Emotions fuel Gaza war and bury hopes for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

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Emotions fuel Gaza war and bury hopes for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Human beings’ most destructive instincts – survival, anger, fear, despair, and vengeance – dictate Israeli and Palestinian war strategy and policy in the wake of Hamas’ October 7 brutal attack on Israel.

The dominance of emotions produces an environment in which one atrocity justifies another and reinforces Israeli and Palestinian demonization of the other.

It also highlights both sides disregard for the lives of the other.

“Humanity is on holiday. Empathy, the ability to understand other people’s loss and suffering, has become a rare and prized commodity. International law has been missing in action. Yet… international leadership represents perhaps the most shocking absence,” said Chris Doyle, director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding.

Hamas demonstrated with its wanton slaughter of Israelis that it views all Israelis, including innocent women and children, as legitimate targets.

Hamas officials deny the killings.

The closest they come to an admission is their labelling of Israeli settlers as soldiers, implicitly blurring the distinction between Israelis living within Israel’s pre-1967 borders and armed settlers on the West Bank, who increasingly attack Palestinians in a months-long cycle of West Bank violence, endorsed by members of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s cabinet.

Many of the Hamas killings during its October 7 attack occurred in towns and villages along the Israeli border with Gaza often described as settlements, muddling the difference between urban areas in Israel and settlements on the West Bank.

Refusing to answer questions about Hamas’ targeting of civilians, a spokesman for the group, Osama Hamdan, when asked whether residents of settlements were legitimate targets, insisted that “according to international law, the settlers are not civilians.”

Israelis stagger at Hamas comparisons, claiming the moral high ground.

Yet, Israeli President Issac Herzog, reconfirming the fact that Israelis and Palestinians are in many ways mirror images of one another, declared as Israel’s military starved Gaza of food, fuel, water, and medicine and bombed Gaza back to the Stone Age:

“It is an entire nation out there that is responsible. It is not true this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up. They could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup d’état.”

A just released poll of Gazan public opinion by the pro-Israel Washington Institute of Near East Policy suggests otherwise.

Conducted in July prior to this week’s unprecedented violence, 65 per cent of those polled believed “a large military conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza” was likely this year despite a ceasefire that ended the 2021 Gaza war.

A similar percentage, 62 per cent, supported Hamas maintaining the ceasefire.

In addition, half of those polled agreed that “Hamas should stop calling for Israel’s destruction, and instead accept a permanent two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.”

Nevertheless, the poll suggested contradictory attitudes among Gazans towards Hamas.

On the one hand, 57 per cent expressed at least a somewhat positive opinion of Hamas but indicated that groups engaged at the time of the poll in more active resistance against Israel, like Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza and Lion’s Den on the West Bank, enjoyed greater popularity.

It’s not clear whether the war shifted those sentiments towards Hamas.

On the other hand, the poll indicated that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestine Authority had retained some credibility in Gaza despite being marginalized by Israel and lacking legitimacy in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Seventy per cent of those polled favoured the dispatch of Palestine Authority “officials and security officers to Gaza to take over the administration there, with Hamas giving up separate armed units,” an indication that Gazans in majority opposed armed struggle.

The emotions dominating Israeli and Palestinian warfare conjure up Israeli and Palestinians’ association of the violence with historic catastrophes that shape who they are.

For Israelis, Hamas’ random, indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians is a modern-day repetition of the Holocaust, even if most Israelis were born after World War Two.

Hamas’ definition of Israeli civilians as legitimate targets in deeds, if not in words, reinforces Israeli perceptions.

For Palestinians, particularly with Israel ordering Gazans to move from north to south, the Israeli attack raises the spectre of a third displacement following the 1948 and 1967 expulsions and fleeing of Palestinians as Israel conquered their lands.

Israelis have done little to assuage Palestinian fears of a third round of expulsions and forced fleeing.

“There is a way to receive them all (Gazans) on the other side for temporary time on Sinai… Egypt will have to play ball because human life is at stake,” said Danny Ayalon, a former Israeli deputy foreign minister and advisor to Mr. Netanyahu.

Amidst violence that has spun out of control with both sides violating international law, the international community is missing in action.

To be fair, few countries have any leverage to help put an end to the violence.

While the United States is the only country that could pressure Israel to halt its indiscriminate bombing of Gaza, it would need to work with the few states – Qatar, Turkey, and Egypt – that have any influence on Hamas to persuade the group to release the more than 100 Israeli and foreign, mostly civilian, hostages kidnapped during its attack.

The United States has so far publicly declared ironclad support for Israel. It has backed up its statements with arms supplies and the stationing of two aircraft carrier groups in the Eastern Mediterranean to dissuade Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Shiite militia, from opening new fronts in the war.

It’s not clear what the Biden administration may be trying to achieve behind the scenes beyond pushing for a humanitarian corridor, which the United States sees as a monkey wrench to attain a ceasefire, and, if the view of Mr. Ayalon, the former Israeli official, is representative, Israel envisions as a mechanism to expel Palestinians.

Even if Mr. Ayalon’s view does not reflect the Israeli government’s intentions, history shows that steps like wholesale forced relocation of populations take on a life of their own.

No matter what the case may be, the damage has been done. Hamas may have returned the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the top of the international community’s agenda at unconscionable human expense.

But, at the bottom line, it has made a solution to the conflict even more remote whether with two states, an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, or one state in which Israelis and Palestinians have equal rights.

With its bombardments, a potential expulsion of Palestinians, and a looming ground offensive, Israel has put the final nail in the coffin of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the foreseeable future.

That outcome may be the one and only thing Israel and Hamas agree on.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is an Honorary Fellow at Singapore’s Middle East Institute-NUS, an Adjunct Senior Fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, and the author of the syndicated column and podcast, The Turbulent World with James M. Dorsey.