The fourth Gaza War ended last Friday when Israel and Hamas, the militant wing of the Palestinian struggle, agreed to end armed hostilities, a destructive war that kept the world on edge for 11 days. Both sides have claimed victory. Indeed, the Palestinians held a fireworks display which actually was more of a sign of relief than any visible triumph. Israel had said its objective was to set Hamas back by years. In other words, to deprive the group of the ability to ever fire homemade rockets into the Israeli civilian population. This is quite apart from the massive infrastructure damage which the Israeli Air Force left behind, which included water, sewage and other damaged Palestinian resources.
There seems to exist an overwhelming sense of pessimism that the truce is just to buy time, may be months or at best a few more years, before the war resumes. Optimists, however, see it differently, given the pessimism on the part of the Palestinians, the downbeat among the Israelis, who seem unsure of what they had achieved in this war, the general wait and see disposition of the Arab world, and above all a new administration in Washington which is not in the pocket of Benjamin Netanyahu or the Likud Party of Israel. Besides, there is some hope that Netanyahu, who seems to be forever prime minister, may be coming to the end of his tenure, a tenure noted for its indifference to peace or compromise with Palestinians.
The casualty rate was one sided. The Palestinians are said to have lost 243 killed to Israel’s 12. That imbalance has become part of Israeli loss as the world has condemned Israeli bombing of non-combatants and killed allegedly about 63 Palestinian children. The result is a near worldwide demonstration in support of Palestine against Israeli occupation, and accusations that ranged from war crimes, to crimes against humanity, to even genocide.
Israel would be hard put pointing at any real benefit. True, scores of high rise skyscrapers of Palestinian residential homes and office complexes were reduced to rubble, including the 11-storey building that housed the AP News Agency and Aljazeera TV network. Those buildings would cost billions and take a decade to replace. Unfortunately for Israel, the world counts all this destruction as part of the reasons Israel must end its occupation of Palestinian lands. Indeed, there seems to be a unanimity that the only beneficiaries of the war were the individual leaders.
Netanyahu seems now in a better position to form a coalition government than he was before the war and the failure of Israel to decapitate Hamas showed the resilience of Hamas and why it has become the foremost Palestinian organisation. It has now virtually eclipsed the Palestinian Authority in public esteem.
When the history is written about the immediate cause of the war, it would be difficult for Israel to escape blame for trying to evict Palestinians from East Jerusalem, which is globally acknowledged as belonging to the Palestinians. As if that was not enough, the Israeli police entry into one of the holiest places of Islam, the AlAqsa Mosque, at the most sensitive period of the Ramadan was truly insensitive; to harass the worshippers in the Mosque was nothing short of provocation of a population that was already seething with grievance about Israeli occupation. All this happened a few days to May 15, the anniversary of the 73rd year of the founding of Israel which to the Palestinians is the “Nakbah” or catastrophe.
The last American administration spared no effort to enrage the Palestinians. First, by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy accordingly, the ladt Donald Trump administration showed no regard for the sentiments of Palestinians. In pursuing the forging of détente between Israel and several Arab states, the so-called Abrahamic Accords, Trump in his hyperbolic “deal of the century” rubbed salt into bad wounds by totally ignoring the Palestinians.
United Stated President Joe Biden represents some hope for a settlement for two reasons. He is not under the spell of Prime Minister Netanyahu as Trump was. Biden is a firm believer in the two-state solution whereby Israel would exist and live side by side with Palestine in peace and harmony. That was what President Barack Obama had wanted to ensure, only to be thwarted in every direction by Netanyahu who at one time actually insulted the then Vice President Biden by declaring the approval of Jewish settlements in Gaza while Biden had arrived to discourage the construction of those settlements. It was considered an egregious insult, and that was when the cold war between Obama and Netanyahu began.
There is no evidence that Biden can ever warm up to Netanyahu, which is a good sign that Biden stands a better chance of initiating and sustaining the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.