The most recent clashes between the Israelis and Palestinians have ended with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire ending eleven days of fighting with both sides claiming victory. While the immediate causes for the most recent conflagration including the attempts to evict Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem and the clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in the Haram al-Sharif compound which contains the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest shrine of Islam, are well understood, the events leading to the effective unraveling of the Oslo Peace Accords, especially the events of the previous few years, are lesser understood which obscures our view of the larger context in which the latest clash has occurred. It was after the ultimatum issued by Hamas to Israel to withdraw the police from the Haram al-Sharif had passed that rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip. The Oslo Peace Accords had already been under strain because of Israel’s relentless efforts to create new settlements and expand existing ones in the West Bank changing the ‘facts on the ground’ and rendering a two-state solution to the conflict nearly impossible.
The divisions among the Palestinians including the clashes between Fatah and Hamas in 2007 leading to the two parties taking control of the two separate territories of occupied Palestine namely the West Bank and Gaza Strip respectively made it impossible for the Palestinians to put up a united front to deal with Israel and the international community. Gaza Strip had been unilaterally vacated by Israel in 2005 and had been placed under blockade by Israel. Since then, Hamas has periodically engaged in clashes with Israel including firing rockets into Israel. In the last such clash in 2014 which lasted seven weeks, the Israel Defense Forces conducted incursions into Gaza. It was in such debilitating circumstances that the administration of Donald Trump came to power in the US in 2017. One of his decisions was to shift the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem reversing years of US policy on this issue, displaying support to Israel’s claim of undivided Jerusalem being its capital. Even more crucially, in the beginning of last year, he brought out the Trump Peace Plan which advocated Israeli annexation of thirty per cent of the West Bank which was promptly rejected by the Palestinians. It was in clear violation of the Oslo Peace Accords and a sign that the US under Trump had no goals to promote negotiations between the two sides on the basis of the Oslo Accords.
While both sides have claimed victory, the consequences of the recent conflict do not look too bright for Israel. The conflict for the first time has provoked clashes between Palestinians in Israel and Israeli Jews in mixed-cities and towns within Israel on an unprecedented scale. This has rattled Israeli administrators who claimed that a near civil-war like situation prevailed in Israel. Even at the international level, Israel has had setbacks. While the American President Joe Biden reiterated the US’s traditional support for Israel with his statement that ‘Israel had the right to defend itself’, there are increasing voices from within the Democratic Party especially from those of non-white ethnic background criticising America’s unconditional support for Israel and Israel’s attacks on Gaza. Large pro-Palestinian protests were held in many American cities with white American participation besides other groups such as Palestinian-Americans and African Americans, displaying that access to independent information from the internet on the conflict apart from the reporting by major media networks were influencing the opinion of Americans about Israel.
All of this shows that it is increasingly becoming unsustainable for Israel to continue its present policies without some costs. Hamas has recognised that it can successfully claim victory due to the very nature of the conflict which is asymmetric in nature. For Hamas, mere survival is enough to claim victory as it has faced off with the most powerful military in the region. This should have been understood by Israel in the light of conflicts that it has fought in the past few decades. The war with Hezbollah in 2006 was especially disastrous for Israel, proving that its capability in defeating conventional armies was not going to be of much help in fighting non-state actors such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Hamas has increased the number of rockets it has in its arsenal despite the embargo and has extended their ranges to target cities and towns in northern Israel. While they are not accurate, they are enough to terrorise the Israeli population. While the present conflict has resulted in the usual imbalance in the loss of life reflecting the differences in the military capabilities of the two sides with 248 Palestinians killed, including 66 children, and 12 killed on the Israeli side including two children, in terms of consequences, it has politically harmed the interests of Israel than that of its opponents. A renewal of negotiations for the final settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict is the only way out of this impasse.
Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.