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MIDDLE EAST: ANALYSIS

A face-saving way out of the deadly Gaza conflict

Could putting Palestinian Authority in charge of Gaza's border with Egypt settle the dispute?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 July, 2014, 9:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 August, 2014, 1:56am
 

The conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas is escalating, ceasefire 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 ceasefire 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.

If Palestinian casualties keep rising, the world could pressure Israel to stop, even though that would leave Hamas with a victory of sorts. In 1996, Israel halted a bombing campaign in Lebanon against Hezbollah militants after hitting a UN compound housing refugees - an air strike that Israel said was an error.

While it is too early to say how all this will end, quiet diplomacy continues.

Once Israel's military has destroyed Hamas-built tunnels leading into the country, Israel could well declare victory or announce a unilateral ceasefire.

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 and no air strikes 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.

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

There is one plausible way to greatly ease the siege: open the southern border to Egypt and put it under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Cairo has been extremely cool to the idea of opening the frontier, but not to the authority taking it over.

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 jihadist problems in Sinai. But the authority on the border could be spun as a win for everyone: Hamas broke the siege, the authority 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, this represents a face-saving way out.

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