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Is Protective Edge today's Yom Kippur War?

Operation Protective Edge may well be a political, if not military, victory for Hamas and Abbas

On 26 October 1973, when a cease fire ending the Yom Kippur War was declared, the Israeli forces were stationed some 100 kilometers from Cairo.

On the Syrian front, the Israeli army settled just some 40 kilometers from Damascus. Wikipedia now sums up the 1973 war very simply, "result:  Israeli military victory" but it was not so clear cut.

It is impossible not to draw a direct line between the 1973 war and the peace agreements at Camp David, in which Israel gave up the same territory in Sinai that it had fought so hard to keep under its control only five years before. Israel lost confidence, Egypt gained some, and only then was a settlement possible. 

It is much too early and even presumptuous to compare the summer 2014 war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza with the October 1973 war. While in 1973, Israel was shocked by the very fact that the Arab armies went to war against it, a war against Hamas is almost routine.

Israel did lose 64 soldiers in the last conflict in Gaza - much more than it expected - but in 1973 it lost more than 2,200 soldiers. Regardless, there are some similarities that should be drawn.

In a certain sense, Operation Protective Edge is the first direct war between Israel and Palestinian military forces on Palestinian soil. In 1948, there was no real Palestinian army to speak of. In 1982 the war took place in Lebanon, while the first and second Intifada took the shape of (Palestinian) civilians against (Israeli) soldiers or (Palestinian) terrorists against (Israeli) civilians. The previous Israeli operations in Gaza were also quite one-sided, if observed from a strict military point of view.

This time, however, Hamas and Islamic Jihad confronted Israeli tanks and elite forces again and again. And while they maybe did not win, it's quite clear that they didn't lose. There were several reasons for Israel not to invade the whole of Gaza, but the fierce fighting with the Palestinian combatants was one of them. Netanyahu himself mentioned it while explaining his decision to end the ground operation on Saturday night.

The political outcome of this tough confrontation can be felt already. Less than four months ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu reprimanded Justice Minister Tzipi Livni for daring to ignore the government’s decision to cut all contact with the Palestinian Authority. Irrespective of its decision, Livni met with Palestinian President Abbas (Abu Mazen) in London.

But today, an Israeli delegation set out to Egypt to negotiate with a united Palestinian delegation consisting of Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The Palestinian reconciliation government, regarded by Israel until very recently as a "terrorist" government, is surely going to be a part in any settlement reached in the Cairo talks.

"I hear the music coming from the Israeli government, and especially from Netanyahu himself", says Dr. Yossi Beilin, the ‘father’ of the Oslo agreements, "the banning of Abu Mazen is over."

According to Beilin, there is already a de-facto recognition in the reconciliation government and he is hoping that after the not very successful military operation, Netanyahu may even learn to see the benefits of a unified Palestinian leadership.

However, Beilin, as always, remains very cautious. "It is too early to say if the war in Gaza was a tectonic change, as I hear some people claim.

“The public on both sides is strengthening in its old positions, and we didn't see any change in the opinion polls, especially on the Israeli side." But Beilin, a veteran of so many negotiation rounds between Israelis and Palestinians, still says he detects a shift in Abu Mazen policy. Abbas now seems far less inclined to talk directly with Israel, and is instead looking much more toward the international arena.

According to Beilin, as a leader of the whole Palestinian camp, including Hamas, Abbas must now be more committed to international moves.

What Beilin, as many other in Israel and elsewhere, is asking himself is how much the last operation convinced the Israeli public and its leaders, even just a little bit, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved by force, despite Israel's crushing superiority in military term.

Israel did inflict terrible damage on Gaza. It destroyed more than 30 tunnels, killed hundreds of military activists (the exact number is not clear) and also killed more than a thousand civilians. Yet most Israelis still feel that all this might failed to deter Hamas and Islamic Jihad from continuing their fight.

On the Palestinian side, so it seems, beside the anger and grief, there is a strong feeling of achievement. Hamas dared to confront directly the mighty Israeli army, and it didn't blink.

The big question is how much this feeling of achievement will allow Hamas and the other Palestinian groups to seek out and agree on rational cease fire conditions.

The even bigger question concerns Israel and how far it is prepared to put aside its long time deter and punish policy, and whether it can set itself on a road leading to an agreement based on compromise and understanding the limits of military power.  

If the talks in Cairo do not lead to tangible results - like relieving if not lifting the blockade on Gaza - then the 2014 summer war will be remembered as just another round of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

If, instead, under Egyptian or American pressure, the people of Gaza end up feeling freer and the Palestinian unity government slowly manages to have an impact on the ground, then this war may be looked up in the future as we look now on the 1973 October war. As a political, if not military, victory for Hamas and for Abu Mazen too.    

Meron Rapoport is an Israeli journalist and writer, winner of the Napoli International Prize for Journalism for a inquiry about the stealing of olive trees from their Palestinian owners. He is ex-head of the News Department in Haaertz, and now an independent journalist.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo credit: Israeli soldiers withdraw from Gaza (AFP)