The Conflict in Gaza Is Over. What’s Next?

Israel and the Palestinian Hamas militant group that runs the Gaza Strip have ceased fire after 11 days of fierce fighting that killed at least 243 Palestinians and 12 people inside Israel. Here’s a look at what comes next after their fourth major confrontation:

Who are the winners and losers?

Ordinary Palestinians and Israelis have suffered, but their respective leaders have strengthened their hands.

The fighting and the communal turmoil it unleashed within Israel upended opposition efforts to form a government to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who’s been in power since 2009 and is on trial in three corruption cases. While the rival camp hasn’t given up, it’s going to be hard-pressed to form a government partnering Israeli Jews with an Arab-Israeli Muslim party for the first time. If it fails, either any of Knesset’s lawmakers, including Netanyahu, could get a crack at building a coalition, or the country will have to hold its fifth election in 2 1/2 years, leaving the politically strengthened prime minister as head of a caretaker government.

Hamas, shunned by the U.S., European Union and other nations as a terrorist organization, has also been bolstered on its home turf. It can now lay claim to standing up to Israel more effectively than the rival Palestinian Authority, the internationally recognized limited self-rule government for Palestinians based in the West Bank and headed by President Mahmoud Abbas. After 16 years in power, Abbas has brought the Palestinians no closer to their goal of statehood, and in May, he called off legislative elections in which polls showed Hamas stood to gain, if not win.

Where does this leave the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

The cease-fire alone doesn’t address the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, making future cycles of violence likely just a matter of time.

Peacemaking between Israel and the Palestinian Authority broke down seven years ago, and Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza say armed resistance is required to win back lands and rights. Israel and Egypt have blockaded Gaza since Hamas wrested control of the strip in 2007, isolating it and further impoverishing more than 2 million people confined to a tiny sliver of land.

While the Biden administration has underlined its support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it has signaled that it doesn’t plan to invest heavily in trying to resolve a conflict that has frustrated all previous presidents who attempted to intervene. The wholehearted embrace of Israel by former President Donald Trump has also left Palestinians more wary of any U.S. attempt at mediation.

How much damage was caused?

The fighting was the most intense of the four major conflicts between the two sides, and the most destructive. Hundreds of buildings in Gaza were flattened or damaged by Israeli air strikes, and major roads were destroyed. Critical infrastructure like the power grid, hospitals and the enclave’s desalination plant also suffered damage during the fighting.

The World Bank said it can only assess the devastation in Gaza once it’s allowed to enter. Donor countries pledged more than $5 billion to help rebuild the enclave after a 7-week war ended in 2014. Egypt already said it would earmark $500 million for reconstruction. Dozens of Israeli buildings were damaged and homes rendered unlivable. Leader Capital Markets economist Jonathan Katz estimated about a week into the conflict that it had cost the Israeli economy up to 0.35% of gross domestic product.

Where does the conflict leave Arab Israelis?

The fighting with Gaza spilled over into some of the most violent clashes in decades between Israeli Jews and Arab Israelis, who are subject to discrimination and mistrust that’s in effect rendered them second-class citizens living in a self-described Jewish state. Mob violence between Arabs and Jews shocked the country and raised existential questions about what sort of society Israel wants to be.

Reinforced security details put a lid on the clashes, for now, but the festering problems remain and pose a long-term challenge to Israel’s government and its society as a whole.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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