The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which came into effect on the morning of June 19, is likely to prove fragile. However, the agreement underpinning it indicates that the two sides are capable of dealing with each other in a practical way. Ideologically, the Islamist outfit, which has never accepted the legitimacy of the Zionist state’s existence, remains committed to the goal of bringing about its demise. Such a goal is unachievable in the foreseeable future: for one thing, the protagonist has the most powerful military in West Asia and, secondly, it is backed to the hilt by the United States. For its part, Israel portrays Hamas as a terrorist organisation that must be destroyed. But any incursion into the Gaza Strip, which is completely under the control of the Islamists, will be costly in terms of casualties as well as financially. With the ideological objectives remaining way beyond reach, the two sides have discovered they cannot not live with the stalemate either. Over the past year, dozens of Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s near-daily shelling and aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Israel’s losses are not comparable by any measure, but the residents of its southern towns and villages have lived in constant fear of the rocket barrages fired at them. The pressure building on the north-western slice of the Sinai Peninsula began to tell on Egypt as well. Cairo finally stepped up to its responsibilities and brokered a truce that should, if it holds, lead to the opening up of the crossing points into the Gaza Strip over the next fortnight.
Only the foolhardy will bet on this nascent truce leading to something more enduring. There are elements in the situation that can be built on. The Israeli government needs to recognise, as several Israeli strategists already do, that Hamas has tightened its control over the Gaza Strip and cannot be uprooted. The Islamists must realise they cannot achieve their objectives through violence. If the two sides accept these ground realities, they can work out modalities that will enable them to live with each other over the medium term at least. Hamas can use the period to rebuild its depleted strength and prove to West Bank residents that it can provide good governance. Israel must realise that a medium-term truce will be beneficial to its people. The dire economic situation in the Gaza Strip can be turned around only if there is a cessation of hostilities. If the Palestinians are able to prosper by offering their goods and services in the Israeli market, there will be an improvement in the atmosphere.