Historical wrongs perceived or otherwise are exceedingly difficult to rectify and manage especially when resolution itself could be construed as partisan
By Amb Anil Trigunayat
This Eid Ul Fitr was probably the bloodiest festival the Palestinians had bargained for. As for the Israelis, especially in the Southern part the security concerns and fear of being hit by barrage of rockets from Gaza are real and rampant. Wars cost a great deal and have lasting psychological impact. But this over a century old deep-seated conflict just does not seem to find a resolution despite some vain attempts. Historical wrongs perceived or otherwise are exceedingly difficult to rectify and manage especially when resolution itself could be construed as partisan. When we hear of the Biden Administration’s efforts to end the ‘Fore ever Wars’ one does not find the requisite intent to even engage let alone be a catalyst for peace in Palestine. They have not yet appointed an Ambassador to Israel, or a Special Envoy, let alone take a call on Trump’s de facto recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Palestinians have been given some respite by resumption of funding for UNRWA or allowing their mission to return to Washington DC. In this vacuum, disinterest and hesitancy on the part of the international community, political hara-kiri for testing the resolve of the other side bravado comes naturally that tends to feed into domestic politics or emanates from it especially when it is so easy to spark it.
This time round a peculiar uncertain political situation in both Palestine and Israel prevails. Even after four elections in two years and umpteen attempts by PM Netanyahu he could not stitch an alliance. Who wants to give up power especially when downside may be rife with legal complications and ignominy? Hence, he remains a caretaker yet an ambitious PM who has an opportunity to assure his people that only a strong leader like him can silence the guns from the other side and protect them. So, he can have another shot or a better showing in the 5th elections.
On the other hand, the divided Palestinians between radical group Hamas in Gaza and President Abbas’s Fatah in Ramallah were trying to patch an alliance and fight elections after a gap of 15 inconvenient years. An ageing Abbas has a weak hand as his Arab support has significantly reduced and his leadership has been challenged by the frictions and factions in the party. But average Palestinian was happy that perhaps a united government might eventually emerge. But that does not seem to fit well either for current Palestinian leadership or for that matter the Israeli establishment for whom a united Palestinian opposition will be more difficult to negotiate. Hence due to Israeli reluctance to permit voting in occupied territories and current Palestinian dispensation’s fear of losing the Palestinian legislative elections were postponed just a few days ago before the violence broke out. In this political fracas the Palestinian Arab politicians in Israel and their List Ra’am acquires a greater salience as some sort of King maker as Lapid Yair and Bennet try to put up an alliance government in Tel Aviv.
Week old violence and conflict began with the eviction of some Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah pursuant to a court ruling. Evictions and settlements by Israelis are a common feature. Violence and protests broke out expanding to the Holy City and West Bank injuring hundreds of Palestinians praying at Al Aqsa -the third holiest mosque as well as several Israeli policemen who tried to take on thousands of worshippers. Seeing an opportunity, Hamas military leadership warned the Israelis to vacate the Mosque by 6pm last Monday otherwise they would launch attacks on Israel and in fact sent a volley of 200 rockets. PM Netanyahu, as a strong state with a formidable firepower in the region, responded with more than 130 missile attacks reportedly killing and injuring several Hamas Commanders among scores of others. Key buildings housing offices of Hamas wings were decimated by heavy bombardment. A ground offensive is being prepared and perhaps Tel Aviv wants this to be the decisive push back for various reasons and has even thanked Hamas for providing an opportunity to enthuse a united response from the Jewish state. As of last count 120 Palestinians civilians including 31 children have been killed by Israeli strikes while 7 Israelis and an Indian woman have been killed with scores of people injured on both sides. More casualties are sure to come.
A new dimension this time is the internal discord that has been accentuated inside Israel itself as more riots are being seen between Palestinian Israelis, Jews and the police in Lod, Ramal and other mixed Jewish and Arab cities. They constitute about 20% of the Israeli population and have become involved in the fight for the cause of Palestine as the Green line has been obliterated. Over 400 people were injured during protests in the West Bank. In the rioting and riot prone areas, Netanyahu has decided to deploy armed units to assist the police to control the cities ruptured by violence and anarchy. Netanyahu has warned Hamas of “crossing the red line’ and will have to pay a heavy price for their misadventure. He has promised a lesson to Hamas which they will never forget. Hamas on the other hand is trying to create a sense of fear among Israeli citizens. While thousands of rockets and missiles have been fired from both sides the fear of a full-fledged war once again cannot be discounted especially as the international community is still indulging in condemnation, war of words and lip sympathies.
UNSC, despite 14 to 1 support, has not been able to discuss the ongoing conflict in public due to US objections and unable to issue an agreed statement, the only appeal has been to exercise restraint. It might meet again on Sunday. President Biden spoke to PM Netanyahu and while asking them to calm down has supported Israel’s right to defend itself. Rightly so. But excessive use of force will have its own long-term repercussions that will dampen any chances of peace and stability in the region. As Gaza is turning into a land of death, the Arab world has condemned the violence in Jerusalem. The heightened conflict has once again put the Arabs in a difficult situation by forcing them to cast their lot yet again with Palestinians despite the bonhomie generated through Abraham Accords. Several countries including Jordan are witnessing large scale angry protests against Israel even threatening to cross over the Allenby Bridge. Qatar and Egypt and Russia have been trying to mediate with little or no results. Hamas’ proposal for a ceasefire reportedly carried by Russians was turned down by Tel Aviv. Turkey wanted to give a determined and clear message to Tel Aviv. The US has dispatched a senior official to the region to try and calm things down and achieve a ceasefire.
India, presently in the UNSC, has been seriously concerned at the growing violence and clashes in Haram Al Sharif, Temple Mount and evictions from Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhoods asking both sides to avoid changing the status quo. Ambassador Tirumurti also mourned the death of an Indian national in Israel and while condemning violence especially rocket attacks from Gaza, called for immediate de-escalation. Once again polemics are on display while the resolve of Hamas and Israel see no sign of petering out. Yesterday one of the Cabinet Ministers was quoted as saying ‘The campaign is still far from over. Whatever we do not do now, we will have to do in six months or a year from now.’ It clearly denotes the shape of things to come. The worst is not over yet let alone the resolution of decades old conflict as the “Operation Guardian of the Walls” intensifies.
(The author is Former Ambassador of India to Jordan, Libya and Malta. He is President, MIICCIA Chamber of Commerce. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. He can be reached at: email@example.com)