So – more than 1,200 deaths later – who won? Israel has announced that it has achieved its goals and called a ceasefire – conveniently enough, just two days before Obama’s inauguration. Hamas says that it has also won and has also declared a ceasefire.
Both sides can claim a victory of sorts. Israel will say that it has stopped the rockets. Hamas has survived. Israel will say that it has re-established its deterrent power. Hamas will believe that it has proved its status as the real face of Palestinian resistance.
And then there is the battle for world opinion. It was probably shrewd of Hamas to declare its own ceasefire in response to Israel’s. A decision to keep firing rockets would have fitted the Israeli narrative that Hamas cared little for innocent Palestinian lives. On the other hand, the Israelis will have been encouraged that so many European leaders – Sarkozy, Brown, Merkel, Zapatero – were prepared to pose for photos with the Israeli leadership today.
The fate of Hamas and of its armed struggle against Israel will only become clear over the next few months. Gauging the impact of the conflict on the broader region will take even longer. At the risk of sounding like a liberal hand-wringer, it seems to me that in the long run everybody loses – Palestine is even more smashed-up, embittered and dysfunctional than when the fighting began, and Israel has created more enemies and pushed the prospect of peace ever further into the distance. And over 1.200 people are dead.