Israel-Hamas Truce

Benjamin Netanyahu, Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas: Ceasefire Winners & Losers

Hamas won some glory, and Israelis and Palestinians ended up where they started. Dan Ephron on the truce.

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The ceasefire deal Israel and the Islamic Hamas group agreed to Wednesday ended the worst bout of fighting between the two sides in almost four years. Eight days of air strikes and rocket attacks left at least 150 Palestinians and five Israelis dead, damaged hundreds of buildings in Gaza, and marked a dangerous first for Israel—rocket attacks on its biggest cities.

The truce, brokered by Egypt and given a last push by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a stop in the region, calls for both parties to refrain from targeting civilians—a good start for any ceasefire. But it fails to address broader grievances between the two sides, raising questions about its sustainability.

As the fog of war recedes, here’s a first attempt to sort out the winners and losers.

Benjamin Netanyahu: Winner

By taking on Hamas without launching a ground invasion, the Israeli prime minister managed to drive up his approval rating, a significant political achievement ahead of Israel’s general election on Jan. 22. Along the way, he broke the ice with Egypt’s Islamic government and showed Israelis that Obama is still a friend—Netanyahu’s own preelection support for Obama opponent Mitt Romney notwithstanding. The prime minister also dealt a blow to his political rival, Ehud Olmert, who appeared ready to jump into the race on the eve of the assault but waited, perhaps to avoid the unseemliness of politicking during war. Now it might be too late. “I would say that Netanyahu actually managed to prevent Olmert from coming back. It’s hard to see how he could do it now, there’s such a short time left,” said Nachman Shai, a lawmaker for the opposition Labor Party. If the ceasefire holds for just two months, Netanyahu will be reelected easily.

Hamas: Winner

A political outcast since grabbing power in Gaza five years ago, the Islamic group suddenly has champions across the region, including Turkey, Egypt, and Qatar. It also has the dubious glory that, in parts of the Arab world at least, comes with inflicting pain on Israel. So it didn’t down an Israeli plane or hit the parliament building with rockets, as its silly propaganda campaign maintained. But it did force residents of Tel Aviv into bomb shelters and even fired rockets on Jerusalem. “Hamas wanted legitimacy and got it big time,” said Giora Eiland, a retired major-general and Israel’s formal national security adviser.

Mahmoud Abbas: Loser

The Palestinian president’s strategy of statehood through U.N. membership was already being ridiculed by Palestinians. Now it’s been overshadowed by Hamas’s rockets. Abbas had to watch regional leaders and even Arab League representatives make pilgrimages to Gaza in the past week while he remains persona non grata there. “He comes off as an observer who can’t claim leadership for this phase and that’s detrimental,” said Sam Bahour, a Palestinian businessman and sometime political analyst. The Jerusalem Post calls Abbas “irrelevant as ever.” Ouch.

Israelis and Palestinians: Losers

They suffered through eight days of bombardment and ended up more or less where they started: with no political horizon and no hope for a peace process. What are the chances that this is the last round of violence between the two sides? Less than zero.