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Between Hamas And Israel, What Might An Endgame Look Like?

The last time Israel and Hamas fought each other was 2012. Back then, the conflict lasted eight days.

Tuesday marks the eighth day of the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, which raises the question: What might it take to bring this fight to a close?

Both Israel and Hamas say they are unwilling to sign on to a straightforward, put-down-your-weapons, bare-bones ceasefire. They say quiet for quiet, calm for calm, is not enough.

They want more.

"What Israel really wants is to make sure that the cease-fire is as stable and as long as possible, so the idea is not to have a replay of such a confrontation every few months," says Michael Herzog, a retired brigadier general who was part of Israel's negotiating team with Palestinians in the past.

Some people in Israel's government say any cease-fire should require Hamas to hand over all its weapons, the way Syria gave up its chemical weapons.

Herzog says that's never going to happen.

"They give up their weapons, they lose a lot of power," he says. "So they are not going to volunteer that, and I just don't see any outside power that's willing and capable of going into Gaza and forcing the issue on them."

So, Herzog says, the Israelis will probably have to lower their expectations.

On Hamas Side, High Demands, Too

"The minimum is to stop the aggression against Palestinians," says Hamas spokesman Mosheer al-Masri. "End the eight-year siege on Gaza, and release Palestinian prisoners."

Hamas leaders also say they want Egypt to reopen its border with Gaza, and they want money to pay the salaries of public employees.

Here, too, analysts say expectations may be too high.

"Can Hamas put any conditions at this stage?" says Alon Liel, former director of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "It looks — excuse me, I don't want to sound arrogant — it looks like a joke."

He says the fact that no Israelis have died gives Hamas a weaker hand.

Nevertheless, outside pressure is growing on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to wrap this up, says Reuven Hazan, chairman of the political science department at Hebrew University.

"There is growing condemnation of Israel," Hazan says. "Even though the United States hasn't come out against Israel, several European countries are beginning [to], and this will escalate day by day."

With the Palestinian death toll over 180, Hamas is under internal pressure to find a way out of the conflict.

Key To The Puzzle

It may not sound obvious, but a range of people say Israel could try the carrot instead of the stick.

"The people of Gaza feel that they are living in a prison, and that status as a prison would have to be ended," says Sabri Saidam, a member of the moderate Palestinian Fatah party. "And now will come the question of the reconstruction of Gaza, which is yet another file to be opened."

Herzog, the retired general, has almost the exact same prescription. He says the key is to make it look like no one is rewarding Hamas for its attacks on Israel. Empower Fatah, he says, and undermine Hamas.

"So you do something for the people, but Hamas does not benefit politically, is not rewarded for violence," Herzog says. "And I personally would also support some economic assistance to rebuild the Gaza Strip."

Then there's the big question of whether there are any good candidates to broker this deal.

"The simple answer," Hazan says, "is no."

Egypt was always the broker in the past, he adds.

"But the current military leadership in Egypt is probably as anti-Hamas, if not even more, than Israel," Hazan says.

Turkey and the U.S. are in the mix, but neither has the trust of both sides. In short, there is no perfect third-party broker, so an imperfect one is the only hope.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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