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Is now the time for a just resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict?

Posted By on May 28, 2021 @ 13:00

Another round of fighting between Israel and Hamas has ended in a shaky ceasefire, with both sides claiming victory, as was the case with the two previous ceasefires since 2008. Israel justified its massive bombardment of Gaza on the grounds of self-defence, and Hamas defended its rocketing of Israel in support of the Palestinian cause for freedom and independence from Israeli occupation. Yet, the latest confrontation has spurred a new set of US diplomatic activities in pursuit of resolving the long-running Israeli–Palestinian conflict based on a ‘two-state solution’.

Most conflicts in history have ultimately ended in a ceasefire and some kind of political settlement. The Israeli–Palestinian conflict has defied this order ever since the creation of the state of Israel at the cost of the Palestinian people 73 years ago. The three Arab–Israeli Wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973, many episodes of Palestinian uprising, and several peace attempts, including that resulting in the 1993 Oslo Accords, have not cleared the way for a peaceful settlement of the conflict.

Israel has remained stubbornly determined to maintain its occupation of the Palestinian territories that it captured in the 1967 war. It has also resolutely enforced a blockade of the Gaza Strip by land, sea and air since 2007 when Hamas took over the strip following Israeli and American rejection of it as a ‘terrorist’ group and of its victory in the 2006 Palestinian election. Meanwhile, the Palestinians’ struggle to free themselves from occupation and daily humiliation, and their yearning for an independent state of their own based on the 1967 borders, has not evaporated.

The right-wing and long-serving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has relied heavily on the application of his country’s regional military superiority to suppress the Palestinians and confiscate more and more of their lands for Jewish settlers, many of whom have come from abroad. He has rejected the internationally backed two-state solution whereby a sovereign Palestinian state could exist alongside an independent and secure Israel, and shut down any suggestion for a one-state solution.

Netanyahu has been a master of talking about peace and war at the same time to entice supporters and marginalise critics. In this way, he has boosted his political fortunes and tightened Israel’s hold on the occupied territories, while vowing that there would be no independent Palestinian state under his watch. In the process, he has benefited from the split between the Palestinian Authority, which has been nominally administering the West Bank as a result of the Oslo Accords, and Hamas. Netanyahu has done everything possible to ensure the continuation of this split, although when it comes to opposing Israel’s occupation, the two wings of the Palestinian nationalist movement share a common position.

Former US president Barak Obama sought to cajole Netanyahu to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, but failed. His successor, Donald Trump, went further than any of his predecessors in siding with Netanyahu and Israel at the expense of the Palestinians, dimming the prospects for a negotiated settlement of the conflict.

The latest confrontation couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for Netanyahu’s leadership and that of Hamas, as well as the Palestinian cause. While under the cloud of a trial on charges of bribery and fraud and having failed to win a majority in four elections in the last two years, Netanyahu badly needed a clash to raise his political fortunes and to show that he was the only leader capable of defending Israel.

As devastating as the conflict has been for the more than 2 million inhabitants of Gaza—one of the most densely populated pieces of land on earth—it has also galvanised world public opinion in support of the Palestinian cause. This includes a shift away from Israel among some US Jewish communities. Despite Biden’s traditionally strong backing of Israel and a split within the Democratic party, he now has more room for a diplomatic offensive in pursuit of the two-state solution than his predecessors.

It appears that Netanyahu’s political calculation has backfired. The Biden administration is in a position to engage in a systematic approach to facilitate a viable and just resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. This may require it to deal with not only the Palestinian Authority but also Hamas. It has already honoured Trump’s peace deal with America’s erstwhile terrorist enemy, the Taliban, and removed the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen from America’s terrorism list. Why not do the same with Hamas as part of the Palestinian nationalist movement? If Hamas is not a party to a resolution, it will always be in a position to wreck it.

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