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Middle East

Opinion: Two 'winners' - but many losers

The new cease-fire between Israel and Hamas is mainly down to a dogged commitment to mediation from Egypt and the US. But no one knows how long it will hold, says Deutsche Welle's Rainer Sollich.

It is understandable that since the cease-fire was declared, both sides have been behaving like victors. Israel has destroyed part of Hamas' arsenal and simultaneously proven the efficacy of its rocket defense system.

It is by no means a given, but should the cease-fire hold for the foreseeable future, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can score points with own population as a so-called "strong man." And, unlike in 2008, he is now spared of risking a costly, casualty-heavy ground offensive in Gaza. That is a clear boost for him going into the Israeli elections in January.

But the radical Islamist Hamas has also scored a victory of its own. Despite the many intercepted rockets, it has shown that Israel's urban centers are not completely unassailable. It has also succeeded in putting the Palestinian conflict back at the top of the international agenda, after two years which were dominated by the confusion of the Arab revolutions. And Hamas has also received a huge moral and political boost from the visits and declarations of solidarity from Arab politicians from various countries.

Hamas' approval ratings amongst the Palestinian community are likely to have been boosted too, while the moderate President Mahmoud Abbas was reduced to a helpless spectator. Few now take him seriously politically anymore.

This could prove a disadvantage to Israel - if the moderate Palestinian factions are weakened, Israel could be left with the choice of using more and more force or making deals with hardliners. Israel would then be depriving itself of negotiating space and make itself a hostage to Hamas' political strategy - at a time when the entire Arab region is in turmoil and new security threats could emerge.

That it is possible to make deals with hardliners is demonstrated by the current cease-fire, but such deals require persistent mediation and much outside pressure. Germany and other European nations played their part in this, but the decisive factors were American pressure and the remarkable balancing act performed by the Egyptian leadership.

President Mohammed Morsi comes from the same Muslim Brotherhood that gave rise to Hamas, and the majority of the Egyptian population feels solidarity with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. That is why Morsi chose strong words to criticize Israel and sent his prime minister on a spectacular visit of solidarity to Gaza. But on the other hand, Egypt mediated responsibly between the two sides, much as it did in the days of the Mubarak regime, and made sure that Hamas was on board. For that, Morsi deserves both recognition and respect.

Whether the cease-fire holds now depends on more skilful negotiation. What is clear is that Israel will not accept any more major waves of rocket fire. Equally, Hamas and other militant groups will not accept the continued long-term blockade of Gaza.

Neither side can risk losing face, and the room for compromise is small - but the more than 150 deaths that occurred in the past week oblige them to use that space as best they can. Those casualties also remind us that in this conflict, victory can only ever be apparent. The true losers are and will remain the people on both sides.

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