The Israel-Gaza war appears to be seesawing between two possibilities

The arc of the war can bend towards peace, rather than a regional conflict, if the stakeholders act now

Israeli soldiers and armoured vehicles are gathered at an undisclosed location near the border with Gaza on Sunday. EPA
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The humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza has drawn global support and solidarity for the Palestinian people. It has also exposed both the West’s double standards and the political decisions made by Israel as well as the extremist factions operating inside the occupied territories, neither of which bear any relation to the national rights of the Palestinians.

With the Israel-Gaza war far from being concluded, however, the plight of ordinary Gazans will persist until local, regional and international agreements are reached.

US President Joe Biden played a political card during his visit to Israel, which is likely to earn him support from many within the Jewish-American community for his 2024 re-election campaign. That said, he did call for all the leaders in the region to join a partnership to initiate a peace plan in which America might play a role, albeit not that of the sole mediator.

Indeed, Mr Biden’s message was that the US is prepared to return to playing a key role in the Middle East, and that it is willing to engage in a new peace process.

The US President’s absolute support for Israel’s actions will not efface the disappointment felt among a large number of Arabs as well as Americans. But what he said during his visit must be assessed politically, regardless of how heavy-handed his support for Israel might appear to the Palestinian people.

“As hard as it is, we cannot give up on peace,” Mr Biden said. “We cannot give up on a two-state solution. Israel and Palestinians equally deserve to live in safety, dignity and peace.”

He added that he discussed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the necessity for his government to respect the laws of war and warned against being blinded by anger.

Israel has, of course, not complied with Mr Biden’s call to protect civilians. Still, his opposition to a ground invasion of Gaza was clear. Israel may be forced to limit its imminent invasion, not only because of Hezbollah’s threats to activate Lebanon’s southern border with Israel but also due to the firm American stance against a large-scale invasion.

The Arab positions, primarily those of Egypt and Jordan, are likely to hinder Israel’s alleged intentions to forcibly relocate Palestinians

Meanwhile, the Arab positions, primarily those of Egypt and Jordan, are likely to hinder any Israeli alleged intentions to forcibly relocate Palestinians from Gaza to Sinai and later from the West Bank to Jordan. These positions have compelled both American and European officials to voice their opposition as well. However, none have opposed Israel’s stated goal of clearing Gaza of Hamas’s influence.

This presents a dilemma to the region’s stakeholders.

Hamas holds the keys to freeing the hostages and prisoners its fighters captured during its October 7 assault, making it an essential player in any negotiations. But Israel’s relationship with Hamas has changed irrevocably following the attack, and it appears there is no room for understanding between the two parties.

From this perspective, it can be argued that Hamas has effectively removed itself from the equation as an alternative to the Palestinian Authority. It is now entirely shunned by Israel, the US, Europe and, to some extent, the Arab world as a participant in the political equations and resolutions.

In other words, the quest for a political solution now involves differentiating between the Palestinian future and the future of Hamas. The Biden administration is essentially conveying to all that Palestine’s future and the establishment of a Palestinian state must proceed without Hamas in its current form.

The current situation, resulting from the ongoing war, has led to changes in Hamas’s leadership ranks due to Israeli military operations and assassinations. So the question remains: what will the leadership matrix within the group look like after the transformation of northern Gaza?

Israel won’t be able to eradicate Hamas. Instead, its strategy will involve highlighting the cost of supporting Hamas to the Palestinian people. Israel is resolved to tell the people of Gaza that they will face the consequences if there continues to be popular support for Hamas.

But speaking to the media, Khaled Meshaal, a Hamas leader in exile, claimed that “there are no voices in Gaza that criticise the resistance”. He even compared Hamas to the Taliban, saying: “The Taliban defeated America, and we will defeat Israel.”

Meshaal also called for an “Arab Islamic stance to exert pressure on the West to halt the war”.

However, there was inconsistency in his messaging. For instance, he said: “We do not advocate for people to engage in war,” while also stressing that “Hezbollah and Iran have provided us with weapons and support, and we seek more”. He described the October 7 attack by Al Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, as a “strategic adventure”.

Hamas wants Hezbollah to embark on a “calculated adventure” in turn, to block a potential Israeli ground invasion that could annihilate Hamas. However, Hezbollah is unlikely to launch a mission for the sake of Hamas – even though it may not want to remain under the shadow of Hamas’s audacious assault.

At the time of writing, Hezbollah is toying with the nerves of the Lebanese, hinting at “pre-emptive” operations to divert some of Israel’s focus away from Gaza, forcing it to engage on its northern front with Lebanon.

For its part, Iran officially remains outside the military equation, asserting that decisions made by Hezbollah or Hamas do not represent its own. This is one of the advantages of its proxy war strategy.

The Iranian regime’s top priority is its nuclear programme, meaning it does not want to suffer a military strike that could set back its ability to develop a bomb, expected to be within six months. Therefore, it is committed to strategic patience, even if this makes it appear like an emperor without clothes.

One hopes, then, that Hamas’s actions on October 7 do not push Hezbollah into a competition for one-upmanship by staging its own attacks, but rather embrace Tehran’s strategy.

For the US to help tackle the humanitarian as well as the political and strategic challenges on the ground, it must assert itself firmly with Israel to make it conscious of all implications rather than allowing it to leverage American support to further its retribution against the Palestinian people. This constitutes both a moral and strategic responsibility for the Biden administration.

It should avoid provoking further global resentment by standing alone in opposition to a humanitarian resolution in the UN Security Council that has the support of its allies. On Saturday, the US circulated the text of a draft resolution that emphasises Israel’s right to defend itself and calls for a two-state solution.

Washington should also urge the relevant stakeholders to re-initiate the cancelled Amman summit – possibly with an expanded list of participants.

The Palestinian leadership, meanwhile, needs to rise to the occasion. It should apply pressure on the Biden administration to push Israel towards negotiations for a two-state solution and the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state.

Published: October 22, 2023, 2:00 PM