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Analysis: Positions remain entrenched after Gaza conflict

Neither Israel nor Hamas has budged on long-held principles that make coexistence difficult and the prospects for lasting peace remote.

By Staff writer / December 4, 2012

Israeli surfers gathered offshore near the city of Ashkelon Nov. 24 to mark the end of a week of fierce fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas militants.

Amir Cohen/Reuters



(Editor's Note: This story ran in the Monitor's print magazine as an analysis of the immediate aftermath of the latest Gaza conflict.)

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The roar of Gazan rockets and the rumble of Israel's missile-defense system have been silenced by a cease-fire that has held up better than expected but which neither side considers a permanent solution.

Both Israel and Hamas showed more restraint than in their last conflict four years ago. Israel, which faced less domestic pressure for war thanks to the Iron Dome missile shield, stopped short of a ground incursion. Hamas, perhaps emboldened by the support of regional powers and its self-declared victory against Israel, has surprised Israelis by its efforts to keep Gazan militant groups in check – a key part of the Nov. 21 cease-fire agreement.

But neither side has budged on long-held principles that make coexistence difficult and the prospects for lasting peace remote.

Hamas's charter describes all of historical Palestine as a Muslim possession, thereby denying Israel's right to exist and forfeiting participation in any peace negotiations. And Israel – which characterizes Hamas as a terrorist organization whose attacks pose an "unacceptable" threat to its civilians – remains committed to a primarily military strategy in Gaza. Israel's basic modus operandi, referred to as "mowing the lawn," is to launch periodic military operations to keep Hamas's capabilities in check.

Critics say that strategy, coupled with policies that divide the Palestinians, is shortsighted. Even those who argue for the necessity of "mowing the lawn" every few years acknowledge that it won't uproot the seeds of hatred, cultivated in Gaza's schools, mosques, and society at large.

"We see indoctrination as the key issue," said retired Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, director general of Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs, at a briefing before the conflict. "It's got to be something really profound that stops it."

Cease-fire opposed in Israel

At least six Israelis and 176 Palestinians were killed in the latest conflict – far fewer Palestinian casualties than in the 2008-09 war, which left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead. Israel credited its use of precision weapons for limiting casualties while targeting militants and missiles.

Plenty of Israelis were disappointed that the government didn't cause greater damage. According to one poll released hours before the fighting ended, 70 percent of Israelis opposed a cease-fire.

In one of the more incendiary comments, Gilad Sharon called for Israel to "flatten Gaza" and invoked America's nuclear bombing of Japan, saying the United States didn't stop with Hiroshima but hit Nagasaki as well. It was Mr. Sharon's father, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who made the controversial decision to end the Israeli occupation in Gaza in 2005. Some Israelis say that move paved the way for greater militancy there.


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