It is time to take stock of what happened - GulfToday

It is time to take stock of what happened

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


A Palestinian woman mourns the death of her son, Rasheed Abu Arra, who was killed by Israeli forces, during his funeral in Aqqaba, near Tubas. Associated Press

Now that flights of Israeli bombs and Hamas rockets have stalled, it is time to take stock of what happened over the 11 days in May which have challenged world leaders and changed public perceptions of the 140-year old Palestinian/Israeli conflict. The latest round may not be decisive in forcing Israel to end the occupation, expropriation and persecution of Palestinians, but it has reminded the powers-that-be that this continues, is a threat to regional peace, and must be addressed.

Unthinking media, politicians, and ordinary folk have wrongly — or falsely — dubbed this round “fighting” or “war.” It was neither as there was no engagement between combatants. It consisted of unequal exchanges of Hamas’ homemade rockets and precision-guided Israeli bombs combined with a sprinkling of artillery shells. The deaths and devastation wrought were, as always, vastly disproportionate. At least 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, were killed in Israeli air strikes, more than 1,900 were wounded, and 91,000 fled or lost homes. Twenty-five Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank.

Twelve died in Israel, among them one child, two Palestinian citizens of Israel, one soldier, one Indian and two Thais, 357 were wounded, and 2,061 homes and 1,367 cars were damaged by Hamas rockets, most in southern Israel.

This is the usual unequal toll when violence erupts between Gaza and Israel but the global public is more than ever convinced that Israelis, the regional military hegemons, are not under existential threat. Palestinians are. World leaders have not caught up with their publics.

US President Joe Biden could have and should have reined in Israel early on. Instead, he bleated, repeatedly, that Israel has a “right to defend itself” and blocked UN Security Council statements calling for an end to the deadly and destructive exchanges of fire. This gave Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu the opportunity to carry on with his blitz on Gaza while Hamas’ rockets were destroyed safely by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system or fell haphazardly in Israel. Lives, homes, infrastructure, hospitals, schools, and businesses could have been spared in Israeli besieged and blockaded in Gaza.

Now that a ceasefire has been brokered by Egypt, Biden’s spin doctors are trying to convince the public that he handled the situation in the best way possible. Instead of a “ceasefire” the all-too-cautious Biden initially spoke of “de-escalation” and only mentioned “ceasefire” when proposing “de-escalation as the path to a ceasefire.” According to The Washington Post, Biden procrastinated until May 15th when Israel brought down a tower block housing the US media outlet, the Associated Press, and influential Democrat Senator Robert Menendez, normally a strong supporter of Israel, called a halt to the exchanges. His intervention apparently propelled US officials into making 80 calls to Arab and Israeli officials and forced Biden to speak six times to Netanyahu. Israel’s security cabinet met Friday and voted to accept the Egyptian ceasefire initiative. Hamas followed suit.

Biden, Netanyahu and Hamas all claimed victory. Biden because he, belatedly, took action; Netanyahu because he devastated Gaza; and Hamas because the movement showed itself to be the defender of Palestinians in Jerusalem by firing rockets into the Jewish suburbs of the city after Israeli police attacked worshippers in al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site for Muslims, at the peak of Ramadan observances.

Biden was not really a victor. He was merely desperate to show he could act responsibly in this first major foreign challenge and that, having tried to avoid engagement in this region, he could be counted upon to become involved. After the storm, he pledged to strengthen Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket system and provide aid for Gazans to rebuild. No doubt he will boost Israel’s defensive capacities. Let’s see if he allocates the funds essential to recoup Gaza’s physical losses.

A desperate Netanyahu, who claims to have defended Israel, can be expected to, once again, form a conflicted right-wing coalition government in Israel in order to keep himself out of prison for corruption and breach of trust. However, he is under fire from potential hard-right politicians and Israelis living in the south who are exposed to Hamas’ rocket fire for failing to wreak more death and destruction in Gaza, send in the Israeli army, and wipe out Hamas.

By making itself the defender of Jerusalem, Hamas has exposed as impotent Fatah, which administers West Bank Palestinian enclaves and has done nothing for occupied East Jerusalem since the 1967 Israeli conquest. However, Gazans, once again, paid a high price for Hamas’ rockets on Israel. Hamas can only sustain its controversial victory if the connection between young East Jerusalemites, West Bankers and Palestinian citizens of Israel, forged in the fire of the May exchanges, can be sustained.

Born after the failure of the 1993 Oslo accords to deliver an end to the Israeli occupation and a state of their own, young Palestinians from all four areas have united during these 11 crucial days. Post-ceasefire clashes in the Haram al-Sharif, the mosque compound in Jerusalem, show that the city’s youths are prepared to continue resisting the Israeli occupation. If West Bankers and Palestinian Israelis follow their example they could force the US and international community to, at long last, deal with the results of the Naqba, the 1948 and 1967 phases of Israel’s conquest of Palestine. For Palestinian youths, a return to the uneasy, unequal, explosive status quo of May 9th is not an option. They are no longer prepared to acquiesce to occupation that denies them human and civil rights and a future in their own country. It is up to Palestinian youths, on their own, to carry on the struggle. They have no fully committed external backers prepared to fight Israel and sacrifice for them. They are fortunate as times are a-changing. Israelis are in the process of losing US and global popular support that has sustained their conquests and occupation for 73 years. Politicians cannot afford to turn away from voters who put them in power.

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