Gaza's status quo was never going to last

Israel failed to develop a policy for the Palestinian territory that went beyond movement restrictions and security. This vacuum was filled by Hamas

Emergency workers push a stretchered man into Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza city on Monday, after the Israeli army said it carried out more than 500 strikes overnight. EPA
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Amid deep international concern and helplessness in the face of the latest violence in Palestine and Israel, one thing is indisputable: the issue of Palestine and its long-suffering people has been propelled to the top of the global agenda. After years of political neglect, repeated wars and the Israeli establishment’s assumption that the ongoing problems in Gaza had been contained by blockade, many people have received a jolting reminder that the status quo in the overcrowded coastal enclave was never sustainable.

Corralling over two million Palestinians into a sliver of land just 41 kilometres long, while imposing a comprehensive land, air and sea blockade that reduces its people to the status of a prison population was almost certain to produce despair, deprivation and an overwhelming desire to be free of Israel’s blanket restrictions. Since Hamas’s takeover of Gaza in 2007, a whole generation has grown up knowing little except confinement, poverty and war, sowing the seeds of collective anger.

And yet, Gaza is not Hamas. Because Palestinians have not gone to the polls for 17 years, the movement’s support remains untested at the ballot box. Many in the enclave chafe under the rule of the militants and not everyone will endorse the brutal tactics used by Hamas fighters against Israeli civilians in their weekend cross-border attack. Gazans are already paying the price for a Hamas operation that all but guaranteed a brute-force response from the Israeli military that has not hesitated in the past to use its full force against a densely populated civilian area.

Sadly, it is a response they have felt before. The repeated Israeli air strikes of previous wars – including, but not limited to 2008, 2014 and 2021 – caused immense civilian suffering and involved the loss of hundreds of lives. More civilians are suffering in the latest Israeli air strikes that have already led to hundreds of non-combatant deaths, many of them children. Any potential ground operation involving Israeli troops going into Gaza will only add to this death toll.

It needn’t have come to this. After it unilaterally pulled Jewish settlers out of Gaza in 2005, the Israeli state failed to develop a coherent policy for the Palestinian territory that went beyond security architecture and restriction of movement. This vacuum was filled by a Hamas movement that possesses an ideology of unremitting struggle, which brooks no negotiation or compromise.

In the long run, however, only engagement will lead both peoples out of the cycle of violence they find themselves in. Although it appears difficult to talk about dialogue right now, particularly given the additional context of Israeli military occupation and settlement building in the West Bank, contact of different kinds – whether it be high diplomacy or mediated negotiations for prisoner exchange – will be crucial in the weeks and months to come. For this contact to have an impact, those with good intent and who have influence over the main protagonists should be working on de-escalation. It will also require Palestinian and Israeli leaderships who can envision a different future, not one based on dreams of complete domination or all-out victory.

Resigning ourselves to another period of violence, as if it is the natural order of things, won’t work. This latest round of conflict began in Gaza, but the path to peace and a political settlement does not rest with the enclave alone. De-escalation efforts require a serious mutual commitment to finding a path forward from all concerned parties.

Published: October 10, 2023, 3:00 AM