After 11 days of back and forth rockets and bombings, it seems the ceasefire that went into effect May 21 between Israel and Gaza is holding. Besides the obvious deaths on both sides, can winners or losers be declared?
“I don’t want to say anyone came out on top,” said Eli Sperling, Israel specialist for the Center for Israel Education in Atlanta. Sperling, now also a postdoctoral associate at Duke University, furthered that warfare certainly “concretizes Hamas’ position as the party to talk to.” He was referring to the Islamist group that governs the Gaza Strip, where about 2 million Palestinians live.
Benjamin Pogrund, a South African-born journalist living in Jerusalem, wrote in South African online publication News24, that “Hamas has undoubtedly succeeded in its power struggle with Fatah [the Palestinian ruling party in the West Bank]. It has drawn support from West Bank Palestinians and many Arab Israelis too.”
That power struggle among the Palestinians helped launch the recent violence after Palestinian parliamentary elections finally scheduled after 11 years were suddenly canceled. But that was not the only factor that led to the outbreak of hostilities.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had reached perhaps his weakest moment after failing to form a coalition government in the wake of the March elections – the fourth inconclusive elections in two years. Instead, a national unity government “under the leadership of secular-centrist Yair Lapid and the religious-rightist Naftali Bennett …were on the verge of forging a cabinet that would include both Israeli Jews and, for the first time ever, an Israeli Arab Islamist party,” pointed out New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. The latter part of the sentence was italicized in the newspaper to emphasize its exceptionality.
Indeed, Bennett had declared that a coalition agreement was about to be signed when the recent hostilities started.
Observers must pull the camera back and use a wide-angle lens to capture a more complete picture of the situation in Jerusalem on May 10. At the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, Israeli police had placed barricades around the Damascus Gate in the Old City, not allowing Palestinians who traditionally gathered after prayers as they break their fast. Riots broke out. By early May, Ramadan was winding down, but six Palestinian families were threatened with evictions from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood of East Jerusalem.
Then Israeli police, responding to Palestinians throwing stones near al-Aqsa Mosque on the Noble Sanctuary – known to Jews as the Temple Mount – fired stun guns into the mosque. Hamas issued an ultimatum, saying the police should leave the area by that evening.
According to Pogrund, the beginning of the war “can be pinpointed precisely” at 6 p.m. Hamas fired hundreds of missiles indiscriminately at Israel, even Jerusalem. Israel responded with fighter jets and artillery. During the 11-day war, more than 4,000 rockets were launched at Israel, 90 percent of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system, according to the Israeli government. Thirteen people in Israel died.
On the Gaza side, more than 260 people were killed, and the Israel Defense Forces attacked more than 1,500 targets, according to authorities on both sides.
In addition, the first violence between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs since 2000 broke out in a number of mixed Israeli cities, which also led to deaths and injuries.
In the wake of the latest battle between Israel and Hamas, a poll of Israelis reported by Israel Channel 12 indicated that a majority believed neither side emerged as a victor. Another 24 percent said Israel won and 16 percent say Hamas won. The survey also found that nearly 50 percent of the Israeli public thought the war should have continued longer.
While the prime minister appeared to dodge the bullet of an anti-Netanyahu coalition government being formed due to the breakout of hostilities, it’s not clear whether he’s in a stronger position now. “Both the right and the left are criticizing Netanyahu” and how he handled and ended the conflict with Hamas, Sperling said. And while Bennett stated days after the war began that the “change” government was no longer on the table, after the ceasefire he seemed to change his tune.
According to Bennett, the decision-making process during the war was “twisted and dictated by personal considerations and personality cult,” The Times of Israel reported. He was referring to Netanyahu, who is currently standing trial on several corruption charges, including bribery and breach of trust. Bennett hinted that he would again consider joining with Lapid, who has until June 2 to form a government, rather than forcing the country into another round of elections.
If Lapid is unable to form a government by June 2, members of the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, would have 21 days to agree on a leader to cobble together a coalition government. If they are also unable to do so, Israeli voters would be asked to go to the polls again – probably in October – to vote a fifth time in less than 2 1/2 years.
“There’s a distinct possibility of fifth elections,” Sperling said. Even if the anti-Netanyahu parties could put together a government, it would include those from the right-wing and the left-wing and it’s questionable how long it could remain in power before collapsing he said. “It’s really just a question of when there will be elections,” not if, Sperling added.