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Much Unresolved After Fragile Hamas-Israel Truce

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Much Unresolved After Fragile Hamas-Israel Truce

Middle East

Much Unresolved After Fragile Hamas-Israel Truce

Much Unresolved After Fragile Hamas-Israel Truce

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/99673993/99681700" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The last Israeli troops left the Gaza Strip before dawn Wednesday. That's one thing President Barack Obama will not have to deal with.

But the fragile truce has left much unresolved — how to stop arms from getting into Gaza, a key Israeli demand; and a timetable for opening the borders, a key Hamas demand.

On his first day on the job, Obama made his concern about the Middle East clear by calling the leaders of Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

Israelis are now debating what the Gaza offensive achieved.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said Israel achieved its goals and more. But many Israelis are deeply disappointed that Hamas is still in power. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, says it was not an unequivocal victory.

"What was missing was some clear pictures of victory — Hamas coming out of the bunkers with their hands up," he says.

Instead, Israelis saw Hamas leaders emerge largely unscathed. Some Israelis, especially those who have been threatened by rockets, wish the offensive had continued.

Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior researcher with the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies, says absolute victory would have resulted in many more Palestinian casualties.

"Israel knew this, and the voices for relative restraint were coming more from the army than to some extent from the government, although the government was divided on this," he says. "The army chief of staff delivered a message to the government saying, in effect, we have the capability to re-conquer all of Gaza. We can destroy Hamas, but the price in civilian life will be terrible. And then the question is, to whom do I give the key? We are not going to reoccupy Gaza."

The one thing Israelis agree on is that the country showed, after what many consider a humiliating defeat in Lebanon two years ago, that it can respond forcefully.

According to Halevi, Israel's only mistake was waiting so long to respond to Hamas rocket attacks. He says Israel has learned that restraint in this region is perceived as weakness.

Prime Minister Olmert has said undermining Hamas in Gaza ultimately depends on strengthening its rival Fatah in the West Bank. So far, though, Hamas has gained there, says Avi Issacharoff, Arab affairs correspondent for Haaretz.

"It's absurd ... that people in the West Bank became more supportive of Hamas, while people in Gaza Strip, less supportive of Hamas," he says.

Inbar agrees, saying Fatah and the Palestinian Authority are in serious trouble. These analysts, who cover the political spectrum in the Middle East, believe there is little the Obama administration can do quickly to change the situation. As long as the Palestinians remain divided, Inbar says, the best that can be hoped for is conflict management. He calls it mowing the grass.

"We go in, do some damage to the terrorist infrastructure knowing well that this type of hatred toward Israel cannot be totally eliminated and we'll have to do it again," Inbar says. "Totally uprooting Hamas is beyond the power of Israel. The onus of responsibility is indeed on the Palestinians."

Halevi says international condemnation of Israeli military actions is hypocritical.

"I don't believe any nation would have done any differently in our place," he says.

In anticipation of possible war crimes charges, Israel is taking precautions. It has ordered all media not to publicize the names of battalion commanders who took part in the offensive, so as not to facilitate their potential prosecution.

Halevi warns any attempt to drag Israelis into international courts while giving Palestinians a pass will only harden Israeli attitudes and make Israel less likely to compromise.

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