From the current cycle of violence initiated by Hamas against Israel, one feature will leave a durable imprint on the various forces at work in the Israeli-Palestinian standoff: the outright strategic failure of Hamas.
To begin with, consider Hamas’s failure on the political front. The majority of Arab governments have refused to support Hamas. A recent article in The New York Times points to the existence of “a new coalition of Arab states,” led by Egypt and including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, “that has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas.” Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer refers to this de facto coalition as a “tacit and remarkable pan-Arab-Israeli alliance to bring down Hamas.”
Only Qatar and Turkey – long-standing supporters of Hamas – have sided with that movement. Their stance, however, disqualified these two countries from playing the role of intermediary in the present standoff. The PLO, the main component of the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas, sees Qatar and Turkey as Hamas’ mouthpieces.
Thus, inviting them to the negotiating table – as US Secretary of State John Kerry attempted to do – would, according to the PLO, be tantamount to “[bypassing] the PLO as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” Moreover, a number of regional powers, first and foremost Egypt and Saudi Arabia, blocked the participation of the two countries in the ongoing, Egyptled negotiations.
Hamas didn’t have better luck in its call on Hezbollah to open a second front against Israel. Hezbollah was too busy trying to salvage the regime of its protector and funder Bashar Assad, and is hardly willing to redirect any personnel or military equipment away from the Syrian theater of operations. Hamas’s hopes to provoke a new intifada against Israel in the West Bank didn’t materialize, either.
As for public opinion in Arab countries, it has remained mute throughout the standoff, in what The Economist characterized as a “collective shrug.”
Of course, the discredited UN Human Rights Council, in which despotic regimes such as Iran, Syria, Cuba and Venezuela recurrently have a seat, adopted a resolution condemning Israel without even mentioning Hamas. The Council further decided to commission an inquiry into alleged war crimes committed by the Jewish state. That organ of the UN, however, is well known for its anti-Israel bias, as has been amply documented by the NGO UN Watch.
It is unsurprising that, to lead the inquiry, the UNHRC appointed a Canadian law expert, William Schabas, whose credentials include, besides criticism of Israel on more than one occasion, declaring in a TV interview: “My favorite would be [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu in the dock of the International Criminal Court.” Whatever comes out of that inquiry, therefore, will be void of any credibility.
For its part, the Palestinian Authority, brandishing its UN status of Observer State, is envisaging taking the case of the current wave of violence to the International Criminal Court so as to get Israel condemned by that tribunal.
Let’s put aside the fact that Israel would not be short of arguments to defend itself before the ICC – not the least because it has systematically warned the Gaza population before launching its attacks against Hamas whereas Hamas ordered the Gazans to stay at home with the deliberate purpose of maximizing the losses of human lives. More relevant to the subject at hand is that a trial at the ICC would add to Hamas’ woes.
Indeed, if the case were brought before the ICC, Israel could launch a counter-suit against Hamas. This terrorist organization could then be held liable for criminal prosecution.
This is why Hamas is reportedly opposed to the PA’s referring Israel to the ICC.
In the military realm, Hamas comes out badly diminished.
True, this time it has inflicted heavier casualties on Israel’s army than in preceding standoffs, its rockets have today a wider range of action than in the past and it managed to temporarily paralyze the air traffic at Ben-Gurion Airport. But such developments pale in comparison to the devastation caused by Israel to Hamas’ military capabilities.
Its arsenal of rockets has been depleted by two-thirds.
One third was destroyed on the ground by Israel, while a similar quantity was launched by Hamas with little or no effect: the rockets were intercepted and neutralized by Israel’s anti-missile defense system (Iron Dome). No less important, the underground tunnels that Hamas took years to build so as to link Gaza with Israel were reduced to rubble in two weeks.
Hamas’ prevarications all along the Egypt-led negotiations betray the disarray at which that organization finds itself. On July 17, Hamas rejects a cease-fire approved by the Arab League – requesting that Israel make concessions beforehand. On August 5, however, Hamas accepts without conditions the same truce that it had refused earlier.
(Had Hamas accepted the truce on July 17 rather than on August 5, the loss of human lives in Gaza would have been reduced by 90 percent). Subsequently, it refused to prolong the truce, only to backtrack again.
A sense of donors’ fatigue can be perceived among the financial purveyors of the Palestinian movement. They appear to be reluctant to continue to squander billions of dollars in the reconstruction of Gaza again and again, only to see Hamas provoking new cycles of violence (betting that donors will open their purses again). Donors’ fatigue became transparent in the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon: “We will build [Gaza] again but this must be the last time.”
To pay heed to Ban Ki-moon’s warning, it will be necessary to avert new spirals of violence. That means that the so-called Quartet – the UN, the US, the European Union and Russia – as well as regional powers must assume their responsibilities by imposing and guaranteeing the demilitarization of Gaza and the control of its borders. That will be the sole means of preventing Hamas and other terrorist groups from smuggling in weapons and playing with the lives of Israeli and Palestinian civilians alike.
The writer is an economist and a former UN official. The author of four books, he writes on issues related to international politics and the world economy. His book Ternes Eclats (“Dimmed Lights”) présents a critique of international organizations, including the anti-Israel bias that prevails in a number of them.