What would bring an end to Gaza conflict?
Fire rises during an explosion following an Israeli strike on the border tunnels between Egypt and Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 20, 2012.
November 20th, 2012
07:06 PM ET

What would bring an end to Gaza conflict?

By Jill Dougherty

A short time after arriving in Jerusalem for a late-night meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke slowly and deliberately in outlining the purpose of her trip.

"The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike," Clinton said about ending the violence in Gaza.

You could almost see Clinton underlining the word "durable." Standing beside her, Netanyahu had a similar emphasis, speaking of the desire for a "long-term solution to this problem."

Too many cease-fires in the region have been shattered and long-time experts on the Middle East cautioned that guns that fall silent often don't stay silent for long.

"I think the most likely scenario is that there is a cease-fire, hopefully brokered by the United States and Egypt, and we all go back to exactly where we were before. In a couple of years we start this process all over again," Middle East analyst Reza Aslan told CNN.

Timeline: Israel-Gaza conflict

Aaron David Miller, Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, cited Israel's ground incursion in 2008 and 2009 which yielded three years of relative quiet.

"It's hard to imagine, unless certain incentives were added to the package, that you could get another outcome that would last that long," he said.

Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev doesn't want history to repeat itself.

"We don't need a quick fix just to have everything explode in our face next week or next month," he said. "When we come out of this crisis, we want to be in a situation where we have a sustained period of peace and quiet. The civilians on both sides of the frontier deserve that," Regev told Wolf Blitzer in an interview on CNN's "Situation Room."

A spokesman for Hamas told Blitzer that Hamas believes past cease-fire agreements with Israel have been violated by the Israeli side. A truce could be agreed to by Hamas if the security of the Palestinian population is explicitly part of any deal.

"The security is supposed to also be for the Palestinians," Osama Hamdan, a Hamas spokesman based in Beirut said in a telephone interview. "What we are working on now is to have a complete deal which can secure the situation also for the Palestinians. This is our responsibility. If that was guaranteed, I think, I believe, also that Hamas will implement this kind of truce, and we will fulfill our commitments according to that."

Israel said it was holding off on a ground offensive into Gaza to give diplomatic efforts time. Gaza is run by Hamas, which the United States and numerous other countries consider a terrorist organization.

On Tuesday, an onslaught of rockets fired into Israel was met by Israeli strikes on Gaza sites. The Gaza Ministry of Health said 137 Palestinians have been killed and more than 1,100 injured so far in a week of violence. According to Israel's Soroka Hospital, five people have been killed in Israel and more than 70 have been injured.

Robin Wright, joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and Woodrow Wilson Center, who has covered every war in the Middle East since 1973, told CNN that "no cease fire endures in the Middle East without something tangible happening diplomatically."

How the conflict reignited

"The problem," Wright said, "always is there is just another round, it lasts only so long."

Wright said Clinton's challenge will be not just to encourage both sides to sustain a cease fire, but to "create the incentive to ensure that they will abide by it – and that means tackling the tough issues."

Wright envisions a three-step process: a ceasefire; a solution for issues that immediately impact Gaza like the Israeli blockade; and then the big issues, like Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

But the split between the radical Hamas leadership and the more moderate leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, makes that much more difficult, experts said.

"At a certain point Israel is going to have to recognize that Hamas, whether it likes it or not, is the actual government in Gaza, and it's going to have to figure out a long-term solution to maintaining a viable ceasefire and that might include easing the blockade against Gaza," Reza Aslan said.

"There are no longer two players in the peace process," said Wright. "There are three: The Israelis, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza."

"Until ten days ago Mahmoud Abbas appeared to have the initiative," she said.

Now, Hamas looks like it has the lead and, she added, "You can't marginalize Hamas anymore."

Palestinian internal divisions, however, are making what Clinton calls a "durable outcome" unlikely – at least for now.

"Can the Palestinians unite in order to be able to get to Phase Three?" asked Wright. "They haven't been able to do it so far."

Analysis: How the Middle East has changed

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