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A war that will never be won

The ceasefire has broken down and the slaughter begun again, but both sides are fighting for a hollow victory in Gaza

Nothing comes easy in the Middle East. The attempt to negotiate an end to the six-week war between Israel and Hamas is a stark illustration of that fact.

The latest round of talks collapsed when Israeli negotiators decided to walk out of the room after more rockets were fired from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Hamas has denied responsibility for the attack.

The walkout has left the fate of the negotiations hanging in the balance. But it's not clear whether it will lead to a resumption of the heavy fighting witnessed prior to a five-day ceasefire that both sides largely observed.

The breakdown was a harsh blow to the week-long effort by Egypt to end the fighting, which has killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians. Sixty-seven Israelis have also been killed. About 30 per cent of civilians in Gaza have been displaced from their homes.

At the heart of the negotiations is Hamas's attempt to end the seven-year blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt. To say the blockade has ravaged Gaza's economy would be an understatement. Israel is holding out for a guarantee that Hamas will disarm.

Though Egypt is hardly an honest broker, having made no secret of its enmity toward Hamas, its proposal makes some sense. Cairo has called for the blockade to be eased rather than lifted altogether, allowing traffic through to Gaza's air and sea ports, which are its economic lifeline. Egypt has stopped short of demanding that Hamas completely disarm.

If approved by both sides, the plan would provide an opportunity for the Western-backed Palestinian faction, Fatah, to gain a meaningful foothold in Gaza, because it would be tasked with overseeing the border crossing and reconstruction efforts.

The intervention of Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, president of the state of Palestine, could also help ease tensions with Israel.

The resumption of hostilities, dismaying as it is, was unsurprising. Six weeks of heavy bombardment in Gaza have already taken a terrible toll in terms of death and suffering. Sadly, both sides still appear eager to claim victory. Israel says it has killed 900 Hamas combatants and destroyed 32 tunnels used by the Palestinian fighters to enter Israel and carry out attacks on its citizens and military.

Hamas, on the other hand, has invited foreign journalists to see for themselves that some tunnels remain intact, thus discrediting Israeli claims.

But the huge loss of life and scale of destruction prompts us to wonder how the Palestinian militant groups can justify their current course of action. It does not serve any long-term political objective of Palestine.

If each side considered the lessons of the fighting so far, it would realise that no one can win this war. But because each is so eager to come across as the victor, it keeps pounding the other in the hope of victory.

Israel has shown disregard for the high number of civilian deaths and injuries and has thus lost the moral high ground in the eyes of the international community. Many countries are now expressing outrage at Israeli actions. Israel's relationship with the US, its main supporter in the international arena, has sunk to a new low. Many Americans now feel that the Jewish state is taking Washington's goodwill for granted and abusing its friendship. More and more Americans are questioning their government's justifications for its continuing support of Israel.

It is becoming harder and harder for Israel and the US to explain away the growing chorus of discontent from the rest of the international community over often indiscriminate bombing that kills more ordinary Gazans - men, women and children - than it does Hamas fighters. This is a legitimate humanitarian concern and should not be dismissed as anti-Semitism by supporters of Israel's strategy in this war.


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