Israel pulls out of Gaza

The conflict in Gaza ended with Israel and Hamas each declaring a unilateral cease-fire and with each claiming victory.

What happened

Israel withdrew its troops from Gaza this week, ending, for the time being, a 23-day war that left at least 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead and reduced thousands of buildings to rubble. The conflict ended with Israel and Hamas each declaring a unilateral cease-fire, rather than agreeing on a mutual one, and with each side claiming victory. “Hamas got the message that we sent so harshly,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, warning that if Hamas resumed rocket attacks on Israeli towns and villages, it would trigger another military response. But Hamas official Mushir al-Masri was defiant. “The Palestinian people and the heroic resistance have won this battle,’’ he said. “Hamas today is stronger than any time before.”

Israel said it had destroyed hundreds of tunnels that Hamas had used to smuggle rockets and other arms across its border with Egypt, as well as numerous buildings used by Hamas. Hamas said Israel also destroyed thousands of homes, offices, and mosques, with nearly $2 billion in damages. Saudi Arabia promised $1 billion to help Gaza rebuild. Although Egypt and the West pledged to prevent Hamas from re-arming, the Islamist government of Gaza vowed to acquire new rockets and other weapons.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

What the editorials said

This short but ferocious war ended with no winner, said the Chicago Tribune. “Israel gained only a marginal improvement in its security at a significant cost.” It degraded, but did not destroy, Hamas’ ability to launch rockets and smuggle weapons through tunnels from Egypt. And Hamas “showed again that it would eagerly sacrifice its people’s lives and security in the name of its terrorist goals.” Even if this cease-fire holds, the region is still back at square one.

One important thing has changed, said The Washington Post. Barack Obama is now the president of the United States, and Israel clearly timed its withdrawal to Obama’s inauguration. While George Bush was content to sit back and let Israel dictate events, Obama made clear that he will be deeply involved in the Middle East from the first days of his administration. Wisely, Obama indicated last week that he does not expect any “Camp David-style” peace agreements anytime soon. Instead, he said, he’ll try “to provide a space where trust can be built,” by encouraging both sides to take small, concrete steps.

What the columnists said

Israel miscalculated when it launched this war, said Ethan Bronner in The New York Times. The country’s strategy was widely summed up by a Hebrew phrase meaning, “the boss has lost it.” The idea was that Israel could convince Hamas that it was crazy and shouldn’t be messed with. But Hamas had a shrewd response to this calculated madness: Instead of fighting back and embracing martyrdom, as it has in the past, its fighters and leaders stayed hidden. So while Israel destroyed buildings and killed civilians, “the actual damage to Hamas appears to have been limited.”

You’re not factoring in the severe political damage Hamas has suffered, said Alan S. Zuckerman in The Providence Journal-Bulletin. Now that their leaders’ bravado has brought down so much destruction, the Palestinian people can ask some hard questions about their situation, such as: “If Gazans lack the basic necessities of life, why did Hamas not smuggle food and medicine rather than missiles through the tunnels?” If Palestinians think hard about their plight, they will oust Hamas, and this cease-fire can grow into a lasting peace.

Peace is further away than ever, said Richard Boudreaux in the Los Angeles Times. The U.S. and Israel have pinned their hopes for a permanent peace accord on the secular Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. But the events of recent weeks have made the P.A.’s Mahmoud Abbas “look ineffective and marginalized, unable to stop the carnage.” If Hamas now benefits further from an infusion of international humanitarian and reconstruction money, Abbas might as well give up.

What next?

On his first full day in office this week, Obama appointed former Sen. George Mitchell as his Middle East envoy. Mitchell devised the 2001 “road map” that guided the Bush administration’s early efforts in the region and helped broker the successful conclusion of Northern Ireland’s civil war. But experts said Mitchell is unlikely to make any significant moves until after Israel’s national elections on Feb. 10.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.