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What Has This Gaza War Changed?

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JACK GUEZ via Getty Images

When the current conflict between Israel and Hamas began, it looked much like a resumption of the conflict that has led to similarly tragic consequences in recent years. Israel was poised to set back Hamas's war-making ability by a few years, leading the Israeli government to gain support domestically. As in recent similar conflicts, it was expected that too many civilians would be killed in Gaza, thus strengthening the anti-Israel narrative within Gaza, and globally, bolstering Hamas's wavering popularity. After roughly a month of this war, it is clear that these things have occurred, but the war has also led to changes in the broader conflict that may not be immediately apparent but that are significant for both sides, as well as for those who would like to see this conflict end.

For Hamas, the biggest difference between this conflict and other recent ones is that in the last month the extent of Hamas's isolation in the Middle East of 2014 has become clear. While the plight of the Palestinian civilians has drawn global attention and sympathy, virtually no Middle Eastern state wants to help Hamas. The most significant reason for this is the return of a military government in Egypt that is very hostile to Islamists like Hamas, but a similar dynamic exists throughout the region. Hamas, of course, has its backers, but many of these are non-state actors. This new reality makes it difficult for Hamas to gain anything from this conflict. The conflict has hardened anti-Israel sentiment, but has also shown how few states are willing to do anything to help Hamas, despite their anger at Israel.

This conflict has also begun to demonstrate the fraying of the U.S.-Israel alliance that has been essential for the security, and even survival, of the Jewish state. This is not entirely new, but the conflict has accelerated it. The changing attitudes of Americans regarding Israel, notably that younger Americans are far less likely to agree with the Israeli view of this war, raise a major challenge for Israel. Similarly, the combative style of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is probably an important part of his political success domestically, but in the long run it is not good for the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Netanyahu's reported recent remark that the U.S. should "never second-guess me on Hamas," probably played very well among right-wing Americans and others who are hawkish on the Middle East, but is a terrible way for a foreign leader, even one as well-known in the U.S. as Netanyahu, to speak to his most powerful and important ally, particularly at a time when the US, by virtually any measure, is supporting Israel in this conflict.

Netanyahu's attitude toward his most important ally is one reason why support for Israel is potentially becoming a partisan issue in the U.S. Despite widespread support for Israel among the political elite, among ordinary Americans, support is much higher among Republicans than among Democrats. This is another development that has been accelerated by this conflict, and one that could have a major impact on Israel after this current bout of violence ends.

While the conflict has not, despite its violence, precluded a peaceful settlement between Palestinians and Israelis, it is now more clear than ever that Likud and Hamas cannot bring about peace. It should also be clear to both Gazans and Israelis that Hamas and Likud cannot guarantee security either. As long as Hamas shoots rockets into Israel, the Israeli military will have occasional violent incursions into Gaza. As long as Likud refuses to meaningfully engage in peace negotiations, Hamas will still have a raison d'être for staying in power, and continue to threaten Israel. It will be difficult for Israelis or Gazans to come to this recognition, but ultimately they will.

The relationship between Israel and the people of Gaza, and indeed with Palestinians more broadly, has been caught in a miserable and deadly cycle for years. A conflict is followed by a period of unfruitful peace talks, continued Israeli settlements, a violent act of some kind, Hamas shooting rockets into Israel and then a deadly Israeli offensive into Gaza leading to civilian casualties and global outrage against Israel. This latest military conflict in Gaza may have brought this cycle to its breaking point. The transformation, albeit in the very early stages, of the U.S.-Israel relationship, isolation of Hamas and changing allegiances in the Middle East suggest that something will have to give. It is hard to imagine that when Israel decides to wind down the conflict, conditions will simply return to what they were on May 1 of this year. This conflict has, perhaps in ways that are not immediately evident, changed the strategic environment for both Israel and the Palestinians. The questions of whether they are aware of this and how they will adapt will be central for the futures of both people.

 
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