Against a backdrop of astonishment and trepidation, Israel is presenting itself today as a nation that is fundamentally different from that of the past five decades.
Gone is the Israel that proclaimed itself to be an invincible power and that warned of dire consequences for anyone who dared to challenge its might. On the morning of 7 October, Israeli citizens awoke to the shattering of this myth – an illusion shattered by the Palestinian resistance in a manner not seen since the shockwaves of Egypt’s breaching of the Bar Lev Line and crossing of the Suez Canal in the 1973 October War half a century ago.
In the wake of this change, a series of pressing questions emerge. Is the continued punishment of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza the panacea for Israel’s security predicament? Can unwavering support from the US truly guarantee the security of Israeli citizens? Does the perpetuation of Gaza as an open-air prison represent the sole means to contain all forms of resistance while Israel encroaches upon historical Palestinian rights and annexes more land in the West Bank?
Does the disregard for a resolution and the haste in normalising relations with selected Arab states constitute a misguided strategy destined to obliterate the prospects of a Palestinian state?
The “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation orchestrated by the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas has laid bare the fact that none of these questions possesses a clear-cut answer from any of the stakeholders involved. The rationale behind this lies in the fact that the statements issued by these parties, whether in the US or in influential Western powers, have failed to grasp the suffering of the Palestinians, a suffering that has driven them to employ innovative means in waging a comprehensive war against the occupying state despite their limited resources.
On the global stage, it is disconcerting that the major powers have not escalated their response to the deadly clashes within Israel and the recurring and devastating attacks on Gaza to a level befitting the momentousness of events that have shaken the Jewish state to its foundations. The Palestinians have shown themselves to be formidable adversaries and ones that are capable of reshuffling the deck while dealing with right-wing governments that exude arrogance and a society that is simultaneously becoming more extremist and more disheartened.
Consider the events of the past few days. Decision-makers in influential Western capitals have not hesitated to express their support for Israel and to stand against the Ezzeddin Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. Some of them have offered their swift and immediate support without having the courage – something that has also been the case within the international community as a whole and especially in the Western capitals – to pause to ask the real question behind the extraordinary events that we have been seeing over the past few days: why did they happen at this time?
The absence of political conscience in Western decision-making circles means that they have failed to recognise the underlying factors behind the attacks because they have turned a blind eye to the open-air prison in Gaza. They reduce the Palestinian issue to the relationship between Hamas and Iran, a simplification that has led several Western capitals to exercise caution bordering on complicity in bringing an end to the Palestinian cause through their silence and their acquiescence in repressive practices in the West Bank and Gaza. In recent years, these practices have escalated to the confiscation of Occupied Territory in the West Bank that has been annexed by Israel.
Western circles also fail to see the accumulating anger at the sight of attacks on the Islamic holy places in Jerusalem, especially the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which have only further affirmed the importance of these holy sites in the Palestinian struggle and, perhaps in a gesture towards Arab and Islamic public opinion, have allowed it to garner more sympathy.
The Palestinians have come to believe that the free world today shows greater interest in the normalisation between Israel and key Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, largely due to the benefits that this will lead to for Tel Aviv, than it does for their cause. This approach also paves the way for endorsing the actions of the Netanyahu government in Israel and its far-right allies, despite statements expressing concern at its practices. This means that the prospects of a “two-state solution” or even renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have no place in these new paradigms.
The path to an effective solution to the Palestinian issue as a whole, and the situation in Gaza in particular, does not lie in further supporting oppression and intimidation against a people under siege. Rather, it lies in exploring potential approaches to a settlement that can bring an end to the suffering of the only people still living under occupation in the modern era.
The solution does not entail punishing the Palestinians for their association with an armed Islamic movement and Iran. There are numerous ways to address the growing Iranian influence in the Middle East, including through a settlement grounded in justice that restores Palestinian freedom and the Palestinians’ rights to their historical land. A just settlement will diminish the influence of extremists, while the absence of such a settlement will emboldens radicals, transforming their confrontation into the kind of nightmarish scenario that has been seen over recent days.
Criticisms are often made of the lack of unity among the Palestinian factions, but this absence of unity should not be employed as an excuse for further violations of rights. The provision of a genuine opportunity for a solution would work wonders in uniting the Palestinians towards a common goal: establishing a state living in peace with its neighbours.
The world’s major capitals should adopt a long-term perspective regarding the conflict, rather than resorting to an “ostrich policy” that pretends that the sole issue at hand is ensuring the security of Israel alone. This vision has brought Israel to its current state and has led segments of the Palestinians to adopt a mindset that says that “we have nothing left to lose.”
* A version of this article appears in print in the 12 October, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly