A door to peace

Abdel-Moneim Said
Tuesday 25 Jun 2024

Abdel-Moneim Said takes stock of infighting on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides


War is about the march of armed forces, attacks and retreats, killing and pausing to parlay, scoring victories and sustaining defeats. It ends in the surrender of one side to the other or in a stalemate. In ancient times, wars lasted epochs. In the Middle Ages, Europe experienced a Hundred Years War and a Thirty Years War. Last century brought two world wars that laid waste to much of Europe while the second occasioned the first and, so far, last use of the atomic bomb. Ironically, that bomb became the reason why the war that followed was “cold.” Instead of killing and destruction, there was the mutual deterrence of weapons of mass destruction.

This century, there is a rush to end the contemporary wars: the one in Ukraine in Europe and the other in Gaza in the Middle East. The sense of urgency most likely stems from the fact that these wars show great potential for spreading, across Europe in the first case and across the Middle East and its Arab and non-Arab peoples in the second. At the same time there is a sense of resignation, as though the wars will be left to go their own course because they are too hard to bring under control. The Gaza war continues to seethe. The Lebanese front is getting hotter despite Hizbullah’s efforts to create a state of mutual deterrence by publicising images taken by their drones of vital facilities inside Israel. The Red Sea front has entered a new phase, now that US and British fighter jets shifted from a defencive posture to protect commercial ships to an offensive posture, bombarding Hodeida and Houthi territory beyond.  

What is most curious is that, even as the fighting continues, the warring parties, themselves, are mired in infighting. This is very rare, as the rule is to maintain a united front at home in times of confrontation against an external enemy. Yet united and cohesive are the last words you can use to describe the situation in Israel at present. This is not just because of the collapse of the war cabinet following the resignation of Benny Gantz, but also because of the even more complicated tensions among the far-right forces. As the parties led by Smotrich and Ben-Gvir notch up pressure on Netanyahu, the ultra-conservative Shas Party is propelling the government towards a clash between the secularist and the rabbinate state. Divisions over prioritising the freeing of hostages versus destroying Hamas are as heated as ever, and their repercussions are felt in mass demonstrations and within the ranks of the army. The security and defence establishments are also divided over whether it is necessary to continue the war on Gaza and whether it is time to wage a full-scale war on the Lebanese front.

The situation in Israel has its analogue on the Palestinian side. There the gulf between Hamas and Fatah is widening as mutual accusations and recriminations intensify. More generally, since the start of the fifth Gaza war, it is hard to say who will represent the Palestinian side in the post-conflict talks and negotiations. Will it be the PLO in its capacity as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people? Or will it be the ones bearing arms and claiming the right to kill Israelis, or Palestinians when disagreements erupt?

Militarily, the US is dealing with two fronts: the Russian-Ukrainian war in which Ukraine is the West’s proxy, and the war in Gaza in which Israel is also a Western proxy but set on furthering its narrow aims of destruction and expansion, rather than Washington’s higher interests in the Middle East. So, the US has a very busy agenda this summer.

 The Hill, which is dedicated to news and analysis of issues of concern to the US Congress, occasionally ventures beyond its remit to cover matters of concern to the larger general US public. One such instance is its piece on “The 5 big political events to watch this summer.”  Each of the five are characterised by varying degrees of mystery and unpredictability. The first is the presidential debates, pitting the incumbent President Joe Biden against former president Donald Trump. The two finally agreed to the facedown after months of wavering and haggling between their respective campaign teams. The second is the Democratic and Republican party nominating conventions. As the results are a foregone conclusion, these events are unlikely to pack any surprises, apart from, perhaps, Trump’s pick for vice president. The third is the judicial sessions to pronounce the sentences against former president Trump and the incumbent president’s son, Hunter Biden, who were both found guilty of different felony charges. The fourth event is the Congressional primaries, which will complete the picture of the order of battle of the Democratic and Republican parties as they head to Election Day.

The fifth event is introduced with the heading, “An early surprise.” As the newspaper observed, an “unexpected development has historically occurred in presidential races that shakes up the contest before the election.” Certainly, in a race that is as close as this one is expected to be, the surprise will have a greater impact. Surprises are unpredictable by definition, of course.  But could something arise from the midst of this tumult to open the doors to peace? Or will that crucial matter have to wait?

* A version of this article appears in print in the 27 June, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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