On 28 January Israel launched its heaviest attack yet on Gaza since its official ceasefire, sending in bombers in retaliation for a Hamas attack on an Israeli army patrol. Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert said that the bombing, and an earlier ground incursion, would be followed by a heavier response.
On 18 January Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire, just two days before Barack Obama was inaugurated as US president. Hamas rejected that ceasefire, but later the same day declared a unilateral ceasefire of its own, conditional on Israeli troops withdrawing from the territory within a week (which the Israeli government had already said they would).
The ceasefires came after 22 days of full-scale attack in which some 1300 Palestinians, many of them children and other civilians, were killed (and Hamas rockets, aimed at killing Israeli civilians, killed a very small number of them).
The ceasefires are visibly very shaky, sustained mainly by the fact that the USA and most Arab governments are applying strong pressure to sustain them.
The Israeli government claimed victory, but it must be near-certain that its violence has driven more of the people of Gaza — certainly among the active element — behind Hamas. It is likely to have strengthened Hamas politically in the West Bank too, as people there react against the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority's tepid response to the Israeli attack.
Thus in the long term, and the not-so-long term too, the Israeli attack will have strengthened the Islamic-chauvinist, destroy-Israel element among the Palestinians. It will also have made the peace-with-recognition offered to Israel by the Arab states since 2002 more elusive. (Syria has said that the offer should be withdrawn).
Hamas claimed victory too, meaning that it could still fire rockets into Israel. But so far it can't, in the short term. Gaza is even more shattered and pauperised. One of the motives for the war among Israeli politicians was to strengthen their position for the February general election in Israel, but the latest polls show the most right-wing of the major parties, Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud, ahead there.
Netanyahu criticised the Israeli attack on Gaza for not going far enough - for not pressing on to remove the Hamas administration there. That removal is probably impossible without Israel reimposing direct occupation. In any case, a Netanyahu victory will probably signal further bloodshed.
Both claimed victories are hollow. And the great and unambiguous losers are the people of Gaza.
The only way out is:
• Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories;
• Support for the creation of a fully independent Palestinian state alongside Israel;
• A general regional peace agreement, including recognition of Israel's right to exist;
• Peace and workers' unity across the borders.