- The conflict cannot be managed or even contained. Nor should it be, as it would entrench inequality and injustice. It has to be resolved. There is no military solution to what, at base, is a political problem.
- To be achievable and sustainable, a resolution has to accommodate the minimum core aspirations of both peoples and allay their maximum fears.
- Far from being a “defeated” people, Palestinians are probably more determined and united than before.
- The occupation has not delivered to Israelis the security they yearn for, and it never will. The prolonged occupation is itself a major source of insecurity.
- The occupation has turned the tables and is now running Israel more than Israel is running the occupation. The provocative actions of militant West Bank settlers in mixed Jewish-Arab population centres in Israel itself are dangerously inflaming tensions and deepening the divisions.
- The latest outbreak of hostilities is a culmination of years of complacency and negligence on the part of the international community, which can no longer evade its responsibility. European powers could usefully reflect on their profound role in generating the conflict in the first place through centuries of virulent anti-Semitism at home and rampant imperialism abroad.
- Alongside other causes, the reckless actions of the previous US president were instrumental in bringing underlying issues to a head. These issues will not allow the new US president to summarily wash his hands of the conflict on the grounds of having other distractions.
- Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu may not have deliberately provoked the recent clashes, but he manipulated and exploited them for political and personal gain in a desperate attempt to cling to power and stay out of jail.
- Hamas, now a key player, may achieve its principal aim of ascendancy over rival groups, having calculatedly provoked devastating military retaliation on Gaza by Israeli warplanes. The pattern could continue ad infinitum.
- The much-trumpeted “Abraham Accords” are a side show and always were. They will probably survive but with less fanfare.
- The Palestine-Israel conflict is now firmly back on the international agenda. That it ever went away was delusional.
- The conflict continues to fuel anti-Jewish feeling in the Arab/Muslim world (and beyond) and anti-Arab/Muslim feeling in the Jewish world (and beyond).
They are parallel phenomena with a common cause and cannot be understood or overcome in isolation from each other. Only a resolution of the conflict will reverse the spiral.
Three glimmers of hope
- The carnage could lead to a bonfire of fallacies on both sides (as long as old fantasies are not replaced by new fantasies).
- New political currents could be stirred (and are perhaps already stirring in Israel, among the Palestinians and internationally).
- The stalemate may kindle a cautious mood of optimism, which could stimulate new creative initiatives, as long as they do not indulge the most grandiose designs of each side. Without psychological hope, there is no hope.
One challenge to international civil society and outside powers
1. How to leverage events to change the trajectory of the conflict and end it?
One suggestion, based on the abiding principle of equality, is to adopt a proposal such as:
“A Palestinian state now or equal rights until there is a solution”.
Potentially, this could be an effective and unifying formula (originally devised by the Palestinian thinker Sam Bahour and myself in a joint article published prior to the last bout of hostilities in 2014: https://mondediplo.com/outsidein/if-kerry-fails-what-then).Its purpose is to link the principle of equality with an ultimate destination through a strategy which would oblige Israel to make a choice by removing altogether the default status quo option (which will always be favoured by a right-wing nationalist Israeli government).
Targeted external pressure to enforce a choice between these two options only, in the form of incentives and/or disincentives, would almost certainly be required. The lack of an effective enforcement mechanism has been a crucial reason why past peace initiatives have come to nothing.
Nothing will come either from repeating past errors or planning a future based on wishful thinking. Illusions still abound, such as the “other side” is on the brink of defeat, Hamas may be overlooked, Fatah may be relied on to help rebuild Gaza where it has no sway, a reconstructed Gaza won’t be pulverized again if the underlying issues are not resolved, or trust and confidence may incrementally be built between an occupied people and an occupying power.
It is as much the responsibility and in the interest of the international community as it is of the main protagonists to prevent this conflict from becoming eternal and further spreading its toxins beyond its geographical boundaries. It is time to seize the initiative and bring it finally to an end.