If the Israel-Hamas fighting feels like a rerun, that's because it is.
This is the third round of Hamas rockets and Israel airstrikes since the Islamic militant group seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. And issues each time seem much the same: How can Hamas be compelled to stop firing rockets? Does Israel really have the will to reconquer a Hamas-ruled Gaza and oust the militants? Can the world tolerate Israel reacting with far deadlier force than the rockets themselves, as evidenced in the hugely lopsided casualty count that each time appears anew?
This round of violence came after peace talks collapsed, Israel tried to scuttle a Palestinian unity government and violence ratcheted up. With the Gazans now suffering more, one might expect internal pressure on Hamas to end the rocket fire, which would likely bring the airstrikes to a stop. But in a region where honor is key, and with the two sides not talking, outside mediation is badly needed for a mutually face-saving cease-fire.
In a strategic stalemate where neither side seems able to accept or defeat the other, here are some key issues at play:
FOR ISRAEL, IT'S ALL ABOUT THE ROCKETS
The Israeli point of view is that Hamas has grown accustomed to firing rockets and no country would tolerate such attacks. Doing nothing is not an option, and pounding Hamas hard enough seems to eventually win some quiet. It views civilian deaths in airstrikes as regrettable but blames Hamas for locating launchers and weapons at civilian sites. Israel's makes efforts to minimize "collateral damage," like warning calls to residents and preceding big attacks on buildings with smaller bombs, a practice dubbed "roof-knocking." Beyond this, Israelis see Hamas as a ruthless mortal enemy that cannot be accommodated and, due to its radical Islamic tenets, can barely be reasoned with.
PALESTINIANS ARE ANGRY AND FRUSTRATED
Palestinians cast a wider net. For them the very situation in Gaza is unacceptable: since the Hamas takeover Israel has blockaded it by land from the north and the east, and by sea from the west, preventing air travel as well. Egypt completes the siege by keeping a tight leash on its border with Gaza to the south. The strip's 1.7 million people are crammed into low-rise shanty towns in a territory no more than 20 miles (35 kilometers) long and just a few miles (kilometers) wide. And even though Israel pulled out all soldiers and settlers in 2005, claiming this ended its occupation, Gazans depend on the Jewish state for electricity, water, communication networks and even the currency.
For many Palestinians, even those who do not support Hamas, non-conventional means like rocket fire against their perceived tormentors are an acceptable response. At least, some reason, the world will take notice. Some 20 years of peace talks failed to yield an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, and with the collapse two months ago of the latest round led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, some fear the occupation of the West Bank may be permanent. Coupled with the dire situation in Gaza, the other part of the would-be Palestinian state, it is a situation that breeds despondency and despair.
RARE CONSENSUS FOR NETANYAHU