Crisis Group : Gaza City/Ramallah/Jerusalem/Brussels, 5 January 2009:

Ending the War in Gaza, the latest policy briefing from the International Crisis Group, analyses the bloody developments since expiration of the fragile six-month ceasefire on 19 December and proposes a path to cessation of hostilities and beyond. Third parties viewed as credible and trustworthy by both sides must push the parties to end this before the toll escalates or before Israel’s land incursion turns into a venture of uncertain scope, undetermined consequence and all-too-familiar human cost. Israel might well win militarily and perhaps even topple Hamas. But with no clear exit or “day after” scenario, a discredited Palestinian Authority an d a debilitated peace process, it might not be much of a political win.

“There are signs important actors – European in particular, the U.S. far less so – have learned from the experience of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war that time is of the essence,” says Crisis Group Senior Analyst Robert Blecher. “It’s not clear whether this bitter lesson will translate into quicker action. But devising a ceasefire acceptable to both sides is not beyond reach.”

To be sustainable, cessation of hostilities must be directly followed by steps addressing both sides’ core concerns:

an indefinite ceasefire pursuant to which: Hamas would halt all rocket launches, keep armed militants at 500 metres from Israel’s border and make other armed organisations comply; Israel would halt all military attacks on, and withdraw all troops from Gaza; real efforts to end arms smuggling into Gaza, led by Egypt in coordination with regional and international actors; dispatch of a multinational monitoring presence to verify adherence to the ceasefire, serve as liaison between the two sides and defuse potential crises; countries like France, Turkey and Qatar as well as organisations such as the UN could play an important part in this; opening of Gaza’s crossings with Israel and Egypt, together with: return of an EU presence at the Rafah crossing and its extension to Gaza’s crossings with Israel; and coordination between Hamas authorities and the (Ramallah-based) Palestinian Authority (PA) at the crossings “None of this can happen if the international community refuses to shift its approach on Hamas”, says Nicolas Pelham, Crisis Group Senior Analyst.

This need not mean full-fledged, unconditional acceptance but at a minimum, it means engaging the movement – first to reach a ceasefire; next to liaise between it and Israel in Gaza; and finally, building on such steps, to initiate a gradually more productive political exchange. Europe, in light of its expected presence at the crossings, could take the lead in this endeavour.

“Gaza’s two-year story has been one of unmitigated collective failure,” says Robert Malley, Director of Crisis Group’s Middle East Program. “Sustainable calm can be achieved neither by the world ignoring Hamas nor by Hamas disregarding basic international obligations. When the guns fall silent, those lessons, too, will have to be learned.”