/ 18 October 2023

The Israel-Palestine conflict and the struggle for peace

Palestinian Israel Gaza Conflict
The Biden administration must take measures to address the ongoing violence in the region. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The sudden onslaught launched by Hamas on southern Israel has potentially obliterated the Biden administration’s ambitious agenda to reshape the fabric of Middle Eastern geopolitics. What left the world dumbfounded was the fact that Israel, despite its vigilant surveillance and an extensive web of human and signals intelligence, found itself caught off-guard by the assault. 

In the unfolding drama of the recent attack, it is becoming increasingly evident that the narrative of a broader Middle East peace hangs in the balance. 

Unfortunately, Israel’s retaliatory actions have led to further bloodshed and an escalation of violence. The surprise attack, largely driven by Hamas’s intent to disrupt the US-backed Saudi Arabia-Israel normalisation, casts a shadow over the recent “wave of reconciliation” in the Middle East.

 Hamas harbours concerns that if Saudi Arabia establishes normalised relations with Israel, it might pave the way for other Arab nations to follow suit, potentially dealing a significant blow to Palestine’s cause. 

Across Palestine, various factions have also consistently opposed Arab countries normalising ties with Israel, insisting on resolving the Palestine-Israel conflicts as a prerequisite for such diplomatic rapprochement. It serves as a stark reminder that reconciliation might be short-lived as long as the Palestine-Israel conflict remains unresolved. 

Now, in the wake of the significant toll exacted upon Palestine, Israel and the broader Middle East, the necessity for, and urgency of, a resolution to this matter has escalated. It is crucial to acknowledge that the Israeli-Palestinian predicament is a complex tapestry of issues and external interventions have significantly contributed to its prolonged and intensifying nature. 

The partiality and meddling of Western nations, chiefly led by the US, in the Israeli-Palestinian matter have been evident for a considerable time. Historical conflicts in the Middle East have frequently seen behind-the-scenes involvement by the US. 

With the recent escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the swift alignment of the US and certain Western nations with one side not only fails to facilitate a solution but also exacerbates the situation, adding more fuel to an already volatile situation. 

The crucial point lies in choosing the correct course of action from this moment forward, avoiding missteps or regressing. 

As reported by the media, the conflict between Palestine and Israel has already resulted in more than 4 000 fatalities, and thousands of injuries, on both sides. Furthermore, there is a looming concern that the conflict might extend into neighbouring nations. Recent developments, including skirmishes between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, have prompted apprehensions about the possibility of new war in the Middle East. 

Meanwhile the American media, without any concrete evidence, has started talking about the possibility of close collaboration between Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas in orchestrating the 7 October attacks. It is depicting this as an Iranian-backed move to forge a wide-ranging coalition against Israel, which could potentially extend from Gaza to Lebanon and maybe even Syria. 

In the US and Europe, those who steadfastly back Israel might find it challenging to grasp the perspective of those in the Arab and Islamic regions who frame Hamas’s attack within the broader context of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and the Gaza Strip blockade. 

This divide often leads to mutual condemnation without a sincere attempt to comprehend opposing viewpoints. Few anticipated such a significant lapse in Israel’s intelligence capabilities and operational effectiveness. 

Israel’s response, characterised by the extensive bombing campaign in Gaza and the displacement of civilians, has worn away some of the initial sympathy it garnered in the Western world. The global stance has evolved into a divide between those who champion Israel’s plan to eliminate Hamas, irrespective of the price, and those who caution against the consequences — both in terms of politics and military strategy, not to mention the overwhelming human toll. 

Israel has firmly committed to delivering devastating blows in response to Hamas, who reportedly holds numerous Israeli hostages. Within Israel, a growing chorus is advocating for the obliteration of Hamas and the complete dismantling of its capacity to mount terrorist assaults again. 

To restore a perception of deterrence and assert Israel’s military strength, it appears that significant devastation within the Gaza Strip is a likely course of action. Hamas has intricately woven its operations into civilian infrastructure, making this task all the more complex. 

Thus, the foreseeable future portends an extended military operation, characterised by Israel’s formidable armed forces showing minimal restraint in targeting Hamas leaders, fighters and sympathisers, and dismantling their infrastructure and weaponry to the fullest extent. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is doing so to offset the embarrassment of his government’s failure to anticipate such a surprise attack. 

In light of the magnitude and ferocity of the recent Hamas assault, Israelis might harbour even less reluctance concerning Palestinian civilian casualties. However, this stance might incense and dismay others, particularly in the Arab world, potentially impeding Saudi-Israeli normalisation efforts. 

Apparently, three factors seem to have driven Hamas to launch such a ferocious assault. First, it will disrupt the budding peace talks between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Second, it is a signal to Israel that Hamas possesses various means to counter the Israeli occupation. Third, it positions Hamas to take the forefront in the Palestinian cause, potentially eclipsing the primary Fatah movement. 

By assuming the role of the leading representative of the Palestinian people, Hamas intends to steer a renewed armed struggle in their interest. Interestingly, Iran has so far exhibited a cautious approach in the diplomatic sphere, navigating the tightrope skillfully to avoid potential missteps. It has refrained from direct involvement on the battlefield, instead offering counsel to Hezbollah, advocating for a prudent course of action.

For the most radical faction within Israel, advocating for the forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza aligns with their broader policy objectives, which include the expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank and even those residing within Israel’s borders. 

This group perceives Palestinians, even those with Israeli citizenship, as a permanent demographic challenge. From their vantage point, the magnitude of Hamas’s recent assault might unwittingly serve the interests of these extreme Israeli elements more than the aspirations of the Palestinian people, potentially providing the pretext for compelled displacement. 

For the Biden administration to take the lead in diplomacy and politics, it requires the resolve to guide its ally, Israel, toward a fresh approach to the Palestinian situation. 

Meanwhile, the spotlight is firmly on the Palestinians, particularly the Palestinian Authority. President Mahmoud Abbas must reinvent his strategy, moving away from past stances of rejection and boycott in negotiations with Israel. This presents an opportunity for him to convey to not only the youth within his party, Fatah, but also to the youth in Hamas, that the time is ripe for collaborative engagement in a new peace process with Israel, under the auspices of Arab nations and potentially, in the future, with Iran’s endorsement. 

Concurrently, the Biden administration must take measures to address the other facet of this predicament. These actions involve persuading Israel to reconsider its intentions of a ground invasion in Gaza, collaborating with Egypt to secure safe passage for Gazan civilians, exerting pressure on Hamas through Qatar’s influence and fostering dialogue with Arab and European leaders to formulate an alternative peace strategy.

The initial steps in this new approach should include an immediate halt to the crisis and the initiation of fresh negotiations under the auspices of the US and other global powers. 

It serves as a sombre reminder to the world, conveyed through the grim toll of lives and bloodshed that, unless fundamental resolutions are enacted for the Palestinian predicament and genuine efforts are invested in advancing the peace process, violence and turmoil will persist. 

This truth is undeniably apparent, yet it has long been disregarded by Washington and the Western capitals that bear the foremost responsibility and sway in the Palestinian quandary. This undeniable truth necessitates a more substantial and united endeavour from the international community to effect a meaningful peace proposal.