Amid war, endgames in Gaza emerge

Tel Aviv - The savage fighting between Israel and Hamas is escalating in Gaza, cease-fire efforts take on elements of farce, and bravado rules the public discourse. But even through the fog of war, a few endgame scenarios can nonetheless be glimpsed.

For the moment, the deadlock is well-entrenched: As long as the crippling blockade of Gaza remains in place, Hamas says it will continue firing rockets at Israel - terrifying, but mostly ineffectual, thanks to the "Iron Dome" defence system. Israel says the blockade must stay to stop a terrorist government from importing yet more weapons.

There is not much pressure yet on either side to stop - even in Gaza, where more than 1 300 people, mainly civilians, have been killed, amid widespread devastation.

An Egyptian-led cease-fire plan more than two weeks ago, which Israel accepted and was a straight return to the status quo before this current round - was rejected by Hamas and there was little criticism of that decision in Gaza.

Such is the hatred of the air, land and sea blockade in the strip - in addition, perhaps, to the fear of Hamas.

Last week's mediation effort led by John Kerry fizzled amid a most undiplomatic frenzy of criticism in Israel of the US secretary of state. He had dared suggest Hamas' blockade-ending demands be on the table.

He also had ignored Israel's new demands - probably long-term at best - that the militant group be disarmed.

There is a chance the casualties will pile up so high that the world may start applying enormous pressure on Israel to stop, giving Hamas with a victory of sorts.

Things like that have happened before, especially during a Lebanon bombing campaign in 1996 against Hezbollah militants that ended after Israel hit a UN compound housing refugees, claiming error. But it hasn't happened yet - despite an increasingly harrowing and somewhat murky reality on the ground.

While it is too early to say how all this will end, quiet diplomacy continues. There also is a growing sense that it can't go on much longer - but then again, it might.

Here are some ways it could play out:

Israel declares victory and leaves

If you listen carefully, Israeli leaders generally describe the ground operation in Gaza as intended to destroy the Hamas-built tunnels leading into Israel, almost certainly for purposes of attack.

The military says it has found and is destroying more than 20 tunnels and believes there are a few more. Once that job is done, Israel could well pull out and try to declare victory or even a unilateral cease-fire.

The hope would be that the respite from the devastation visited on Gaza would compel Hamas to think again and quietly accept a return to the way it was: no rocket fire on Israel; no airstrikes and shelling of Gaza. This probably wouldn't work.

Hamas has put Gazans through so much that they certainly feel they must have something to show for their efforts in the form of an easing of the blockade. Rocket fire would continue and the hostilities would swiftly resume.

Despite huge reservations, Israel may just end up reoccupying the strip, even at the cost of hundreds of soldiers and then being saddled with nearly 2 million Gazans to rule.

If the situation becomes bad enough, more fantastical scenarios suggest themselves: perhaps even a Nato force to pacify and rebuild the traumatised strip. It probably won't be necessary.

Hamas will run out of rockets eventually. But for now, it's believed to have thousands more, Israel will continue to strike back, and the destruction will be harrowing for weeks.

The Palestinian authority takes over the border with Egypt

Hamas wants an end to the blockade that was imposed by Israel after the militants won the 2006 Palestinian parliament election, were sidelined by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and then seized Gaza in 2007.

Some minor things are conceivable, like a small extension of the rights of fishermen to venture out to sea.

But Israel will not allow true sea access or an airport as long as Hamas controls the strip. The concern is that even bigger rockets and weapons would stream in. Israel also won't soon open its borders to Gazans, remembering too well the suicide bombings of a decade ago.

There is one plausible way to greatly ease the siege: Open the southern border near the town of Rafah leading to Egypt, and put the Gaza side not under the control of Hamas but under the Palestinian Authority.

Cairo has been extremely cool to the idea of opening the frontier but not to the PA taking it over, in line with the tough Egypt-first policy of new President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. Egypt seems little inclined to help Hamas against Israel, views Gaza as someone else's problem, and fears Gaza's militants trickling in and compounding its own jihadi problems in Sinai.

But the PA on the border could be spun as a win for everyone: Hamas broke the siege; the PA is back in business in the strip; Israel didn't give up much under fire; the Gazans feel relief; and Egypt is the hero. When the dust finally settles, don't be surprised if this is the face-saving way out.

The Palestinian authority takes over Gaza

Somehow forgotten in the current discourse is that the blockade was imposed after the Hamas takeover. It was probably intended both to be punitive - an incentive to the people to rebel, which has proven impractical under the militants - and to prevent Hamas from arming further.

At this point, it is mainly about this latter goal of reining in Hamas. Alternatively, Hamas could call the world's bluff by accepting the conditions presented to it by the world community: recognise Israel, adhere to previous agreements, renounce violence.

Acquiescence here would also probably eliminate the blockade. But no one expects Hamas to do this; it would cease to be Hamas. Either way, the principle's the same: No Hamas - no blockade.

West Bank-based Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas signed a "unity government" deal two months ago that would have actually achieved this on paper — but few seriously expected Hamas to give up its control of Gaza. Israel fought vehemently against the deal, lobbying the world to shun even Abbas - part of a series of events that culminated in the current fight.

Essentially the "unity government" was stillborn - but the war could give the arrangement new and genuine life, especially if this comes with serious relief on the blockade.

Hamas would find it especially hard to oppose this if major financial incentives were added, like billions in aid from the Gulf and the West, conditioned on the PA being in charge. After all, the support it finds among ordinary Gazans is about improving life for the people, not fighting Israel to the death.

Last week, both the German and French foreign ministers said re-involving the PA in the administration of Gaza was the only way to guarantee a long-term cease-fire. Given Hamas' relative unpopularity in the region at the moment, and its money crunch, it's not inconceivable.

A challenge for Israel, therefore: It will have to go along with such a game-changing ambitions to a degree. But what if militants from an Abbas-run Gaza still find a way to fire rockets? It may actually rue the day Hamas melted away, removing with it Israel's near-impunity to hit back as hard as the past month has seen.

forest gump 2014/07/30 10:56:03 PM
It is not anti-Semitic to criticise the Israeli government or its policies towards the Palestinians.Free Palestine!!
forest gump 2014/07/30 11:09:02 PM
As long as Gaza remains under occupation , Hamas will remain . Hamas is the name of their resistance . Israel cannot finish the resistance ( Hamas), as long as there is one Palestanian alive in the occupied Gaza . Solution is simple in order to stop the resistance Israel either leave Gaza and stop the baracades or kill them all . It looks like sadly Israel has chosen the later
Raeesa Sayed 2014/07/31 12:17:06 AM
When you view the photos of Palestinians who have undergone an Israeli attack, what do you see? You see unarmed people crying, hugging dead children in their arms and one another. You never see a resolute armed people prepared to repel the next Israeli attack. You see devastated hospitals, schools, and apartment complexes and Palestinians in tears and no weapons.What is striking about the success of Israeli propaganda is its success when all evidence is that Palestinians are pacifists, incapable of resistance. The bulk of the people in Gaza are refugees from the West Bank where their land and homes were stolen by the Great Democratic State of Israel. The Israeli destruction of Palestine has been going on for almost seven decades. And still Palestinians are not armed and have no effective military units.Hamas has a few ineffective weapons, but the people themselves are unarmed. Their response to the Israeli murders of their children, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, parents, cousins, and friends is to cry. This is not the response of a warlike people.In contrast, there are reports that Israeli civilians sit atop the hill overlooking Gaza on sofas that they bring along with their drinks and food and watch in glee, clapping and cheering as Israeli bombs destroy Palestinians in their homes, children in their schools, and the ill in hospitals. If this is the true face of "the only democracy in the Middle East," it is the face of evil.The view brainwashed into the West that Palestinians are a threat to Israel is absurd. If Palestinians are a threat and a danger to Israel, how is it possible that Palestinians are locked away into sealed ghettos in the remnants of their own country or into refugee camps in foreign countries?As Israel's most distinguished historian, Ilan Pappe, has related, the story of Israel is the story of "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine." This story has been hidden by Western "moral" governments and by a corrupt Western media and "Christian" priests from Western populations that, possibly, would have objected, but who are now too brainwashed and disinformed to know. From an article by Dr. Roberts who was Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury for Economic Policy in the Reagan Administration. He was associate editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal, columnist for Business Week and the Scripps Howard News Service.
Nobby Poltice 2014/07/31 04:20:59 AM
There will be an end game, whether Arabs or Jews like it or not. Inevitably, and perhaps in the not too distant future, the Muslim zealots will lay their hands on a weapon of mass destruction, whether nuclear, chemical or biological. They may not even have to create such weapon themselves. They are well funded by Muslims around the world and could bribe a Russian or Pakistani general to look the other way. Or an international malcontent such as North Korea may make it available. No power on Earth, and no imaginary god power, will prevent it and the people who lay their hands on it will use it indiscriminately with no regard for their lives, the lives of anyone else or the future of humanity. Constant conflict ensures that the Middle East, all the "Holy Land", will eventually become an unholy, uninhabitable radio active wasteland. Just as the Apartheid government refused to negotiate when they had the power to do so, so the Israelis refuse now. Just as the Apartheid government grabbed land for themselves and disturbed populations to do so, so the Israelis do now. See - and -
Mohamed Faruk Chohan 2014/07/31 05:48:54 AM
Does anyone consider the level of oppression someone needs to go through to stand and protect the little they have in the face of certain death? Most pro israeli's will tell u , they want it all. Israel will change stories to justify their actions , first it was the killing of 3 teens which the knew was not Hamas . Second was rockets as a result of the hundreds of arrests . Third reason , the tunnels. Now they bomb schools because of rockets stored. One needs to question oneself , is it justified to kill and murder . I keep telling people if you behave worse than the ones you claim are terrorists what does that make u? By killing children , they are planting seeds for an IsIs or Boko haram . People claim Israel are showing restraint . I say Hamas and the people of Palestine are showing true restraint. Apartheid exists. I call for one state , equal rights , equal opportunity and equal distribution of land . Go back to basic principals of justice and equality and above all respect for human life . Islam teaches us to respect another's religion and protect them while they are governed by us. May Allah guide us and make us from amongst those that fought for humanity. May Allah heal these deep wounds and make all our hearts softer and penetrate love for human life ,dignity and respect.
Mohamed Faruk Chohan 2014/07/31 07:57:51 AM
Here we go more hate speech. Unfortunately certain groups like Boko haram gives this impression of violence and we do not support them. I point out that calling me ignorant or a liar is distasteful and if u expecting a reaction , none is forthcoming. I must also point out your generalizing of Islam could also be regarded as ignorance. One thing is clear Israel is an apartheid state. Take away religion maybe you will see the oppression.
Gary Barlow 2014/07/31 08:57:34 AM
Another scenario is that Israel will wake up like the South Africans finally did. They may be clever, but they are wrong. The world is waking up. Young Americans are not being blinded by the lobby like previous generations. The two state solution is dead. West Bank, Gaza and Israel will be one country and the Jewish occupiers better hope that the Palestinians show them some forgiveness.