What Next? Thoughts on the Conflict Between Israel and Palestine

What Next? Thoughts on the Conflict Between Israel and Palestine
Photo by Timon Studler on Unsplash

Awful as the past week has been, the horror is far from over. A major Israeli incursion into Gaza is likely. Hamas will respond with even more strikes into Israel and by brutally killing its hostages. Having meticulously planned and prepared their unprecedented attack, it is inconceivable that Hamas has not also prepared an elaborate defence against an Israeli invasion. The ordinary citizens of Gaza, who mostly hate Hamas, will suffer gravely, as will Israelis who will watch their soldiers fight and die in as inhospitable an environment as can be imagined.


But what comes after? Let us say, for the sake of argument, that Israel does manage to, as Netanyahu has promised, “wipe out” Hamas. This is far from certain, but let us say it happens – after a horrific battle which will last weeks and kill tens of thousands of civilians.

Then what?

Who will govern what is left of Gaza? Millions of people, already living in one of the poorest places in the world, will be devastated. Israel has no interest in governing Gaza again. But, having destroyed Gaza, Israel cannot simply leave its people to their fate. A vacuum would only invite a successor to Hamas to take root.

Can the West Bank based Palestinian Authority assume control over Gaza? Right now, the PA can barely govern a few cities in the West Bank. It is ridiculous to assume it could move into Gaza and re-build it. After years of its own mismanagement and corruption, mixed with aggressive Israeli attempts to undermine it so as to facilitate its stealthy take-over of the West Bank, the PA is no solution in the short term.

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There is talk in some quarters of Arab states moving forces into Gaza, with the full cooperation of Israel, to restore order and reconstruct it, before eventually handing it off to some revived version of the PA. This is fanciful. Why would any Arab countries want to involve themselves for years to come in the mess that is Gaza?

In the meantime, the efforts of Israel and the US to go over and around the Palestinian issue by making peace with Saudi Arabia and ignoring Palestine will be in tatters for some time – all the more so if Israel’s pounding of Gaza continues and intensifies.

This terrible episode reminds us once again that the Palestinian question cannot be ignored. There is no way to remake the Middle East without addressing it. Even as it confronts Hamas, Israel will also have to confront this reality. Netanyahu’s coalition of the far right has no answers. Its objective will remain to annex the West Bank and settle it. So long as it is in power and refuses to relinquish this objective, there cannot be peace.

Though it seems a long way off at present, the only way forward is to realise that the much discredited “Two-State Solution” must somehow be revived. This will require each side to confront its own demons who are fighting for unattainable religious/ideological goals.

Israeli governments will have to firmly take on the anti-democratic internal cancer that is the extremist element of the settler movement, which has always been a minority, and return to a concept of Israel as a state living within something close to the 1967 borders.

Whatever emerges as the new PA will have to firmly confront and eject those Palestinian voices who have never reconciled themselves to the permanent acceptance of such an Israel.

If Israeli history is any guide, Netanyahu will not survive in office.

 

The region, and the wider international community will have to stand behind this vision and help those in Israel and Palestine who want to reach such an accommodation to do so, with more than just words.

Even as the carnage unfolds perhaps the stage is being set for this. If Israeli history is any guide, Netanyahu will not survive in office. No Israeli PM who has presided over a massive intelligence or security failure has remained for more than a few months. Can the coalition government which emerged be a precursor to a government of the political centre in Israel? If Hamas is well and truly destroyed is there an opening for a new Palestinian leadership to emerge?

None of this will be easy and success is far from guaranteed. The foes of accommodation, both in Israel and Palestine and more widely (Iran), will fight back. At this present moment, the idea of talking about this seems almost crazy.

But, even as the fighting rages and intensifies, those who really want to end this conflict need to take a deep breath and ask themselves what comes next.

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