Latest Israeli-Hamas Conflagration Proves Untenability of the Status Quo Ante

It can be safe to say that Hamas has done the most to undo the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians.

6 min read

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It's the fourth day since the militant group Hamas launched a brutal attack on Israel, showering at least 3000 rockets, accompanied by the infiltration of gunmen who entered Israel via ground, sea, and air, and indiscriminately brutalised and killed Israelis, both civilians and soldiers, while taking a 100 people hostage into the Gaza Strip.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been caught on the back foot, with a massive intel failure to anticipate that an attack of this scale was being planned. Worse, reports have now emerged that Egyptian Intelligence had repeatedly warned the prime minister about 10 days ago that the Gaza-based terror group was planning “something big”.

The prime minister’s office has refuted this.

What also adds poignancy to these attacks is that just days before, Israel had reopened crossing points with Gaza, allowing thousands of Palestinian workers to get jobs in Israel and the West Bank. Some 18,000 Gazans were authorised to work in Israel, giving them respite from the dire economic situation at home.


The retaliation for the attacks have been swift.

Netanyahu announced war: "Citizens of Israel, we are at war — not in an operation or in rounds, but at war." IDF Chief of Staff Hezri Halevi warned that "long and complicated days of fighting are ahead of us," but added that Israel is prepared for a multi-front war.

Israel has conducted its largest mobilisation - 300,000 reservists have been called up. It has also conducted almost 800 airstrikes on Gaza, while also cutting off its access to electricity, water and fuel. At the time of writing at least 900 Israelis and 687 Palestinians were reported dead with thousands wounded, many of whom will inevitably join the list of the dead.

Israel is also preparing for a ground assault, which would not be immediate as the hostage situation complicates such action. A Hamas’ spokesperson said the group will execute Israeli hostages if Israel’s strikes against the Gaza Strip continue.

India as well as much of the western world have condemned these attacks. Others have called for a ceasefire and a halt to violence from all sides. Iran and Qatar, the main backers of Hamas have refused to condemn these attacks. Both Qatar and Turkey have also offered to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians.

Understanding Hamas and Its Objectives

The West Bank together with the Gaza Strip constitutes Palestinian territories but remains predominantly under Israeli control.

Since it's inception, Hamas has been embroiled in conflict with the PLO-led Palestinian Authority. Based in the Gaza Strip, measuring 364 sq km, Hamas governs a population of 2 million Palestinians. However, it has been unable to establish a base in the West Bank, though it enjoys pockets of support.

It opposed the Oslo Process and began violence against Israel from 1997, beginning with suicide bombings, then graduating to rocket attacks, and now such large-scale multi-pronged attacks. While Hamas's violence has been directed at Israel, much of it has also been about undermining and emasculating the Palestinian Authority.

In 2006, Israel militarily dis-engaged from the Gaza Strip, but Hamas continued its feud with the Palestinian Authority and its violence against Israel.

It can be safe to say that Hamas has done the most to undo the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians, often taking orders from their patrons abroad. Indeed, it has done a disservice to the Palestinian cause, conflating its terrorism with the genuine grievances and legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.

Hamas military head Mohammed Deif, said operation Al Aqsa Flood had been launched because of Israel’s long-running blockade of Gaza, its occupation of Palestinian lands, and its alleged crimes against Muslims, including the desecration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Some analysts assess that Hamas may wish to provoke a complete Israeli takeover of Gaza. Some sources in the Middle East also say that Hamas is pursuing the objective of sitting at the negotiating table with Israel as one of the legitimate stakeholders in the conflict together with, if not in lieu of, the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority.

The Saudi-Israeli normalisation process which was moving ahead, and which now is probably derailed, had the potential to render Hamas irrelevant, as well as steal a march over Iran-Israel's arch-foe and a Saudi rival.


Repercussions of Hamas' Assault Within the Middle East

Germany has already announced the suspension of aid for several Palestinian projects. More than half of the budget of the Palestinians depends on foreign aid.

Next, many of those dead or injured, including many taken hostage to Gaza, are foreigners visiting or residing in Israel. These include Americans, Germans, French, Thai, and Nepali citizens. Gruesome videos circulating of brutalised dead Israelis and other victims of Hamas' assaults are alienating many supporters of the Palestinian cause.

Most of all, the Gulf Coordination Council (GCC) members and regional powerhouses like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), bitterly opposed as they are to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, will certainly work to decimate Hamas once and for all, as the Israelis have vowed to.

In fact, since the time that the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammed Morsi was overthrown in Egypt, President Abdel Fatah El Sisi has imposed further control over the border crossings and dismantled underground tunnels, viewing as he did the Hamas an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Following the attacks the Emirati Foreign Ministry said that the “attacks by Hamas against Israeli towns and villages near the Gaza Strip, including the firing of thousands of rockets at population centers, are a serious and grave escalation..." and the Emirates is “appalled by reports that Israeli civilians have been abducted as hostages from their homes.”

The Saudi foreign ministry called for an "immediate cessation of violence". Most of the Gulf monarchies had been perturbed with the return of the Taliban and political Islam to Kabul. A similar scenario in the Middle East, where the Yemen-based Houthi rebels, also supported by Iran have yet to be chastised, is a nightmare that they will want to avoid at all cost.

In fact, across the globe, there is little patience for Islamist terrorism and Israel will find much support in this conflict.


What About Palestinian Statehood?

It is difficult to predict the contours of the current conflict. That it will escalate is of no doubt. The US is already despatching military aid to Israel.

Will the theater of conflict widen to the north of Israel, with the Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon having infiltrated a few men into Israel?

Probably not, as most Lebanese people, reeling from a grave economic crisis, will be against this involvement. However, this is still not impossible, should Hezbollah decide to ease the situation for Hamas by opening a second front for Israel to fight on.

Tensions between Iran and Qatar on one side, who also had facilitated the return of the Taliban to Kabu, and the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt on the other side, are sure to increase, with the potential to rupture the rapprochement between the sides.

There is, however, the wider issue of Palestinian statehood.

The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Liberation Organization which rules the West Bank had renounced violence decades ago. However, the West Bank has seen a proliferation of Israeli settlements, a constant and major source of friction, and confiscation of Palestinian lands.

Almost three decades have passed since the Oslo Accords, and there has been no move forward towards negotiations, let alone regarding the final borders of a Palestinian State.

Increasingly, a viable Palestinian state, already spatially separated from Gaza, seems unlikely. Yet it is not tenable for Israel to continue the status quo antenna with three million stateless people in the West Bank, along with two million Gazans under a blockade - imposed both by Israel and by Egypt.

On the other hand, extending Israeli citizenship to them would spell the end of Israel's Jewish character. It is an unenviable position for Israel but it will have to make hard choices in order to ensure continuing on its path of being a developed, hi-tech, start-up nation, and the only democracy in the Middle East, fuelled by knowledge and innovation.

The global order is changing. The Middle East Quartet, comprising the US, the EU, Russia, and the United Nations, has been unable to facilitate peace and promote the two-state solution in the region. It is perhaps time for new and regional powers like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and India to reach out to both sides of the divide and try and facilitate sustained and long lasting peace in the region, and by extension, peace beyond it.

(Aditi Bhaduri is a journalist and political analyst. She tweets @aditijan. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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