While no one should close their conscience to the latest bout of violence that is taking place between Gaza and Israel, it is nonetheless important to realise that this exchange of fire is about politics in its rawest form. The Hamas has been under fire from the Palestinians for having been unable to keep the cause alive with the international community and losing ground to arch-rival Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the West Bank. Israel is heading for elections next year and Benjamin Netanyahu will not be unhappy at a chance to remind voters that he is a hawk’s hawk. The net result: both sides were well disposed towards the idea of a limited conflict. Diplomacy, therefore, took a backfoot and when Hamas fired one rocket too many at Israel there was no reason for either side to show much restraint.
Gaza will suffer the far greater share of casualties and physical damage. But Hamas has a better chance of walking away with the diplomatic prize. This is not because of the sympathy for what is militarily the underdog in this war. Hamas was in a terrible predicament the past half-decade. The US, encumbered by an economic crisis, let the Palestinian issue fall to the lower end of its priorities. The Arab world underwent a political sea-change that saw the Hamas’ biggest supporters — Syria and Iran — collapse into civil war or fall into sanctions-induced crisis. That Hamas’s ideological companions came to power in Egypt had been of small comfort since the new regime seemed as unwilling to make a choice between Hamas and Israel as its predecessor.
A new set of Arab supporters has emerged for Hamas, with cash-rich Qatar and a reluctant Egypt having declared support for Gaza. The dash of the US secretary of state to the area has also indicated that Washington’s original policy of hoping the Palestinian issue would fade into the background may be up for some rethinking. Combined with the attempts of Egypt to broker a ceasefire, the real victory of Gaza in this strife is to remind the world that this strip of land is a problem that cannot simply be wished away or forgotten.