Let there be no mistake. The war with Hamas is not over. Wednesday morning at 8 o’clock, another round between the two sides came to an end, but that’s it. The rounds of artillery fire in the field will now be replaced by talks in the negotiation rooms in Cairo. There, on the banks of the Nile, the final results of this war will be determined. The test will be the nature of the agreement that is reached there.
The two sides have sacrificed much blood in a month of fighting that concluded Wednesday morning. Now the sides will try to complete through negotiations what they were unable to decide in battle. Hamas has already given up most of its demands. Now everyone will pressure Israel that it should also back down on some of its demands. And, as in every negotiation, they will compromise midway.
Israel wants, first and foremost, quiet for as long as possible on its southern border. No one can guarantee how much time this quiet will last. Yerushalayim would also want the Strip to be disarmed, but the chances of achieving that are slim. The Israeli delegation will demand that Hamas be disarmed of its weapons, but Hamas will not do that because the moment it will, it will not be Hamas and will not be able to exert control.
Militarily, Israel cannot compromise too much. It can do so, however, on the civilian front. This will be the big test for the Egyptian mediators. On the one hand, they are trying to get the two sides to compromise, but on the other hand, they also have an interest in the outcome of the talks. We must just hope that the American delegation to the talks will not obstruct Israel, which has happened three times in this round of fighting.
The Palestinian street has absorbed a major blow. Thousands of homes were destroyed, tens of thousands were damaged. All the infrastructure in the Strip has been affected. The Gazans are building an international “Marshall Plan” for their reconstruction. But they know very well that, without the agreement of the Israelis and the Egyptians, they will have no way to receive the raw materials they need to rebuild. Israel, like Egypt, will try to use this important card of maintaining the current blockade and inspections of all materials that enter, to stall the rebuilding of tunnels.
Hamas’ demand, loudly backed by Turkey and Qatar, is clear. They want all limitations removed and the Strip to be opened for all products through sea ports and airports. Israel cannot agree to that. But it will also not be able to prevent the entry of steel and cement to rebuild the destroyed homes. However, Yerushalayim will ask for guarantees and an oversight mechanism that will prevent these materials from falling into the hands of Hamas, which will use them to rebuild tunnels and develop new missiles. A tight oversight mechanism will need to be set up, but at this point, it is unclear how such a mechanism would operate and upon which country’s representatives it will rely.
Prime Minister Netanyahu declared that Israel’s objectives in these talks, as in the operation, are to achieve a demilitarization of the Strip. The chances of his achieving this are virtually nil in the short term, and slim for the future. The alternative demands will need to be those that will prove to the Israeli home front that the price it paid was not for naught. And this is where Netanyahu will be judged by the results.
He can talk all he wants about the blow Hamas sustained, but ultimately he will be tested by how long the calm holds and by the ability to prevent Hamas from rearming, while restoring a sense of security for residents of the south.
Israel has not yet achieved what it wants, even though the operation is over. But we have to admit that Hamas has achieved even less of everything it wanted to achieve when it dragged Israel into this conflict. Now Hamas is coming to the negotiations in Cairo with very little in its arsenal. It is still as isolated diplomatically as it ever was. The Egyptians haven’t changed much in their original position, and it is unlikely they will suddenly take Hamas’ side, and Hamas knows this.
The heads of the organization are coming to the talks after the Arab mediators rejected their list of demands. No one is guaranteeing that Hamas will get even the minimum that it wants. Many will want to include Abu Mazen (Abbas) into any arrangement, something that is a red flag for Hamas. This being the case, it is no wonder that Hamas’ leaders are dispirited. And yet, they still somehow believe that what they lost in the military battle, they will be able to gain at the negotiating table.