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Column: When Can Israel, or Hamas, Declare Victory and End the Fight?

I’ve written a couple of posts already about why all the international calls for a cease-fire in Gaza haven’t yet borne fruit — it’s mainly because the two sides doing the fighting have irreconcilable goals and are under little domestic pressure to stop — but is there any scenario in which the bloodshed, at least this round of it, could end without an internationally negotiated cease-fire?

The head of the Israel Defense Force’s Southern Command, Sami Turgeman (yes, this is just “one Israeli official”), says that Israeli forces are “days away” from accomplishing their primary military goal of destroying Hamas’ tunnel complexes and have killed “many hundreds” of Hamas operatives. Israeli warplanes have already destroyed “the home of the top Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, the offices of the movement’s Al-Aqsa satellite TV station, a central mosque in Gaza City and government offices.”

Some members of the Israeli security Cabinet may support a long-term reoccupation of Gaza, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu probably isn’t one of them. There’s little public pressure in Israel to end the operation or accept an internationally proposed cease-fire, but it’s conceivable that things might be different if Netanyahu simply declared that Israel’s vaguely defined military goals had been accomplished and unilaterally pulled back Israeli troops.

An Associated Press analysis dismisses this scenario, saying, “Hamas has put Gazans through so much that they certainly feel they must have something to show for their efforts in the form of an easing of the blockade. Rocket fire would continue and the hostilities would swiftly resume.”

Perhaps, but Hamas has killed far more Israelis in combat in Gaza than with rockets in Israel. If Israel pulled its troops out and Hamas continued impotently shooting rockets into the Iron Dome, the crisis in Gaza would fade from international attention pretty quickly, and efforts to lift the blockade along with it. It might be more prudent for Hamas to simply declare its own victory on the basis that it withstood the full might of the IDF and never surrendered.

This scenario, of course, wouldn’t address the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza or prevent violence from flaring up again in the future. And it certainly feels like a long shot at the moment. But compared with the alternative — the U.S., Egypt, Qatar, Turkey, the Palestinian Authority, and whoever else finally getting on the same page to establish a framework under which Israel and Hamas would agree to terms they’ve thus far found utterly unacceptable — it feels at the moment like the more likely way for this to finally end.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international news, social science and related topics. He was previously an editor at Foreign Policy magazine.