Mon 04 Mar 2024 2:09 pm - Jerusalem Time

Saving Peace from the Machinations of Extremists

By Sam Menassa

Last week’s “bread massacre” in Gaza was a bloody incarnation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan for the "day after" his war. In essence, the plan is for Israel to maintain freedom of action in the Gaza Strip indefinitely and establish a security zone along the Gazan side of the border.

The plan is a reiteration of Netanyahu’s position that recycles the pillar of his policy. It is the culmination of the evasive mindset in "managing" the conflict that he has had for over ten years, marginalizing the Palestinian Authority. His approach has also facilitated the ascension of Hamas, which shares his hatred of the two-state solution, and strengthened its grip over the Gaza Strip, as well as giving the settlement movement in the West Bank free reign, thereby making the establishment of a Palestinian state impossible. 

Netanyahu’s insistence, throughout the ongoing ceasefire negotiations, on maintaining an Israeli security presence in Gaza in the long term has added fuel to the fire beneath the ashes. He is embroiling his country in war with the resistance led by Hamas, which mirrors the resistance Hezbollah had led before Israel withdrew from the territory it occupied in South Lebanon until 2000. The goal behind all of these actions is to evade a two-state solution and fulfill his hidden objective of perpetuating the war for as long as possible, which could allow him to expand the conflict, perhaps also waging a war on Hezbollah in Lebanon and maybe even taking it further. 

He and his far-right allies have made many sly arguments and presented cunning justifications that go beyond racism and religious extremism, for rejecting a Palestinian state and pursuing settlement expansion. The most prominent of these arguments is that Israel was imperiled by its peaceful withdrawals and has no confidence that the other side genuinely seeks a two-state solution. In 1981, Anwar Sadat was assassinated for having signed a peace treaty with Israel, and the Second Intifada erupted after the collapse of peace talks at Camp David in 2000, in which the Palestinians had been offered 97 percent of the West Bank. Also in 2000, Israel’s withdrawal from South Lebanon was exploited by Hezbollah, which stored thousands of missiles pointed at Israel there. 

In 2005, Israel withdrew from Gaza and handed it over to the Palestinian Authority; two years later, however, Hamas took over, accumulating and storing weapons and expanding its network to fight Israel. Moreover, many radical Palestinians and Arabs are opposed to a two-state solution, most notably Hamas and the Iran-led Axis of Resistance. Others question the shape that the prospective Palestinian state would take, its borders, the degree of sovereignty it would enjoy, and the capabilities it would be permitted to acquire. 

They also have demands tied to the status of Jerusalem, arms, Palestinian refugees’ right of return, and others. Because of these reservations, they reject the idea either on ideological grounds, or because they believe that it is not viable and that it fails to grant the Palestinians the rights they are entitled to. Thus, the Israelis are not alone in opposing the emergence of a Palestinian state within the framework of a two-state solution. 

Some Palestinians and Arabs, who do not put realistic alternatives forward, are also opposed to the idea. Hamas's solution is the destruction of Israel. The solution of the Israeli far-right is the annexation of the West Bank, dismantling the Palestinian Authority, and deporting Palestinians to other countries. For its part, the proposal of a bi-national state would mean that Israel is no longer Jewish and that Jews would become a minority. 

None of these alternatives would resolve the conflict, thereby perpetuating the state of war for years to come. Let us remember and learn from past mistakes. The first proposal for a two-state solution dates back to 1937, when a British committee proposed dividing the British Mandate territories into two states. Ten years later, the UN passed Resolution 181, which laid out a plan for two states for two peoples: it was accepted by the Jews but rejected by the Palestinians and the Arabs. 

In 1993, the Oslo Accords laid the foundations for a process ultimately aimed at establishing a Palestinian state, but it was never implemented. In 2000, the Camp David talks failed because neither side was willing to compromise on the status of Jerusalem or Palestinian refugees’ right of return. In 2002, the Arab League launched the Arab Peace Initiative during a summit in Beirut. In the immediate aftermath, Israel was hit by a series of suicide attacks launched by Palestinians encouraged by the Iranian-Syrian axis. Thereafter, the situation remained unchanged until the violence peaked with the Gaza war in 2023. We cannot place the blame for the failure to resolve the conflict on one side alone. 

Despite Israel's expansionist, racist, and brutal practices against the Palestinians, objectivity demands that we acknowledge the role of Arab (particularly Palestinian) extremists who have rejected or sought to obstruct every viable and reasonable settlement initiative. Setting aside, the rejection of the 1948 partition and the Palestinians’ withdrawal from the Camp David talks in 2000, the primary responsibility rests with Israel, and secondly with the rejectionist Arab-Palestinian front, which includes Syria, Iraq, Libya, Algeria, and for the past two decades, the Axis of Resistance. It is unfair for Israel to blame the oppressed and scattered Palestinian people for the ramifications of this decades-long tragedy. 

If the arguments and justifications of Netanyahu are valid, his opponents argue that the policies he has pursued for over twenty years brought about this state of affairs in the West Bank, Gaza, and southern Lebanon, i.e., since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and Netanyahu's rise to power in 1996. During this time, the strong rise of the far-right has fragmented the West Bank - where the settler population has skyrocketed to over seven hundred thousand people - strengthened Hamas's control in Gaza, and fueled Palestinian division. 

Furthermore, he overlooked the expansion of Iran’s influence in Lebanon through Hezbollah since 1983. His policy culminated in totally ignoring the war in Syria, which has left Iran all but occupying the country after requiring Russian support to ensure its hold on this miserable country. Syria thus became the main reservoir of resistance against Israel, and Iran became the leader of the resistance on Israel's northern borders. All of that brings us back to the October 7 attack, which exposed the role that Iran has been playing over the past few decades in empowering resistance movements in Gaza, southern Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen. 

Meanwhile, the policies of most international actors, including those of the United States, have focused on the containment of proxies reprisals against them, without addressing the roots of the problem. Indeed, no serious comprehensive peace negotiations to end the conflict have been pursued, and Iran has not been punished directly for exploiting proxies across the region. The silver lining of the Aqsa Flood attack and the brutal war in Gaza is that they have revived the two-state solution after it had become seen as a naïve proposal with no hope of seeing the light of day. 

In addition, these developments have pushed the West, particularly the United States, to hold Iran directly responsible for destabilizing the region. If a ceasefire is achieved to allow for further negotiations, and the American administration plays a more bold and stabilizing role before the summer - despite its ally, Israel, being divided, hesitant, or obsessed with war, and the ineffectiveness of its Palestinian partner - the region could be put on the right track, on that leads it toward a durable peace.



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Saving Peace from the Machinations of Extremists