In all likelihood, the fighting in Gaza will soon screech to a halt. As Palestinian civilian casualties have mounted, Israel’s limited timetable for action against Hamas – a diplomatic reality around which Israel must work, fairly or unfairly – is quickly expiring. Indeed, the diplomatic wheels are spinning furiously towards international consensus on a Franco-Egyptian truce – one that favors Israel’s limited war goal of ending the rocket firings, as well as preventing the smuggling of weapons from Sinai into Gaza. Naturally, Israel has accepted these broad terms in principle as a starting point for negotiations.
However, when it comes to encouraging Hamas to accept and comply with the truce, the international community will find itself in a serious bind. For starters, accepting this truce would force Hamas to admit defeat – something that it cannot possibly do if it hopes to maintain its standing within the Muslim world, as well as among many Palestinians. Moreover, Hamas cannot accept a truce that it has had no part in negotiating – and the international community cannot permit Hamas’s involvement in negotiations, because doing so would reward Hamas for firing rockets and instigating a deadly war with Israel in the first place. Remember: the west has long maintained its boycott against Hamas on account of its terrorism and rejection of Israel’s existence, and the international community cannot allow Hamas to emerge from the current conflict with sudden diplomatic legitimacy.
For this reason, the success of any forthcoming truce depends entirely on whether Israel’s attack on Gaza has weakened Hamas sufficiently. If rockets are no longer fired – or, more likely, if they fall on southern Israel with far less frequency – it will only be because Israel effectively subdued Hamas’s capabilities (particularly in northern Gaza) and targeted enough of its leadership. Alternatively, if the rockets and weapon smugglings continue, Israel will have on its hands another military failure. Either way, we can count on Hamas to continue its efforts against Israel through any means at its disposal – the organization has demonstrated its distaste for truces (whether with Fatah or Israel), and it seems unresponsive to Israeli deterrence strategies (such as the credible threat of air strikes or ground invasion).
In turn, Israel’s war in Gaza will end much differently than its 2006 war in Lebanon. Politically, Hamas’s absence from the truce negotiations will postpone the official verdict on whether Israel won or lost – it will be months before we know whether or not Hamas’s rocket capabilities have been redressed sufficiently. For Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni – the faces of Israel’s Gaza war – this delayed verdict could be a blessing, particularly as the February 10th elections loom.