A war without winners
Sadly, the end of the fighting is unlikely to mark the beginning of the peace
THE chances are that the latest of more than half a dozen ceasefires inGazawill hold—at least for a month or so, while the sides talk. The pause may even guide the Gazans and the Israelis to a more lasting accommodation. Yet the skies have fallen silent out of exhaustion and the futility of fighting on, rather than because the conflict has reached a resolution. Barring an unlikely change of heart—on both sides—war will probably begin all over again, sooner or later.
More than 2,100 people have died in the tiny enclave, most of them civilians and many of them children. At least 230,000 of Gaza's 1.8m people have been displaced, says the UN. The likelihood that this war just sets up the next renders their suffering even more tragic. Hospitals, schools and the main electricity plant may take years to rebuild, only to be smashed yet again. The sole glimmer is that this bleak picture may concentrate minds to seek the distant prospect of two states—Israeland Palestine—living side by side in peace (see article).
No one has emerged from the battle stronger. On the Israeli side, Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, says that he has clobbered Hamas, the hardline Islamists who run the strip, and won this latest round by stopping the firing of rockets atIsraeland by unearthing the cross-border tunnels intended to enable raiding parties to seize or murder Israelis.
If so, he has paid a heavy price. War has weakened an already slowing economy. He is under attack at home from even more hawkish rivals within his coalition, who argue that he could have destroyed Hamas completely—though that would entail heavy casualties and a ruinous occupation, orGaza quite possibly falling into the hands of another Islamist group. Worse, each timeIsrael bombsGaza, its reputation ebbs in the rest of the world, where the media carry images of suffering children and smashed streets. EvenIsrael's vital American allies have shown rare irritation.
Meanwhile, Hamas is stuck up a cul-de-sac. It has claimed victory—because it is still standing. And it is true that its grip onGaza, which was weakening before the fighting, still looks secure. But its main policy of sterile resistance toIsraelleads nowhere and comes at the expense of the lives and prosperity of ordinary Gazans. Palestinians should query the common sense, let alone the morality, of Hamas firing its fairly useless rockets randomly intoIsraelif the result is destruction forGazaon such a scale.
Crumb of comfort
Can anything good be salvaged from the rubble? This war has been bad even for the people who stayed out of it.Israel's moderates have not gained noticeably from Mr Netanyahu's travails. Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the more moderate Palestinians, is painted by his own people as an Israeli stooge, sapping his strength as a negotiating partner. But at least he still presides over a unity government that is committed to peace and is still—remarkably enough—backed by Hamas. He could press Hamas to disarm in exchange for a programme to rebuildGaza, with a neutral force overseeing the process. Or how about another crack at good-faith talks about two states? The ground has been dug over so often, including byAmericain the past, that progress could in theory be rapid.
It is not the ideas of well-meaning outsiders that are lacking, but the readiness ofIsraeland Hamas to strive for peace. Sadly, even with a ceasefire, that prospect still looks very distant.