Both sides claim victory after seven weeks of fighting

Both sides claim victory after seven weeks of fighting

By Abdullah H. Erakat and Linda Gradstein, The Media Line

(RAMALLAH) — After the rockets comes the spin machine, and both Israel and Hamas are claming victory in the fighting that has left 2,200 Palestinians, 69 Israelis, and one foreign worker dead, thousands of Palestinians wounded, and widespread devastation in the Gaza Strip. While there were victory celebrations in Gaza and the West Bank, there were mixed feelings in Israel over the end of the fighting, and questions over whether the cease-fire will last.

Steinberg Funeral

A crowd gathers around the Mt. Herzl grave of Max Steinberg, an Israel Defense Forces lone soldier who was killed in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has no doubts Israel was the victor.

“Hamas was hit hard, and did not get any of the things it demanded for a cease-fire,” Netanyahu told a news conference, adding a warning for the future if rocket fire resumes. “We will respond harder than we have until now. We are prepared for all possibilities.”

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh went even further after he emerged from 50 days of hiding.

“The victory is beyond the boundaries of time and place,” he told thousands of cheering supporters. “This battle is a war that had no precedent in the history of the conflict with the enemy.”

Gaza journalist Ashraf Shannon told The Media Line that thousands of bullets were fired in the air out of jubilance resulting in the death of one girl from a stray bullet. Although Gazans are still “shell shocked,” he said they are certain that Hamas gained an unbelievable victory against the Israeli army. A new poll by a Palestinian think tank found overwhelming support for rocket attacks against Israel, although they saw these rocket attacks as defending themselves against Israeli aggression.

Beyond the spin, however, there is still confusion over the details of the agreement. Israeli officials say Hamas achieved nothing beyond the status quo ante before the fighting began, with the only tangible gain being an expanding of the fishing zone in Gaza. A key Hamas demand for an airport or a seaport was not accepted, they say.

“They deliberately brought destruction and death on their own people and they gained nothing, not in their relationship with Israel, not in their relations with the Palestinian Authority,” said a senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “But they will not get an airport or a seaport.”

According to the Egyptian draft proposal, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are to begin meeting in a month to finalize all open issues. Palestinian leaders in Ramallah this week called for a “national plan to end Israeli occupation” with the help of the international community. The officials say that the fighting should show Israel that there is no military solution to the conflict, only a diplomatic one.

“Palestinians persisted and prevailed even though the price was enormous and very painful,” Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi told The Media Line. “Israel did not produce security for Israelis, only more insecurity.”

Some Palestinian officials say that the Palestinian Authority (PA) should join the International Criminal Court (ICC), and bring Israel to trial for war crimes committed during the seven weeks of fighting. However, that could also leave Hamas open to similar accusations.

Earlier this year, the Palestinian president signed a document joining 15 international United Nation organizations and agencies. Now, secretary general of the Palestine National Initiative, Mustafa Barghouthi, says immediate action is needed after the cease-fire because “they can’t wait for political processes to take place.”

“They must be held accountable for what they’ve done,” Barghouthi said. “It is the only way to protect ourselves and deter future aggression from Israel.”

Israel has told PA President Mahmoud Abbas that joining the ICC would be seen as a sign that the PA is not interested in serious negotiations with Israel over a two-state solution, as Israel sees the ICC as biased against Israel.

Shlomo Brom of the Institute of National Security Studies believes that no side won the war.

“It’s like becoming drunk. The war is intoxicating but there is also the morning after, what did I win, what did I lose? Palestinian citizens will make the same calculation and there are indications of criticism of Hamas in Palestinian and Arab media,” the Israeli general told The Media Line.

But he said Israel did strike a blow against Hamas, by killing hundreds of its fighters and destroying underground tunnels into Israel that took years to build. Israeli estimates are that about half of the 2,200 Palestinians killed in the fighting are combatants, while Palestinians say over 80 percent were civilians. While Hamas was able to fire rockets into Israel until the cease-fire, Israel believes that many of the terror group’s long-range rockets have been destroyed.

“It’s very clear that at the end of this campaign Hamas weapon stores are quite depleted, actually they don’t have a real capability to hit us other than from very close range,” Brom said.

Some Palestinian analysts said Hamas won, just by surviving.

“What kind of victory is Israel claiming?” Abdel-Sattar Qassem, a professor of political science at An-Najah University in Nablus asked. “It could not achieve any of its goals. It could not destroy the tunnels and it could not dismantle the resistance of its arms.”

The focus of the conflict will now shift from the battlefield to the diplomatic arena. Palestinians say there is an opportunity for a new push for an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. But many Israelis say the past 50 days of rocket fire makes it much harder to trust the Palestinians in any future peace deal.