From Daniel Byman
I am writing from Jerusalem and talking to Israelis and Palestinians about the recent war in Gaza. Much of the discussion on the Israeli side understandably focuses on the restoration of Israeli deterrence and the possibility that the war lead Hamas to end its rocket attacks on Israel and crack down on other groups that try to strike on their own.
On the Palestinian side, however, the discussion focuses not only on the devastation of the war, but also on politics. In particular, Palestinians I talk to are concerned about the strength of the Palestinian moderates associated with the Palestinian Authority. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in particular had made some progress by restoring a modicum of law and order to parts of the West Bank. The war, however, left the moderates in a familiar trap: if they sided with Hamas, they strengthened their greatest rival and bolstered an opponent to serious peace talks (as well as horrified the Israelis). Yet siding with Israel or even staying neutral inevitably painted them as collaborators.
Many Palestinians now seem to believe that Mahmoud Abbas and others tacitly supported Israel’s attacks, and with it the devastation of Gaza and the killings of hundreds of Palestinian civilians. This in turn makes it harder for the moderates to make tough political concessions to the Israelis in peace talks and weakens their long-term chances for winning the political battle with Hamas among Palestinians.
For Israel, the absence of rocket attacks may make the political damage to the already-weak moderates worthwhile. But the further decline of the moderates is still one cost that should go into the overall equation when judging the war. Indeed, the strategy of U.S. peacemakers is often to bolster the moderates at the expense of extremists: doing so will be even harder now.
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