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Analysis: Might alone can't achieve Gaza quiet

With the guns falling silent in Gaza, stabilizing the war-ravaged territory will require more than just stemming the flow of weapons to Hamas — Israel must also do something for the Palestinians who live there.
/ Source: The Associated Press

With the guns falling silent in Gaza, stabilizing the war-ravaged territory will require more than just stemming the flow of weapons to Hamas — Israel must also do something for the Palestinians who live there.

Three weeks of punishing air and ground assaults in Gaza might buy Israel a period of quiet by making Hamas think twice before firing rockets again. But in the long run, moderation is unlikely to flourish in Gaza with so many lives shattered and the territory's borders closed to all trade.

More than 1,200 Palestinians were killed and much of Gaza was flattened before the two sides declared a fragile truce. Now, some are wondering if brutal deterrence might be canceled out by the hatred it causes.

"What we have to be concerned about is the radicalization that flows from violence and the impact on the mindset, outlook and orientation of the people," said John Ging, the U.N. point person in the Gaza Strip.

Militants hiding among civilians
Israel stressed throughout the war that it was not targeting civilians and that the reason so many of them died — more than 800, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights — is because militants hid among them.

Yet it's no secret that a top war aim was to make attacks on Israel so costly that no one would dare contemplate them. It's a logic of deterrence that also played a part in Israel's 2006 war against Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas: inflicting enough pain on the general population so that they in turn pressure militants to stop firing rockets on Israel.

This is powerful logic for Israelis, who see themselves as a besieged nation surrounded by enemies who want them dead. Given the rocket attacks from both Hezbollah and Hamas — and the suicide bombing campaigns that killed hundreds of Israelis — their fears are not misplaced.

Many Israelis believe Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas can never be diverted from their stated goal of eliminating the Jewish state no matter how much goodwill Israel might show.

"If we want to make this issue go away, it must disappear — Hamas or other terrorists organizations like it," Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi said.

Seeds planted for more violence?
Such feelings are reflected in Israelis' overwhelming support for the Gaza offensive, despite worldwide protests over its toll on Palestinian civilians.

Yet even if the offensive leads to a year or two of quiet on Israel's southern border, as the Lebanon war has done in the north, it can be argued that seeds have been planted for a bitter crop.

"The children follow what's going on, they know what's going on," said Maher Labbad, a 44-year-old human rights worker and father of six in Gaza. "They say: The Jews are shelling. The Jews are destroying people's houses. They know who it is. It's the Jews."

"I try not to teach revenge or negative thoughts, but they adopt it naturally from other children, their brothers. It's deep within them, that they are the enemy," he said.

Giving hope to such children could serve Israel's long-term security interests as much as any war.

Yossi Alpher, a former agent of the Israeli spy agency Mossad, argues that Israel should end the economic blockade of Gaza imposed after the Islamic militants violently seized power there 18 months ago, saying it did nothing to improve Israel's security.

"It didn't make Gazans love Hamas less or support it less. It didn't break the back of Hamas," said Alpher, who co-directs, an academic forum that promotes Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

Blockade has crippled economy
Israel launched its Gaza offensive on Dec. 27 in response to Hamas' rockets, which the militants fired largely because they wanted to force Israel to lift the blockade that has crippled Gaza's economy.

Gaza and its 1.4 million people are surrounded by Israeli and Egyptian fences that keep anyone from going in and out — and Israeli patrol boats deny access by sea.

A longer-term cease-fire deal being discussed in Egypt would give Israel assurances that Hamas will no longer smuggle weapons into Gaza. It also foresees the opening of Gaza's border to people and trade.

That has the potential to cement Hamas' power in Gaza by easing the economic pressure on it. But it could vastly reduce regional tensions and provide a better life to Gazans, 80 percent of whom rely on U.N. food aid to survive.

Hamas is shunned
The emerging deal could also help pave the way for moderate Palestinians to regain a foothold in Gaza by bringing in Fatah, a rival of Hamas, to help manage the territory's crossing into Egypt.

Hamas wrested control of Gaza from the Western-backed Fatah movement in June 2007, leaving President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah in charge of just the West Bank, which together with Gaza is supposed to one day make up a Palestinian state. Hamas is shunned by the international community, while Abbas is welcomed in capitals around the world.

Bringing Fatah back to Gaza would be crucial to U.S.-sponsored peace talks between Abbas and Israel, as no final peace deal is likely to be implemented with the Palestinians divided in two.