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Opinion

How to make a Hamas, Israel ceasefire in Gaza stick

Contrary to Hamas reports, Israel claims there is no ceasefire deal for the Gaza conflict. But US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is en route to Jerusalem, and an agreement appears to be in the making. Making it stick will require regional commitment.

By Benedetta Berti and Zack Gold / November 20, 2012

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, left, welcomes Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Gaza City, Nov. 20. Turkey's foreign minister and a delegation of Arab League foreign ministers traveled to Gaza on a truce mission Tuesday. Op-ed contributors Benedetta Berti and Zack Gold say: "Ideally, [a ceasefire deal] deal would also lead to a gradual revision of Israel's policy of isolation and non-recognition of Hamas.'

Ashraf Amra/AP

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Tel Aviv and Washington

After a few days of increased hostilities between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and negotiations in Cairo, Hamas reports a ceasefire has been agreed to. Israel claims there is no deal yet, but US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is en route to Jerusalem, and an agreement appears to be in the making.

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Assuming a ceasefire deal is finalized, the key will be making it stick, an effort that will require regional commitment. Ideally, this agreement would also lead to a gradual revision of Israel's policy of isolation and non-recognition of Hamas.

Failure to reach and enforce a ceasefire will likely lead to an additional escalation of the conflict and may well result in a full-scale Israel Defense Forces ground operation in Gaza: a repeat of the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead. Such a military option has serious drawbacks for both parties. Hamas, already weakened by the ongoing Israeli operations and by the killing of its influential military leader Ahmed Jabari, would be further debilitated by a mass-scale Israeli invasion.

For Israel, the costs would be more diplomatic: a deterioration of its relationship with Egypt, which is playing a crucial role in brokering the ceasefire, and a further lessening of its regional and international standing following the likely increase in civilian Palestinian casualties. What's more, if mismanaged, a ground invasion could actually weaken the popularity of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, complicating their path to victory in Israel’s Jan. 22 elections.

Enforcing a ceasefire and avoiding an escalation is also important from a broader regional perspective. Between an ongoing bloody civil war in Syria, mass-scale anti-government demonstrations in Jordan, and brewing unrest in the West Bank, a military escalation between Israel and Hamas risks bringing further instability at the regional level – and distracting regional and international actors from these other crises.

A ceasefire seems specifically in the direct interests of a number of regional stakeholders, led by Qatar and Egypt.

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