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Gaza War Changed the Middle East and Alarmed the World

By: Ghassan Michel Rubeiz / Arab America Contributing Writer

On October 7th the political landscape of the Middle East changed significantly:

Israel no longer feels secure in managing its occupation of Palestinian land.

The Palestinian question instantly resurfaced on the diplomatic scene.

Hamas’ leadership will likely change and its future is no longer closely tied to that of Palestine.

The process of implementing and widening the Abraham Accords received a jolting setback, but it is not dead yet.

We may witness a new round of Arab Spring uprisings, particularly in the Arabian Gulf, Egypt, and Jordan, if the assault on Gaza continues.

The image and interests of the US in the region have taken a strong hit.

International intervention in Gaza is likely within weeks, not months.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah is not likely to enter the Gaza war, but if it does, the region would explode.

The framing of analysis and terminology used in discussing this crisis is highly subjective. The most regrettable change is in attitudes of both sides of the conflict; fear and anger are distorting perceptions.

War objectives

Israel currently faces existential fears. Its war in the Gaza Strip presumably aims at eliminating Hamas and freeing hostages. But its unstated, broader goal is to regain political dominance – domestically and regionally.

Given Israel’s fixation on Iran as the “source of all evil” in the region, it is hard to know if Tel-Aviv is scheming to involve the US in a regional war with Iran and Hezbollah. So far, Hezbollah and Iran do not seem eager to participate fully in the fighting. They are not ready to risk the total collapse of Lebanon’s infrastructure and the severe degradation of their combined arsenals.

Israel’s response to Hamas’ attack

The Israel Defense Forces responded to the October 7th massacre without restraint or sound planning. More than ten thousand residents of Gaza, mostly women and children, have been killed by Israeli intense pounding of Gaza communities. Many more have been injured. An entire population of 2.2 million Palestinians is living in an intolerable situation.

Hamas is integrated into Gaza’s communities. Regardless of where Hamas fighters find shelter, Israel is committing war crimes by attacking civilian areas with little or no consideration for the toll on noncombatants. According to UNICEF, since the start of hostilities, an average of 400 children have been killed or injured daily. A child is dying every fifteen minutes either from bombs or lack of medical treatment.

The refusal of Israel to consider a cease-fire, or to respond to the rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis, reflects that many are consumed by vengeance. (Regarding war crime issues, consult Katherine Gallagher, Center for Constitutional Rights- Webinar Nov 2, 2023, Foundation For Middle East Peace.)

Elimination of Hamas

Israel’s land, air and sea control of Gaza is unsustainable and inhuman. In furthering the deprivation and humiliation of Palestinians, Israel is contributing to the rise of Islamic grassroots organizations.  Disproportionate killing of civilians reinforces rather than eliminates Palestinian resistance.  The spread of fighters in Gaza’s overpopulated communities would not be tolerated without some level of support by the people. No one knows what will replace Hamas, should Israel succeed in degrading Hamas’ power. Israel’s leadership is unable to clarify how it plans to fill the political vacuum that would follow a defeat of Hamas. 

The future of Islamic resistance in Palestine depends on how competitive faith-based groups are with secular organizations. Jihadi organizations thrive in areas of poverty and despair.

Israel’s record with Hamas

Israel used Hamas for political reasons to reinforce divisions among Palestinian factions. Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) were able to maintain a level of stability in Gaza and the West Bank, respectively. The iron fist of Hamas and the co-opted rule of the PA have served Israel by keeping some degree of social order and vulnerability in the Occupied Territories. But now – with Gaza destroyed and the West Bank boiling – Israel has to face a new reality: uncertainty and insecurity in the occupied communities.

Abraham Accords

Many in Israel assume that through consecutive military victories they had earned the right to take over all Palestinian land. Israel’s failure to honor the Oslo Accords over the past two decades reveals Israel’s phenomenal appetite for land grabbing. A new peace perspective had to be invented for show and profit.

The creation of the Abraham Accords implied that Palestinians had lost the rights to their land. The Accords’ framework is a paradigm shift from an unlawful zero-sum game to a presumably win-win game of normalization with the wider Arab world, starting with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan. But the Accords ignored Arab public opinion. Leaders of participating Arab states failed to respect the sentiments of the Arab world toward Palestine. Aware of the regional rage toward the Accords, Hamas launched the October 7th attack.

Framing the war on Gaza

We witness false analogies in the Western media. Israel and the US frame the Gaza war to rationalize injustice. October 7th is compared with 9/11; but the two crises are very different, except in the factors of surprise and terror. In the debate, Washington equates Israel’s situation with Ukraine’s; the former is an occupier and the latter is the occupied state. Hamas is framed as another ISIS, but ISIS is a body of international alien groups hated by the local community. In contrast, Hamas won the national Palestinian election in 2005.

There is much debate in the media about Israel’s right to self-defense. In the Western media, the right for “Israel to defend itself” is not matched with the responsibility of respect for international laws of governance and combat. Any form of Palestinian resistance is dubbed as “terrorism” or “violence” while raining bombs on women and children are labeled a “reality of war”.  

No winners

There is no winner in this war. This war is not helping Israel’s ability to search for realistic solutions to its occupation of another nation. Moreover, the way the fighting is conducted is tarnishing the image of both sides. Regrettably, the social distance between Arabs and Jews is widening.  Anti- Semitism incidents rise and acts of Islamophobia surge. The world is polarized on the issue of Palestine and Israel. All voices calling for peace and justice, both Jewish and Arab, should be cherished.

New Israeli leadership

Ideologically polarized, Israel faces an identity crisis. To manage a growing and empowered (occupied) population is asking for permanent trouble.  A change in Israeli leadership has never been more urgent. New leadership must find new ways to resolve the Palestinian question.  The new Israeli regime must also seek ways to separate religious institutions from governance. In the name of God occupation must not be justified.

US interests in the region

US interests in the Arab world will decline as a result of Washington’s empowering Tel Aviv militarily and diplomatically. There is a way for the US to support Israel on policies that serve the long-term interests of all stakeholders. Like previous wars, this one reminds us that the occupation of land designated for a future Palestinian state does not serve Israel’s best interests. After waiting too long Washington is now calling for a humanitarian pause in the fighting. What is needed is an immediate cease-fire. Will Tel Aviv listen?  

In looking for a ray of hope let us remember that political crises can generate breakthroughs. Is the international community ready to seek such a breakthrough for justice-based peace?    

Ghassan Rubeiz is the former Middle East Secretary of the World Council of Churches. Earlier he taught psychology and social work in his country of birth, Lebanon, and later in the United States, where he currently lives. For the past twenty years, he has contributed to political commentary and delivered occasional public talks on subjects related to peace, justice, and interfaith. You can reach him at [email protected]

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