In the most complex of situations, one must face up to hard facts and deal with reality as it is, not as one would like it to be: one month ago, this latest tragic chapter of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict began and there are few reasons to be hopeful of a swift end to the bloodshed.
Over 10,000 Palestinians – including thousands of children – have been killed in an Israeli air and ground operation that by its very nature was certain to result in many civilian deaths among Gaza’s 2.4 million inhabitants. The appalling number of Palestinian dead – both in Gaza and the West Bank, where Israeli forces have killed more than 100 people since October 7 – comes after the killing of 1,400 Israeli civilians by Hamas. This is not including the more than 200 people, among them children, abducted by the militants and whose fate in Gaza remains unknown.
The humanitarian situation in Gaza continues to spiral and yesterday the UN said the war had cost 88 UNRWA staff members their lives – the highest number of UN fatalities ever recorded in a single conflict. Much of Gaza’s infrastructure has been ruined by the Israeli bombardment, and an International Labour Organisation assessment released on Monday said more than 60 per cent of jobs in the enclave had been lost to the war.
As the violence rages, the gulf between the world of high diplomacy and the public mood across much of the world couldn’t be greater. Millions of people have repeatedly taken to the streets of capitals across several continents to call for an immediate ceasefire. Despite this, round after round of talks, meetings, resolutions and statements have failed to stop the killing or even deliver more than a trickle of aid for beleaguered Palestinians.
Thanks to modern technology, people from around the world can watch the crisis unfold in real time and react with the click of a button. Thousands of ordinary people, many of them previously uninvolved in politics or activism, have been deeply moved by Gaza’s suffering. In many cases however, their political representatives seem not to have caught the public mood of anger and frustration. Instead, some who should know better seem intent on making the situation worse – yesterday, the UAE and several other nations condemned the astonishing comments made by Israel’s Minister of Heritage, Amihai Eliyahu, who suggested his country could drop a nuclear bomb on Gaza.
Unfortunately, the idea of a peace process is a non-starter right now, and it is unclear who would even participate in one. Hamas’s strategy for helping the Palestinians involved killing and kidnapping hundreds of Israeli non-combatants and drawing the wrath of the Israeli state on the heads of defenceless Gazans. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank remains sidelined and ineffective, often accused of acting as Israel’s partner in the decades-long occupation.
On the Israeli side, the future of the country’s present leadership seems highly uncertain. Members of the public have been protesting outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence, angry at the extreme polices that have led their country into the dead-end of an unwinnable conflict. A poll published last month by the Israeli paper Maariv found that 80 per cent of respondents thought Mr Netanyahu should take public responsibility for the security failures that led to the Hamas attack. Another poll published on Saturday found that 76 per cent of Israelis want him to step down, while 64 per cent believe an election should be held immediately after the war.
Israel’s economy is also feeling the strain, with commerce and tourism down amid a 10 per cent fall in its stock market index. This is nothing to say of the pressures faced by Arab citizens of Israel or the tensions involving ultra-Orthodox Jews who refuse to serve in the country’s army – an increasingly sensitive fault line in Israeli society.
The lack of a serious political process has also resulted in some dangerously fanciful suggestions, such as deporting Palestinians to Egypt or Jordan, or sending in a multinational or Arab-led taskforce to administer a post-Hamas Gaza.
The truth is that there are no good outcomes from this situation – only least-worst scenarios. Most of the world is rightly calling for a ceasefire. This position shouldn’t be a matter for controversy when confronted by a civilian death toll such as that seen in Gaza. Nevertheless, in the absence of a clear medium or long-term plan, a ceasefire is the least that can be agreed upon and implemented. Without it, there is the real prospect of another month of misery and mayhem for Gaza’s people, who are already enduring the unendurable.
The Israel-Gaza war has altered the direction of the Middle East in ways that we can only begin to digest so far. Whatever happens, there is no going back to the situation as it was before October 7.