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Durable peace deal between Israel, Hamas unlikely
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After Hamas ended a six-month- old Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Israel, analysts believe a durable peace agreement between the Palestinian Islamic movement and the Jewish state is unlikely, as it would go against Hamas' ideology and undermine Israel's long-term security objectives.

Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip Fawzi Barhom said in a statement on Thursday that "there is no room to extend the Tahde'a (truce) with Israel, which ends on Friday," blaming Israel for "bearing the full responsibility for its collapse."

"Hamas is a revolutionary organization. They have to show continued pressure, so any ceasefire has to be temporary or they lose any kind of legitimacy in terms of the image they are trying to portray," Professor Gerald Steinberg, Political Studies Department Chair at Bar Ilan University, told Xinhua.

Tsilla Hershco, Research Associate at the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies, told Xinhua that "I don't see Hamas as a political movement or one that seeks a peaceful coexistence with Israel. It is a movement that seeks to disturb any peace efforts with the Palestinian nation."

The Hamas that sought long-term peaceful coexistence alongside Israel would be so removed from its fundamental anti-Israel ideology that it would become indistinguishable from the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and lose its very purpose, she noted.

"Their ideology is not win-win but rather is a game of one side taking everything. It is based on the complete destruction of Israel," said Hershco.

Following Hamas' end to the ceasefire and subsequent rocket attacks on the Jewish state, Israel's two leading candidates to the premiership said they would seek to end Hamas' rule over Gaza if elected.

While Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni who heads the ruling Kadima party said on Sunday she would seek to overthrow Hamas using military, economic and diplomatic means, Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu accused the current government of being too passive and vowed to pursue a more active course of action.

"In the long run the toppling of the Hamas regime is inevitable, " said Netanyahu on Sunday during a tour in Sderot, a town in south Israel where is often under rocket attacks from Gaza.

The Israeli army said Palestinian militants in Hamas-controlled Gaza had fired about 60 rockets and mortar shells since the ceasefire ended on Friday.

Israel's Shin Bet intelligence chief warned that Hamas' bombardments could soon strike Beersheva, the largest city in south Israel, some 40 km away from Gaza, putting pressure on the government to act.

"The minimum would be to reduce their ability to launch attacks. To weaken and undermine them to some degree," said Professor Barry Rubin, Director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

"They will still be there," he added, noting that the complete defeat of Hamas would require occupying Gaza.

Rubin said Israel would probably pursue an offensive while George W. Bush is still U.S. president, giving the Israeli government a month to stage the operation before President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January.

He added that under the Obama administration an Israeli offensive would probably get less support, as the United States is likely to be concentrated on Iraq.

Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, however, cautioned fellow ministers against making brash statements about an operation in Gaza and said he favored a wait-and-see approach.

"A government doesn't hurry to combat, but doesn't avoid it either. Israel will know how to give the appropriate response at the right time in the right way, responsible," Olmert told his cabinet on Sunday.

"Olmert's motives are unclear as he has become Olmert the man of peace. But there are two other people involved in the decision, namely Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Livni," Rubin said, noting they would be making a necessary decision that would arguably also help them in the February parliamentary election.

Analysts said the timing of the end of the ceasefire and gradual escalation in violence against Israel would undermine Hamas' ability to confront Fatah in upcoming Palestinian elections.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' term ends in January and Hamas is likely to be barred from presidential and parliamentary elections to be held in the Fatah-controlled West Bank.

"If they want to compete with the PNA, some would say they probably should avoid an escalation of attacks on Israel," Rubin said.

Some analysts even believe that a confrontation between Hamas and Israel in Gaza could also provide a good strategic opportunity for Fatah to regain control of Gaza.

"If Fatah can hold on and expand its base in the West Bank, it could benefit and reclaim Gaza," Steinberg said, noting that Fatah has made a significant comeback in the West Bank at the expense of Hamas' influence there.

He noted, however, that it would prove an especially complicated mission for Fatah as they would have to maintain both broad Palestinian support and take advantage of an Israeli confrontation with Hamas.

"The Fatah leadership has to have a very sophisticated strategy. It has to show enough opposition, visibly protesting Israeli entrance into Gaza ... yet on the other hand show its ability to work with Israel if after the operation in Gaza it gets handed over to Fatah," he said.

But Ghassan Khatib, Vice President of Birzeit University near Ramallah, told Xinhua that he did not believe Hamas was interested in an all-out war with Israel.

Hamas is neither interested in compromise that would recognize Israel nor war that would harm their control in Gaza, he said, adding that a comprehensive political deal between Israel and Fatah was similarly ambiguous.

"I don't think Israel is interested seriously in a comprehensive political deal with Fatah," he said, noting that Israel and the PNA remained at odds on fundamental Palestinian demands, like the absorption of descendants of Palestinian refugees in Israel.

"Fatah is no longer able to represent the Palestinian people. Fatah cannot deliver. Israel is trying to exploit the weakness of Fatah by getting concessions, which are too hard for Fatah to agree to," Khatib said.

(Xinhua News Agency December 23, 2008)

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