(This is a guest post by SO Muffin)
It is easy to dismiss the Israel–Hamas hudna as the unelectable in pursuit of the unspeakable: a weak government and a Prime Minister on his last political legs stooping to an agreement with a group which is beyond the pale. It is nothing of this sort.
The main reality of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is that, while each actor (Israel, Hamas, PLO) has the capacity to turn everybody else’s life into total misery, none has the ability to inflict a decisive blow. Some HP commenters are quick to evoke World War Two and expect IDF armoured columns to roll into Gaza, thereby determining the outcome of the conflict. The simple truth is that, had this only been possible, it would have been done ages ago. The IDF General Staff is holding back not out of squeamishness, cowardice or sympathy toward Palestinians but because of hard-nosed assessment of the situation. Any large-scale military operation will be a bloodbath, leaving Israel’s reputation (or what is left of it) in tatters and solving absolutely nothing. And, given that it will solve absolutely nothing, it will ultimately be perceived as a victory for Hamas.
By the same token, all the Qassams and “martyrdom operations” lead Hamas and other Palestinian factions absolutely nowhere. Essentially, Palestinians pay the price but receive very little, if at all, in return. This can go on for a while but not indefinitely.
The history of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is one of missed opportunities. Of each side genuinely believing that time is on their side, that the enemy will fall prey to attrition, that the enemy understands one and only one language, that of brute force. Yet, if we are to be logical and learn from experience, it is clear that neither side yields to brute force and neither can be brought to its knees.
The chance is that the hudna, to which both sides committed themselves reluctantly and with bad grace, will be a self-fulfilling short respite, followed by yet another futile round of violence, with the usual victims in Beth Lahiya and Sderot. However, being an inveterate optimist (please don’t tell my psychiatrist!), I believe that in the long term this stops-and-starts will persuade both sides in their futility. It took twenty odd years to bring Israel and PLO to Oslo – sooner or later the same will happen with Hamas. Yet, the realist within me (psychiatrist, please note!) knows that this will happen only once something even more unspeakable and objectionable gains foothold among Palestinians and once Israeli settlements in the West Bank make any territorial compromise even more unlikely. For, to rephrase Abba Eban, both sides to this conflict never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.