Peace on the installment plan

The fighting in Gaza is over now. Israel declared a unilateral cease fire this weekend and, though Hamas vowed to keep fighting, it soon did an about-face after its demands for ceasing hostilities were ignored by Israel and Egypt.

This humiliating reversal, coming on top of the one-sided pounding Israel administered, represents victory for Israel and defeat for Hamas. But the extent of the victory will be determined in the aftermath of the fighting, and is likely to prove limited.

As the people of Gaza wade through the rubble, they must decide how to evaluate their ordeal. It seems almost certain that they will not blame Hamas in any strong sense and that Hamas will, in any case, remain in control of Gaza. However, it also seems likely that Hamas will not soon engage in conduct that could provoke another pounding; it’s willingness to stop sending rockets into Israel in return for nothing foreshadows this. Hamas instead will use the time to rebuild its infrastructure and bring in more weapons.

Israel, then, has bought itself perhaps a few years of peace on its southern border. This may not sound like much, but this sort of “peace on the installment plan” is probably as much as Israel can expect in the foreseeable future, although a more aggressive effort to root out Hamas might have bought a few more years.

Some view this reality as an argument for a grand peace agreement, and in theory it is. In reality, though, I view it as an argument for the status quo because the “peace process” does nothing more than tie Israel’s hands, thereby preventing it from buying peace on the installment plan. The “installments” eventually add up to a generation of relative peace, and then another.

Meanwhile, it is not only Gaza residents who must evaluate the recent war. Israelis must decide whether they are satisfied with the temporary peace the IDF has obtained through deterrence. The early returns suggest they are not satisfied, but instead wanted an all-out assault on Hamas. This was the approach urged by Bibi Netanyahu, and the polls show him holding a decent lead over Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni, whose advocacy of deterrence drove Israel’s strategy in Gaza.

Ironically, a Netanyahu victory might be more of a victory for Livni-style deterrence than for rooting out Hamas. One can imagine Hamas being particularly reluctant to provoke a Netanyahu government. It’s not as easy to imagine a Netanyahu government toppling Hamas. The right’s optimism about achieving that outcome is less misplaced than the left’s optimism about “peace” processes. Yet it may be well be misplaced all the same.

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