No clear winner in Gaza conflict, though Israel and Hamas claim victory

Much needs doing to bring real peace to devastated Hamas-run territory

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 August, 2014, 9:21pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 August, 2014, 2:46pm

The third Gaza war in six years appears to have ended in another sort of tie, with both Israel and Hamas claiming the upper hand. Their questionable achievements have come at a big price, especially to long-suffering Palestinians in Gaza.

In a sense, Israel got what it wanted: Hamas stopped firing rockets in exchange for mostly vague promises and future talks. But the cost to Israel was huge: Beyond the 70 people killed - all but six of them soldiers - the economy has been set back, the tourism season destroyed, its people rattled for 50 days and its global standing pummelled by images of devastation in Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces bristling from people who sense that Hamas controlled events and could not have its grip loosened on the Gaza Strip, which it seized by force from the Palestinian Authority in 2007.

Hamas is celebrating its success after surviving Israel's far superior firepower. The Islamic militant group's rocket fire emptied a string of Israeli border communities and disrupted Israel's international airport. Weak a few months ago, it may emerge as stronger in Palestinian politics.

Gaza also paid dearly: 2,143 Palestinians were killed, including nearly 500 children and hundreds of militants. The UN estimates the war destroyed or severely damaged 17,200 homes and left 100,000 Palestinians homeless, with considerable swathes of Gaza in rubble. Hamas' rocket arsenal is much depleted and many - if not all - of its attack tunnels against Israel have been destroyed.

For the moment, Israel has promised to open border crossings with Gaza to a degree, something it does intermittently anyway, and to increase access for Gaza fishermen. Hamas' other demands are to be discussed later: an airport and seaport, prisoner releases, salaries for its thousands of civil servants and the opening of the Rafah crossing to Egypt. Israel will ask for the demilitarisation of Gaza. Little is likely to be resolved soon.

The moral side of Israel's use of devastating force will be debated and its legality may end up being examined at The Hague, but the outcome suggests it achieved its aims.

Netanyahu said as much on Wednesday, telling a news conference that Hamas was surprised by the intensity of Israel's attacks in the last week of the war. Especially interesting was the minimal protest in the Arab world, where Hamas suffers from association with the Islamist groups increasingly marginalised and feared around much of the region.