Israel is very difficult to get from Israel. And from Israel’s point of view, why should they give it? If Hamas got this many weapons under the siege, how about without a siege? The gap is very serious, and it needs mediation.”

That is the role that Egypt has sought to play, as it has in the past, after the last round of cease-fire efforts, negotiated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, ended with the cease-fire’s collapse. Talks continued in Cairo on Friday between the various Palestinian factions and Egyptian security officials, but Israel pulled out of those talks when it became clear that Hamas and the other militant groups were holding fast on all of their demands. The militant groups also rejected a proposal to extend the cease-fire for another 72 hours, until Monday morning.

Future negotiations are likely to prove tricky. The fact that Hamas managed to hit Israel harder than ever before has led the militant group to dig in its heels, says Gazan political scientist Mkhaimar Abusada. Hamas killed 64 Israeli soldiers and fired upwards of 2,800 rockets—some of which were able to hit the cities of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa—during the fighting. “Hamas feels it should get a much better deal in order to end the fighting,” Abusada told TIME.

Among the challenges in reaching an agreement to end the fighting, analysts note, is that whatever the Hamas political leadership says, its military wing is currently calling the shots. Known as the al-Qassam Bridgades, the military wing is led by a man named Mohammed Deif. “When Deif says that there will be no calm, let alone a truce, except with the total end to the blockade, then this means that he has the final word,” Abdel Bari Utwan, a London-based writer from Gaza, wrote in Rai al Youm, an online Arab news site.

Gershon Baskin, an Israeli peace activist who has in the past facilitated back-channel negotiations between Israel and Hamas, says that the sides are still far part. Hamas’ bottom line for stopping its rocket fire is far away from what Israel is prepared to give to a group it considers a terrorist organization.

“There will be changes in Israel’s isolation of Gaza policy after the war, but they won’t even get near to what Hamas is demanding,” Baskin says. Baskin, who was involved in the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas, now says that Israel’s best bet may be to go over Hamas’ head altogether.

“The way out is to circumvent Hamas by going directly to the core issues in a regional framework—with the Arab Peace Initiative, with Saudi engagement, regional security plans—appealing to the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank that the intention really is to end the occupation, sooner not later,” he tells TIME. That must come as a package deal, he says, including ending Gaza’s isolation, rebuilding the impoverished coastal strip and bringing about stability.

TIME Israel

Cease-Fire Gives Israel, Gaza Time to Assess the Damage

Palestinians walk amid the ruins of destroyed homes in the Shujayeh neighborhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during an Israeli offensive, east of Gaza City, Aug. 6, 2014.
Palestinians walk amid the ruins of destroyed homes in the Shujayeh neighborhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during an Israeli offensive, east of Gaza City, Aug. 6, 2014. Finbarr O'Reilly—Reuters

Gaza officials say it's far too early to know the exact cost of the damage, while Israel estimates the operation cost it about $2 billion

Parts of Gaza, even to the people who lived there only days or weeks ago, are barely recognizable. Palestinians who fled neighborhoods like Shujayeh, Beit Hanoun and Rafah are having difficulty finding where their homes once stood, says Issam Younis, director of the al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza. Those parts of the Gaza Strip — from which the Israeli military says it came under fire by Hamas militants — have seen the heaviest bombardments from Israel.

“It’s almost like a tsunami has hit the region. For some people, to know where your house is, or was, is impossible because the road isn’t even there anymore,” Younis tells TIME. He estimates only 20% to 30% of the people who evacuated their homes during the fighting, or were otherwise displaced, have livable homes to which they can return. The U.N. Relief and Works Agency says 187,000 people are living in its shelters. And only in the past 48 hours have outside agencies, like the U.N. Development Programme, been able to go out and survey the damage.

“To be honest, nobody has a clear-cut figure of what the damages are because we did not have access to these areas until Tuesday,” Younis adds. “It’s a level of unprecedented destruction that we have not been able to fully calculate yet.”

Based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority has been trying to do just that — calculate the destruction. It has kept a running tally not just of the death toll (which now stands at 1,886) but of every building that Israeli forces have hit in the nearly four weeks of fighting, now on pause after a cease-fire agreement.

The list the PA provided Wednesday reads like a major earthquake hit Gaza: Demolished structures: 5,930. Partially demolished structures: 4,820. Damaged homes: 32,150. Damaged hospitals and health centers: 17 hospitals and 7 public-health clinics. (The Israel Defense Forces says that in at least one case, Islamic jihad rockets aimed at Israel fell short of their target and landed next to Gaza’s Shifa Hospital and the Shati Refugee Camp killing at least 10 Palestinians; the IDF has disputed other incidents which it says it’s investigating.)

Factor in the major infrastructure that has been damaged in Gaza over the past few weeks, including water and sewage systems, electricity lines and roads, and the figure for rehabilitation could total somewhere around $6 billion, according to PA Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa. However, Dana Erekat, the PA’s head of aid management for the Ministry of Planning, says it’s too early to give an accurate estimate of rebuilding costs. The focal point person for a technical committee made up of different PA ministries, Erekat says the PA is working on an early recovery plan, then a phase of rebuilding and, finally, redevelopment.

“This is really the day after, where we’re looking at immediate needs, like finding shelter for people who are homeless and figuring out exactly how many structures were damaged,” Erekat told TIME. “A very high-level, preliminary assessment will be ready by early September.”

Rather than contracting out any of the rebuilding to international firms, Erekat added, “we’re looking at the process to be fully owned by the government.” In other words, not only is it crucial for the shattered parts of Gaza to be rebuilt, but the very process could pave the way for re-involving the PA, led by the secular Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, in the everyday lives of Gaza residents. Officials and security forces connected to Fatah were forced from Gaza in a violent coup seven years ago organized by Hamas. The PA’s presence has been almost invisible there since — PA President Mahmoud Abbas hasn’t visited the territory since before 2007, although Fatah formed a unity government with Hamas on June 2 this year.

At a press conference Wednesday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was “cooperating with the Palestinian Authority … and [we] are prepared to see a role for them [in Gaza].”

Destruction in Gaza
A Palestinian sits on a salvaged sofa outside his destroyed home in the Shujayeh neighborhood, east of Gaza City, Aug. 6, 2014. Oliver Weiken—EPA

While cease-fire talks in Cairo continue, the parties announced late Wednesday that they had agreed to extend an ongoing but temporary truce for an additional 72 hours, meaning it would expire next Monday. People on both sides of the conflict seem more than relieved. For Israelis, the truce has brought a sense of calm after almost a month of running for shelter from the nearly 2,700 rockets and mortars launched from Gaza since July 8. And for the Israeli government, the damages and compensation costs of Operation Protective Edge are likely to add up about $2 billion, the Haaretz newspaper reported, quoting an Israeli tax authority official. Israel also lost 64 soldiers in the fighting, as well as three civilians to rocket attacks.

For Gazans, however, life has changed radically and perhaps irreversibly, even for those whose homes are almost intact. Younis, for example, says he’s had one hour of electricity in the last three days. No electricity means no plumbing and no elevator, so he needs to carry jugs of water up the stairs to his fifth-floor apartment — water that he’s not even sure is clean enough to drink. When he manages to buy some diesel fuel, he powers up a small generator, which his family can use to watch television news.

“No electricity means we don’t use the refrigerator, so we must go out and buy our food day by day, and must wash our clothes by hand because there’s no electricity for the washer,” Younis says.

Younis’ three youngest children, ages 12 to 17, have ceased being regular teens. They will only sleep in the room with their parents.

“They’re scared. They ask when will we be bombarded again,” Younis says. “I’m trying to make them secure, but it’s difficult. All of Gaza is in post-trauma now.”

The biggest fear of all: not knowing whether it’s really over.

TIME Middle East

If the Gaza Truce Holds, What Then? 5 Possible Outcomes

An Israeli soldier sits in an armored personnel carrier flying the Israeli flag as they return from the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip after pulling out of the Palestinian enclave on August 4, 2014 as Israel has begun withdrawing some ground troops.
An Israeli soldier sits in an armored personnel carrier flying the Israeli flag as they return from the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip after pulling out of the Palestinian enclave on Aug. 4, 2014, as Israel has begun withdrawing some ground troops. Gil Cohen Magen—AFP/Getty Images

How Operation Protective Edge might end — or carry on interminably

Egypt announced that Palestinian factions declared a 72-hour cease-fire to begin on Tuesday at 8 a.m. Israel sat out of the Cairo talks that produced the humanitarian truce but said it would hold by the cease-fire, a government spokesman told TIME.

Whether or not the parties actually make it through a full three days with no air strikes or rocket attacks remains to be seen. Every other cease-fire effort undertaken since the escalation in early July has failed. But there is a more pressing question: What now? Who and what can put an end to the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Gaza — with 1,865 Palestinians and 67 Israelis killed so far – and also propose a longer-term solution?

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Foreign Minister, on Monday offered a new idea for solving the Gaza problem: let the U.N. take control of the long-troubled territory. “Everyone is asking, What happens after the operation ends? Suppose Israel defeats Hamas. There are a few options. International control of Gaza, by the U.N., should certainly be considered,” Lieberman said at a press conference. This has been tried in other war-torn locales, from Kosovo to East Timor. Why not Gaza?

Well, for one thing, it would be an enormous and expensive undertaking for the international community to take responsibility for Gaza. It would also require Hamas and other militant groups to agree to participate in such a scheme, which is difficult to imagine given that they’ve built their entire identities around what they view as legitimate resistance to Israeli occupation. Still, many of the key players here say that almost a month into the bloodiest phase in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the second intifadeh, some significant change must emerge at the end of it. TIME looks at five possibilities for how this could end:

  1. Send in the U.N. This would involve what’s been referred to as mini–Marshall Plan, including a massive rebuilding program that would help Gaza pick up the pieces. The task would be huge: electricity and water supplies have been compromised, and an estimated 10,000 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged. Shaul Mofaz, a former Israeli Defense Minister and IDF chief, has proposed some specifics. These include having the international community oversee the demilitarization of Gaza — a goal recently endorsed by Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu, but opposed by Hamas — and approximately $50 billion for rebuilding. E.U. foreign ministers issued a joint statement July 23 backing demilitarization.
  1. Bring the PA back to Gaza: Israel and Hamas will eventually be brought into some kind of proximity talks under an umbrella of Egyptian sponsorship, and the outcome of those discussions would likely involve the return of the Palestinian Authority and its security forces to Gaza, casting them in a key role as guardians of the crossing points into Israel and Egypt — along with international help. The PA, run by the PLO’s secular Fatah faction, was forced out of Gaza in 2007 as part of a violent coup staged by Hamas, whose name is an acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement. Bringing a PA political and security presence back to Gaza would help beef up the legitimacy of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. As part of such an arrangement, Israel would likely demand a joint patrolling mechanism on the Gaza perimeter to prevent infiltrations and renewed attempts to rebuild tunnels, more than 30 of which the IDF says it has destroyed. However, the rockets from Gaza did not start when Israel pulled its troops and 8,000 settlers out of Gaza in 2005, but rather, Israel points out, in 2001. Therefore, Israel is likely to refuse any agreement that doesn’t include a mechanism for preventing Hamas from rebuilding its rocket arsenal. The fact that Hamas and Fatah joined in a “reconciliation” government in April makes this form of cooperation more feasible than it was even a year ago.
  1. A 10-year truce: Almost two weeks ago, Hamas offered Israel a 10-year hudna, or Arabic truce. Its terms include — but are not limited to — the following: 1) the release of approximately 50 Palestinian prisoners who, after being released as part of the Gilad Shalit deal in late 2011, were re-arrested by the IDF in June following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, 2) the opening of the border crossings with both Israel and Egypt, 3) international supervision of the Gazan seaport instead of the Israeli naval blockade, as well as extended fishing rights to 10 km off the coast of Gaza, 4) an international airport under U.N. supervision, and 5) international forces on the borders of Gaza. Even if Israeli officials were prepared to accept all of that — which would be unlikely — they have said that the very concept of a hudna, a concept rooted in Islamic history, is problematic because it suggests Hamas only believes in a limited period of calm with the Jewish state but refuses a more permanent solution because it seeks its destruction.
  1. Possible reoccupation of the Gaza Strip: This is an option that is often mentioned by Israel’s far right, including some members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet. Coalition partner Naftali Bennett, the Minister of Economy, said last week that Israel should continue its military operating until Hamas is completely defeated. Lieberman, the Foreign Minister, had suggested in late June that Israel reoccupy Gaza, saying only that would stop the rockets. Ultimately, Netanyahu appears to have rejected these calls, realizing that such a move would likely cause far more bloodshed and further rattle Israel’s already compromised international legitimacy.
  1. Indefinite war: In this scenario, Israel withdraws its troops and tanks from Gaza, but continues to use air and naval strikes as it sees fit. Hamas stays in power and launches rockets at Israel whenever it pleases, and essentially, nothing substantial changes from how things looked a month ago — other than a great number of destroyed buildings and upwards of 2,000 lives lost. If the parties cannot agree on a cease-fire deal that feels satisfactory, Operation Protective Edge could simmer down into a indeterminate cycle of occasional attacks, robbing both Israelis and Palestinians of a return to normal life. Some are hoping that the right cease-fire deal is just around the corner, and some are wishing their leaders will keep holding out for more. But the possibility of a low-level war of attrition, lasting years and costing yet more lives, is not remote.
TIME Middle East

Israel Seeks to Gain Advantage by Reversing Course in Gaza

ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN-GAZA-CONFLICT
Israeli soldiers fold their equipment along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip after they pulled out from the Gaza Strip on Aug. 3, 2014 Gil Cohen Magen—AFP/Getty Images

Walking away from a cease-fire deprives Hamas of a PR victory, and leaves Israel with options on how to proceed

The war continues and there is no victor, but Israel is gradually pulling most of its troops out of the Gaza Strip in a sign that in the course of a weekend, it decided to take a completely different tack in its war with Hamas.

After four attempts at a humanitarian cease-fire over the past few weeks, including a much vaunted one Friday that was supposed to last for 72 hours but instead collapsed after two, Israel decided that it was no longer pursuing a truce with Hamas. Instead, it opted for a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, save a new buffer zone it is carving out along the border, in the belief that there was more to be gained from walking away from what had begun to seem like a merry-go-round of failed cease-fires.

On the one hand, the decision is a stunning reversal from what many had begun to expect from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose more hawkish Cabinet members have been calling for a reoccupation of the Gaza Strip. On the other, the decision to pull back ground troops while declaring, as Netanyahu did Saturday, that the operation continues, is a formula for the blood-soaked Israel-Hamas war to plod on while the world watches the death toll in Gaza rise and international diplomats grow increasingly befuddled by the question of what to propose next.

That bloodshed may have been part of Israel’s equation. Amos Yadlin, a retired major general of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and the director of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University, told reporters Sunday that he thought reversing course was a wise move on the part of Netanyahu, as Israel faces growing international censure for its actions in Gaza. The Palestinian death toll now tops 1,800, according to its Ministry of Health, and on Sunday, Israel’s shelling of a U.N. school was vociferously condemned by the U.S. after 10 Palestinians were killed. It was the seventh incident of a school used as a shelter coming under attack, according to UNRWA.

The move also serves to deprive Hamas of the victory it has sought since the war began July 8. “We neutralize their main strategic forces, and leave them alone, without any achievement, without any demand, in their devastated place called Gaza,” Yadlin said. The change of tack is a “sophisticated, smart move,” he added, at least for the time being. “I don’t know if it’s sustainable for the long run. But we will have to see how Hamas will react, what kind of fire they will continue to use, and if we can live with it.”

It also gives Israel options on how to proceed. The mind-set goes that previous negotiated cease-fires, like the one that ended Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, served to “hamper” the IDF by limiting how it could respond. By unilaterally pulling troops out of Gaza — while declaring the key goals of the ground operation complete, including having destroyed some 30-odd tunnels — Israel believes it has gained the freedom to act as it sees fit.

“So if we want to proceed, we proceed. If we want to stop, we stop. If we want to initiate something else, we will initiate something else,” says Udi Dekel, a retired brigadier general, also of the INSS. “If Hamas continues to fire, we can fire. If we see any activity in the security perimeter, like digging another tunnel, we can attack them, because there is not any understanding or agreement between us and Hamas. So we keep all the possibilities in our hands.”

Hamas, for its part, says Israel will have no calm unless it negotiates the terms of a cease-fire. Among Hamas’ main goals is the lifting of an embargo on Gaza designed to squelch the economy and prevent Hamas from functioning. Many Palestinians argue this has turned Gaza into an open-air prison, while Israel argues that when it’s been lax in the past, Hamas has used the opportunity to build tunnels and bunkers.

Alongside its unilateral about-face in Gaza, Israel refused over the weekend to attend the cease-fire talks in Cairo as planned, calling the truce efforts futile. Israel says that Hamas broke one cease-fire too many, while Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal told CNN on Saturday that it never agreed to let the IDF keep operating in Gaza during the truce, which it sees Israel having broken.

But there may be more to Israel shunning the talks than simply wanting to refuse to play ball with Hamas any further. Political scientist Yoram Meital notes that as Israel’s goals in the operation moved over the course of the few weeks — from rockets to tunnels to demilitarization of Gaza — the latter became the buzzword. The Palestinian Authority, Egypt, the E.U. and the Obama Administration said demilitarization would indeed be a good idea, but it would need to take place in the context of a comprehensive peace agreement.

“This is of course a very different perspective from Netanyahu’s view,” says Meital, a Ben Gurion University professor who specializes in Israel’s relationship with Egypt and the Palestinians. “While demilitarization is a very legitimate objective, Netanyahu is not ready to pay the price for this commodity. He understands perfectly well that by discussing this as part of the peace process, one of the meanings is that after several years, the Gaza Strip and West Bank would be discussed as one unified Palestinian territorial unit.” That, he notes, is the last thing the Israeli right wing wants.

So now the “new phase” of the conflict has begun. Columns of IDF tanks were seen cutting through the dust of Gaza’s outskirts and pulling out toward Israel Sunday, but the IDF’s air strikes on Gaza continued. The IDF said rocket fire continued over Tel Aviv, and in southern Israel. Israelis meanwhile, turned their attention to the dramatic end of what they had been told on Friday was the Hamas capture of IDF soldier Hadar Goldin. On Saturday night, Goldin was declared dead based on forensic evidence collected at the scene, and on Sunday he was buried before a crowd of thousands. Among them was his cousin — Israel’s Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46,457 other followers