Hamas must not win. What does a Hamas victory look like? Any improvement in the day to day lives of the people of Gaza that arises from concessions made to Hamas to achieve a ceasefire. Denying Hamas a victory is now easier said than done.
According to Michael Gordon of the NYT the U.S. and Egypt are in agreement on the general formula for a ceasefire:
From the start, State Department officials have signaled that the United States is hoping to quickly arrange a cease-fire and avoid being dragged into detailed discussions about the political demands of Hamas, the militant organization that governs Gaza and that Israel has been targeting since the latest hostilities broke out two weeks ago.Hamas’s demands include opening a major border crossing with Egypt and the release of prisoners held by the Israelis. Discussions of them might be unavoidable, officials say, particularly because demands to open the border crossings were addressed in a 2012 cease-fire agreement.
The 2012 commitment to open the border crossing was made during the Mursi presidency. Does anyone believe that the current government, one that has outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, is going to allow unrestricted access to the Sinai from a territory controlled by Hamas?
Nevertheless the U.S. position appears to be synchronized with the Egyptian position:
Sketching out a two-stage process, Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, told Mr. Kerry at the start of their meeting on Tuesday morning that he hoped that Mr. Kerry’s visit would result in a cease-fire “that provides the necessary security for the Palestinian people,” and that “medium- and long-term” issues on Gaza’s future could be addressed after the fighting stopped.
Of course Hamas will have to have some incentive to observe a ceasefire – killing the people of Gaza has now reached the point at which the Americans start to get extremely uncomfortable – however the goal will be to deter any concessions made to Hamas to some point in the future. The benefit of doing so is to first, avoid any appearance of a direct exchange, and second, to provide Israel or Egypt and the U.S., the opportunity to delay or renege on their commitments.
The Israeli approach to militant groups is to first batter them, then to proclaim victory and finally, in a display of magnanimity, to step aside so that they may be provided first aid. This time there’s a hitch in the IDF’s strut.
The problem facing Israel is that since the attack on Shuja’iyeh the tenor of the public discussion over the war has changed. Increasingly world opinion is shocked at the number of civilian causalities while Hamas sympathizers can take pride in the effectiveness of Hamas fighters. Israel’s current war with Hamas is looking less like its experience in Gaza in 2008 and more like the 2006 war with Hezbollah.
We’re now at a point where the cost to Israel of continuing the offensive is increasing: soldiers are dying, the criticism of its war is growing and the economy is at risk of being disrupted by flight cancellations. It is now Israel that has more to lose over the coming days than does Hamas. Ending the war now is the best way to minimize Hamas' gains.