Open Zion

11.21.12

Winners And Losers

A ceasefire was announced between Israel and Hamas and came into force an hour ago. It's early yet, but an initial glance at potential winners and losers gives some insight into how the ceasefire came about, and how it might play out in the region—if it holds.

Some short-term losers: Turkey and Egypt, both of whom claimed to be staunch supporters of Hamas but failed to press for anything that might resemble a Hamas victory. Turkey was at first extraordinarily quiet, pretty much abdicating any responsibility for Hamas and Gaza after spending a few years damaging relations with Israel for their sake and thus undermining its effort to enhance its appeal to the Arab world. Then, once he got going, Prime Minister Erdoğan ruined any chance in the near future for a reconciliation with Israel by calling it a “terrorist state” and condemning the US for supporting it. (See Michael Koplow’s excellent discussion of this.)

For its part, Egypt, despite President Morsi’s declarations, didn’t do anything that hadn’t been done under the Mubarak regime. It’s true that Morsi’s rhetoric was far more supportive of Hamas, and reports are that his ideas for a ceasefire annoyed the Israelis because it so overtly favored Hamas. But the outcome was the same as under Mubarak: the status quo ante, with Hamas getting no promises from Israel to lift the blockade (though Israel seems to have said it would ease up on attacks on Hamas).

Long term losers: Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah. Jonathan Schanzer asked whether Hamas was upstaging the PLO. Abbas displayed total impotence during the conflict; more, he was pushed completely to the side. Hamas’s strategy of sticking to its “resistance” guns and gathering increasing legitimacy and recognition from others makes Abbas/Fatah/the PLO/the PA less and less relevant in Palestinian politics. As far as I can see, the only things that can save them are a successful bid at the U.N., or tangible progress in negotiations with Israel.

The other long-term loser is Israel. As I’ve argued before, Israel has no long term strategy regarding Gaza. Its victory in a limited military campaign will only strengthen the perception that its tactical-military emphasis works and doesn’t need to be changed. This means it’ll be harder for Israel to accept a new formula for maintaining security and achieving peace. It also means we’re likely to see a repeat of November’s events again.

Winners: The obvious one is Netanyahu, for pulling off a clear military victory and moving past his blunder in the Western Wall Tunnel riots of 1996, and for now having a clear foreign policy victory to point to during the campaign; Ehud Barak for showing he still matters (first polls give his Independence the greatest numbers of seats since the campaign began, though I’m not sure it will last to January); Qatar for inserting itself into this arena; and missile/rocket defense systems.

Steven Cook argues the U.S. was in a very difficult position during the conflict, but I think President Obama also comes out a winner. I’d argue he handled the crisis extremely well, by hanging back and letting local actors—especially Egypt—take the lead, thus giving them a stake in the post-war system. He also provided continual encouragement and prodding, through phone calls to Morsi and Netanyahu and with Secretary of State Clinton assuring Netanyahu in person that this was a good idea and the US supported Israel’s right to self-defense.

On second thought, we might consider putting Egypt in this category instead. It navigated very well the shoals of public opinion, Muslim Brotherhood pressure, Hamas’s demands, its own strategic interests, and Israel’s actions. That Morsi was able to pull off a Mubarak-style outcome, even under changed conditions, suggests Egypt remains a regional player, and the outside player when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The more things change…