The unintended consequences of the Gaza war

Palestinians inspect their house, after it was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike, in the city of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on May 16, 2021. AFP / SAID KHATIB TOPSHOTS

When the dust settles, Gaza will be destroyed and Israel will learn once more that there is no military solution to the conflict despite its formidable high-tech military capability and diplomatic breakthroughs unless Palestinian rights are adequately addressed.

This is not the first time Palestinians pay a heavy price with little in return, but this time Israel is also paying a price. A freeze in the eviction of Palestinians from the Shiekh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem would be considered a victory by Hamas, and the Israeli military can claim it has destroyed Hamas tunnels and missile infrastructure. This is maybe enough for both parties to agree on a cease-fire, but the ramifications of the recent flare-up will be numerous.

Over the last few years Israel achieved major diplomatic breakthroughs, which will certainly be affected and slowed down given the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

We started to witness some cracks in the unwavering support of the United States to Israel with a more balanced approach by the Biden administration and an increase in critical voices among some members of the US Congress and media. It is going to be difficult for the Biden administration to provide blanket support for Israel when it claimed it would put human rights at the forefront of its foreign policy.

US representative at the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield urged “all parties to avoid actions that undermine a peaceful future. This includes avoiding incitement, violent attacks, and terrorist acts, as well as evictions – including in East Jerusalem – demolitions, and settlement construction east of the 1967 lines.” This is a departure from the former Trump administration, which supported Israel’s claims in Jerusalem and reversed a long US policy by recognizing settlements in the West Bank.

By calling on Israel to stop evictions, the US is clearly opposing the Israeli decision to evict Palestinians from the Shiekh Jarrah neighborhood, which ignited the current conflict. If Washington decided to keep this language in dealing with settlements in occupied territories and East Jerusalem (with a capital E) it would be another reversal of decisions made by the former Trump administration concerning Jerusalem and settlements. It would deprive Netanyahu of major American concessions made by Trump and signal an American return to its old policy based on Security Council resolutions and the principle of the Madrid peace conference.

This political price paid by Israel is coupled with a public relations disaster. Israel is using advanced weaponry with a traditional approach in conducting the military operation. This is the first major violent confrontation in the age of social media. If live television introduced the first intifada to Western audience, today’s social media is playing a major role in shaping global opinion, which is not in favor of what the Israeli military is doing, given the rising toll of civilian casualties and the demolishing of towers. The unintended consequences of the current confrontation are numerous:

- In addition to the high toll of the civilian casualties, the Deal of the Century introduced by the former Trump administration is officially dead. The transactional approach of the proposed peace plan devised by real-estate-developer mentality and not diplomats proved to be an unrealistic wasted effort.

- Another consequence is the rise of Hamas as the main protector of Jerusalem and the growing irrelevance of Mahmoud Abbas’ authority.

- What the Israelis didn’t expect is the growing militancy of its Arab population, which showed its support to Palestinians still living under occupation.

The current confrontation may provide some political relief for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under legal pressure, however, he can no longer claim that his policy has made Israel more secure or less isolated. The number of missiles fired, tunnels and improved military capability of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, indicate that Campaign Between Wars (CBW) and the the 14 year-old-siege of Gaza have their limitations.

The limited war will certainly have regional implications:

- Hamas taking the lead in defending Jerusalem and resisting the occupation may revive political Islam, which suffered a series of setbacks following the ill-fated “Arab Spring.”

- In addition, Iran, which funds and arms Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, is sending the Israelis a message that it could harm Israel if its nuclear plants are targeted in a significant way. While Hizbollah is staying on the sidelines during this conflict, the Israeli military is taking note of the pro-Iranian group's increasing military capability. Iran is sending a message saying: If Gaza can threaten Israel and hit deep targets, can you imagine what Hizbollah's huge missile stock can do?

For now Hamas is taking center stage and claiming to be the defender of Al Quds. It won’t be a surprise if we start hearing about the need to negotiate with Hamas. If the the US can negotiate and reach an agreement with the Taliban in Doha, it is a matter of time before Western capitals start entertaining the idea of talks with non-state actors and pressure Israel to negotiate with Hamas. It is important to note that Hamas' political leader Ismail Hanniyyeh resides in Doha, where the US held talks with Taliban. Western pragmatism may push for talks with the relevant parties despite their violent history in order to solve the crisis or even manage the conflict. The readiness to talk with militant groups is there and few Arab capitals such as Doha and Cairo are poised to host. The last three decades proved that for any peace effort to bear fruit it has to pursue a holistic approach. Any normalization progress while ignoring Palestinians' legitimate rights and regional conflicts may derail the peace efforts similar to what happened following the Oslo Accords when Iran and Syria with rejectionist factions helped undermine a final peaceful solution.

Mouafac Harb is a veteran American-Lebanese journalist based in Beirut. He contributes a weekly column in The Daily Star





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