Gaza’s riddles

Abdel-Moneim Said
Tuesday 14 May 2024

Abdel-Moneim Said delves into the more intractable questions surrounding the war in Gaza


The fifth Gaza war has kept the world stunned and aghast since its sudden eruption on 7 October 2023. The surprise attack operation that Hamas launched that day is one reason. The subsequent brutality and violence of Israel’s genocidal war against the Palestinians in Gaza has continued to augment the astonishment. Events along the way have delivered several riddles that have bewildered observers and analysts.

The timing of the onset of the war helped generate antithetical approaches to it. To the Israelis what unfolded that day in the Gaza envelope seemed like the beginning of a history reminiscent of the Holocaust.  They saw the collapse of the state’s deterrent power and moved to restore it. To the Palestinians, the Hamas operation that day was the product of decades of occupation, colonial settlement, life in an open-air prison, and being treated as though they were less than human. But there is nothing mystifying about this. It merely speaks of the contradictions between the two parties: on the one side a state bristling with the world’s most advanced weaponry and backed by the world’s superpower, the US, and Western Europe, for which Israel is the key to dealing with its guilt complex over the “Jewish question,” and, on the other side, the last of the world’s occupied peoples who have a presence on that land dating back thousands of years yet remain denied the right to statehood in their areas they currently reside, namely the West Bank and Gaza.

The first riddle that may help put pieces of this puzzling conflict in place has to do with the Iranian role in the crisis. This is largely rooted in international dimensions related to the dispute between Tehran and the US and other great powers over Iran’s alleged drive to possess nuclear weapons. It is a long story, but its main chapters involve an agreement, signed under Obama, calling for Iranian weapons-grade uranium reductions in exchange for reducing sanctions on Iran; the US’ withdrawal from that agreement under Trump; and the attempts to resume it under Biden.

Bearing this in mind, the orchestration of the current war points to a “maestro” conducting its various theatres. While the main theme is the theatre of operations in Gaza, of course, there are secondary themes and counterpoints playing out elsewhere. In northern Palestine, for example, Hizbullah and Israel have been locked in daily skirmishes since the start of the war. Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces have carried out strikes against US bases in Syria, Iraq, and Jordan. To the south, the Houthis in Yemen entered the fray through their strikes against commercial vessels in the Red Sea. The Iranian role offers an explanation for the start of the war at a time when the region was at the threshold of a new phase of Arab normalisation with Israel that promised to put the Palestinian cause on course to a two-state solution. It also helps explain the duration of the war compared to the previous Gaza wars, as fierce as they were. Certainly, the different fronts seem to have no shortage of artillery, ammunition and missiles of various types and calibres.

The second piece of the puzzle is to be found in US-Israeli relations, which are not that incomprehensible to many. Washington’s actions from the word go reflected what most observers would expect. The Biden administration leapt to Israel’s side immediately after the October 7 attack, sending over two major aircraft carriers, a nuclear submarine, and three thousand marines, all accompanied by a pledge of more than $14 billion in direct aid. This was par for the course given the history of the influence of the Jewish lobby in the US and the American political elite’s well-known adoration for the Jewish state. However, gradually the situation grew complicated as the US expressed its dismay at how the Israeli military campaign was violating international humanitarian law and began to press for conceptions for the “day after” in the framework of a two-state solution leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. We have thus seen a market divergence in rhetoric and stated objectives, even though the US sustained the flow of weapons that were massacring Palestinians and allocated an additional 26 billion in aid to Israel. Washington has also consistently supported the Israeli position in international forums. But between the US’ abstention on a resolution to grant the Palestinians their right to statehood while verbally affirming the right to a state that the Israelis almost unanimously reject, we have another mystery affecting the US-Israeli relationship: the sudden explosion of support for the Palestinians in US universities during a US presidential election year.

The third puzzle revolves around the question as to how Palestinians in Gaza will be governed after the war. After all, the recent war does not erase the history of the Palestinian political authority, in which the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) is regarded as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in international forums. However, nearly two decades of controlling Gaza and preventing representatives from the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) from operating there, Hamas has come to exercise the PA’s decision making role, including on decisions of war and peace, and the conduct of foreign relations with Israel, Turkey, Iran, and Qatar. Moreover, for some time, Hamas has been the only armed force in Gaza and, in this capacity, it leads a handful of like-minded organisations united by the rejection of peaceful solutions, relations with Iran and hatred for the PNA in Ramallah.

The international community is currently urging the PNA and the Arab states to work out a formula for governing Gaza in the event that a durable ceasefire enables the “day after” to become the “present day.”  Unfortunately, the Israeli solution, which is to perpetuate the occupation, is still on the cards.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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