The dynamics of the conflict

Mohamed Ibrahim Eldawiry
Tuesday 10 Oct 2023

Mohamed Ibrahim Eldawiry attempts an analysis and gives the background to the current military conflict between Hamas and Israel.

 

No substantive discussion of the ongoing military conflict between the Palestinian group Hamas and Israel can do without looking at the root causes of the developments in a conflict that dates back to 2008.

There have been six wars in Gaza at close intervals since then, but we cannot ignore the distinct and unexpected nature of the operations that erupted this year on 7 October.

With such an unprecedented escalation of the tensions in the region, it is also important to revisit the Egyptian stance, the product of long experience with Israel in times of war and peace. This has long emphasised that the stability to which the region aspires can only be achieved through a fair and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue.

This solution should be based on the internationally endorsed principle of a two-state solution involving the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and living peacefully alongside Israel.

However, despite aligning perfectly with the international stance, this is a solution that has not been sufficiently endorsed. The resulting situation is even more challenging.

It is evident that Israel, particularly under the leadership of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has abandoned the option of peace with the Palestinians and instead has opted for normalisation with some Arab states, believing that this would be sufficient to safeguard regional peace without addressing the Palestinian issue.

His government has also expedited numerous settlement plans in the West Bank and Jerusalem and undertaken arrests, demolitions, the storming of Palestinian camps and towns, the displacement of residents, and repeated incursions into the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, often with the support and participation of officials in the current government.

One cannot forget the violence of the Israeli settlers in the West Bank against Palestinian residents.

It may therefore be necessary to call on Israel to provide a genuine “reckoning” with peace, demonstrating the steps it has taken to support the Peace Process and its vision. In reality, of course, the two-state solution has become an impossibility from the Israeli perspective. The most it is offering the Palestinians is a form of limited self-government with no independence or sovereignty, and all Israeli policies indicate a gradual dismantling of the moderate Palestinian Authority (PA).

In such a profoundly negative and discouraging atmosphere, with the message that the current status quo of continuous Israeli annexations will not change, what can be expected of a people living under occupation with no opportunities for a decent life?

On the other hand, the PA under the leadership of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has pursued every possible moderate route to reinvigorate the Peace Process. It has shown flexibility and accepted all the international resolutions aimed at resolving the issue.

It has never refused at any stage to engage in serious negotiations to achieve the desired objectives, rather than mere formalities that are a waste of time and effort. It should be noted that despite all this the PA has not stopped coordinating with Israel at the security level, except in specific periods and under extremely difficult circumstances.

Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since mid-2007, sidelining the legitimate Palestinian authorities. It still effectively controls all the resources in Gaza.

Hamas signing a reconciliation agreement in Cairo with the other Palestinian factions and organisations in May 2011, but it has not yet responded to Egyptian efforts to end the divisions among the Palestinian factions.

It had been hoped that Hamas would prioritise the higher interests of the Palestinian people over narrow party interests and make the necessary concessions to restore Palestinian unity, lost for over 16 years, given its status as the governing authority in Gaza.

However, it would be unfair to blame only the direct parties and hold them responsible for the current situation in Gaza and Israel. There has been a clear deficiency on the part of the international community in general, and the United States in particular, as there have not been any serious efforts to resolve the Palestinian issue for a long time.

The current US administration, which claims to support the two-state solution, has not taken any meaningful steps towards its implementation. Its actions have been limited to some visits to the region and the issuing of positive statements that have had little impact on the course of events. Washington’s bias in favour of Israel has further fuelled extremism in the region.

Regarding the ongoing military operations, excellent analyses have been made, but there are still several important points to consider. The current operations are the result of many years of conflict that has resulted in numerous casualties on both sides. Israel has effectively imprisoned the population of Gaza and frequently attacks it, which adds to the tensions. Hamas seeks to assert itself as the sole entity capable of countering Israeli policies in the West Bank and Jerusalem, particularly regarding incursions in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and so its actions are largely reactive.

The killing of innocent civilians anywhere in the world is unacceptable, regardless of attempted justifications or the parties responsible. The current operations in Israel and Gaza are not the first, and they will not be the last. We can expect more violence in the future, given the current political deadlock that it seems the world is unable or unwilling to change.

After the situation stabilises, Hamas should give Egyptian reconciliation efforts a chance to alleviate the suffering of the people of Gaza. Both sides need to reassess the results of the current events, considering their pros and cons, especially the human and material losses. They ultimately have no choice beyond coexisting.

Regardless the outcome of the present situation, we must never shut the door to the opportunity to restore stability to the region and offer Palestinians the hope of achieving their basic rights, including an independent state.

Instead of futile and extremist ventures, empty rhetoric, and military operations, we should earnestly explore an alternative path. Let us resume the long-stalled political negotiations and see what results they yield. We can only strive for peace, despite the immense difficulties, and avoid the disastrous consequences of not doing so that fall not on governments but on people.

*The writer is deputy manager of the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies (ECSS).

* A version of this article appears in print in the 12 October, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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