Options for a Gaza solution The Statesman 07 Nov 2023


Options for a Gaza solution The Statesman 07 Nov 2023

Options for a Gaza solution The Statesman 07 Nov 2023

          The Israel-Hamas war is now growing in intensity. The blockade of Gaza with limited aid arriving is enhancing anger amongst the world’s Muslim population leading to violent protests across Europe. Israeli airstrikes are increasing, adding to civilian casualties, resulting in demands for a humanitarian ceasefire. Proposals to end the war in the UNSC are unsuccessful as these are blocked by permanent members with their own agendas and which side they support. Israel incursions into North Gaza are continuing. The Gazans are trapped as no neighbouring country is willing to accept them as refugees.

Israel has announced that the aim of its military offensive is to destroy the military power of Hamas. Benjamin Netanyahu addressing a press conference last week stated, ‘Calls for a ceasefire are calls for Israel to surrender to Hamas. That will not happen.’ He simultaneously vowed to fight ‘until the battle is won’ against Hamas.

The Israeli defence minister, Yoav Gallant, stated before parliament that Israel’s war aims include ‘destroying both the military and government operations of Hamas’ in Gaza. He also added that the final step would be ‘creation of a new security regime in Gaza, removal of Israel’s responsibility for day-to-day life in the Gaza strip and the creation of a new security reality for the citizens of Israel.’

Israel is aware that operations would be slow and time consuming despite them possessing overwhelming superiority in destructive power. Israeli actions in Gaza have already drawn in Houthi rebels in Yemen into the war, though Saudi Arabia and Jordan have denied them use of their airspace to launch missiles into Israel.

Riyadh has also permitted the US to deploy its anti-missile systems on its territory for the defence of Israel, aimed at blocking Houthi missiles. Hezbollah will join the battle at some stage opening a new front for Israel. Arab nations would be happy to see the end of Iran supported terrorist groups in the region.

While military objectives of Israel are clear, the strategic objectives to ensure long term peace remain vague. How will these translate on ground is a question.

Arab states have only criticized Israel’s relentless bombing, aware that eradicating Hamas would work towards a better future for the region. They know that days of confrontation have ended and collaboration is today’s mantra. With US support for Israel, as also deployment of its forces in the country, it is unlikely that the war would draw in other states. While Arab nations have stopped further discussions with Israel on improving ties, apart from Jordan, none has withdrawn its ambassador.  

No regional nation has offered responsibility for future administration of Gaza. It must be noted that the Middle East is dominated by autocracies and dictatorships and none would desire a democracy to ignite regional fires for similar governance. It is also unlikely that the Palestinian Authority would be welcomed in Gaza as an alternative to Hamas.

Expecting Gaza to be governed by an external agency under the UN with an international peacekeeping force, comprising of largely Sunni nations, is unlikely to be an acceptable long-term solution. In case democracy is intended to be imposed in Gaza, its form needs consideration.  

Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan are examples where the US sought to impose its own style of democracy after removing existing leaderships, but failed. These are amongst the most unstable nations in the world. In the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority remains in power, democracy barely exists. Elections have not been held since 2006, with Hamas controlling Gaza and the Palestinian Authority the West Bank. Israel continues to dominate the West Bank where it has constructed settlements driving away local residents.

However, there is hope for the future, in case Israel and the US play ball. This would lie in a two-state solution. This possibility appears bright as Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vehemently opposed it, is unlikely to continue as the PM, once Israel’s military objectives are achieved. His resignation is expected over his government’s failure to correctly read the tea leaves prior to Oct 7th. After this calamity, Israelis as a whole would desire peace with its neighbours while Arab states would seek to improve ties with it. This can only happen if Hamas is rendered ineffective.

Here again there are stumbling blocks. These include funds for reconstruction of Gaza, willingness of Israel to cede territory it has forcibly occupied as also parts of Jerusalem to enable the state of Palestine to exist. Arab states seeking to improve ties with Israel, would be willing to donate funds for reconstruction, enhancing their control over the new state. The increased presence of Israeli settlers in the West Bank is another stumbling block. These figures have multiplied in recent years. How will this be handled remains a mute question.

There are always spoilers. Hamas has to be made effectively redundant for any progress to be meaningful. Its leadership is ensconced abroad and must be made ineffective, for which Arab nations must cooperate. Hezbollah and Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, which will remain a sworn enemy of Israel, possess the power to disrupt any peace deal. They are currently more powerful than the nations in which they exist. Can they be curtailed is questionable.

Another aspect to be considered is who would be responsible for the reconstruction of Gaza. Should it be under the UN or a neutral body. Similar would be monitoring the funding and contracts for reconstruction.  

A major issue remains on who would mediate a solution. The US is no longer considered trustworthy enough, neither are Russia and China. Can the UN step in. The Oslo accords of 1993 are now dead and the process would need to recommence.

It is not that this is impossible. Operations will be ongoing for a few months. During this period there is a need for this thought to be re-generated, pushed through the region and an acceptable negotiator determined. Also essential is determining the limitations of the new state. Israel would desire it to be sans a military. Is it acceptable?

There are difficulties, but none of which are insurmountable. Accepting this view as a possible solution is the first step.