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  Opinion   Columnists  04 Nov 2023  Manish Tewari | To foil wider conflict, Israel must stop sacking of Gaza

Manish Tewari | To foil wider conflict, Israel must stop sacking of Gaza

Manish Tewari is a lawyer and a former Union minister. The views expressed are personal. Twitter handle @manishtewari
Published : Nov 4, 2023, 9:58 pm IST
Updated : Nov 5, 2023, 12:05 am IST

Is a disproportionately asymmetric conventional response to an outrage perpetrated by semi-state actors warranted?

Palestinians inspect the damage of a house destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. AP/PTI
 Palestinians inspect the damage of a house destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. AP/PTI

As the adage goes, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter! What is the definition of terrorism? Where does a fight for freedom end and terrorism start? Is it legitimate to resist occupation by violent means? Does a “root causes” argument justify the wanton slaughter of innocent men, women and children and taking scores hostage?

Is a disproportionately asymmetric conventional response to an outrage perpetrated by semi-state actors warranted? Is the Hamas militia comprising terrorists or freedom fighters? Is the doctrine of “collective punishment” being perpetrated by Israel in Gaza justifiable by any interpretation of the jurisprudence of modern warfare? Does it or does it not constitute an egregious use of overwhelming superior technological and military power against hapless civilians and, therefore, qualify as a war crime in terms of Article Eight of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court?

These, and many other ticking definitional time bombs, have been reignited by the unfolding situation between Israel and the Hamas that controls the Gaza Strip.

Why did the Hamas do what it did on October the 7th, 2023? After all, they were fully aware that the Israeli response would be overwhelmingly disproportionate. Who made the cold hard cost-benefit calculation and why that notwithstanding what Israel and its principal ally, the United States, would unleash the benefit would be worth the cost, notwithstanding the horrific price the people of Gaza strip would have to pay?  

The answer to this conundrum is provided by none other than Prince Mohammed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia who, in an interview to Fox News on September 20, 2023, admitted that Saudi Arabia and Israel were exploring a modus vivendi midwifed by the United States that could enable a broader reconciliation in the Middle East. He said, “We got to see where we go. We hope that will reach a place that will ease the life of the Palestinians and get Israel as a player in the Middle East.”

For the Palestinians who really do not repose much trust in their fellow Arabs and their internecine machinations that now stretch back over seven decades, this must have been the proverbial red rag. For if a two-state solution has not seen the light of the day seven decades of down the line, it is not only because of Israel’s intransigence but equally because the diffidence of the Arab neighbours of the proposed Palestinian state. 

If Saudi Arabia, the keeper of the holiest shrines of Islam, was willing to a deal with the Zionists on the back of the now formalised reconciliation efforts in the Greater Middle East, initiated by the Abraham Accords between Israel, on one hand, and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, on the other, and also the parallel process brokered by China between Saudi Arabia and Iran, then effectively the aspiration of a Palestinian homeland would be as good as dead.    

The dispute between Israel and Palestine is a conflict rooted in two differing ideas of nationalism: Zionism and Arab nationalism — the expression of national identity and culture through nationhood.

These dynamics influenced the inaugural Zionist Congress in 1897, designating Palestine as the Jewish national home. Simultaneously, in the Levant, Arab intellectuals inspired by Western technological progress and disillusioned by the crumbling Ottoman Empire, established Al-Fatat (the Young Arab Society) to promote a new Arab nation.

The British disaster at Gallipoli during the First World War intensified British desperation, leading to the Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917, which pledged “the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish People”.

This declaration contradicted the May 16, 1916, Sykes-Picot Agreement, which divided Arab territories between Britain and France, with Palestine falling to Britain. Ironically, this agreement, contradicted the 1915 McMahon-Hussein Correspondence, where the British promised the Arab peninsula, including Palestine, to Sharif Hussein bin Ali of Mecca in exchange for his revolt against the Ottomans. Thus, in the most insidious spectacle of chicanery, the British promised the land of a third country to three different entities.

Post the First World War, the British and French partitioned the Middle East, with the British administering Palestine. The division of institutions for Christians, Muslims and Jews polarised society enabling the British to use their notorious divide-and-rule tactics.

This polarisation ignited Palestinian national identity leading to resistance against British rule that the British suppressed with Jewish militias. At the same time, millions of Jews surviving the horrors of the Holocaust migrated to Israel. Their persecution created a greater support for Zionism and a separate Jewish state. Recognising the hot potato that the Palestine-Zionist conundrum had become, Britain handed the Palestine issue to the United Nations. On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 181(II), advocating a two-state solution for Palestine. This was strongly opposed by Arab states, culminating in the First Arab-Israeli War of 1948.

The Six-Day War of 1967, and the Yom Kippur War of 1973, expanded Israeli territory and deepened Palestinian displacement. The Oslo Accords in the 1990s aimed at a two-state solution but was set back by the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the death of President Yasser Arafat. The Second Intifada, beginning in 2000, brought violence and suffering to both sides. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza; however, the Palestinians elected Hamas, causing a paranoid Israel to construct settlements in the West Bank.

Hyper-nationalism leads to unnecessary conflicts. The current Israeli government represents an extreme form of Zionism, while Hamas embodies a radical perspective of Palestinian nationalism and anti-Semitism.

It, therefore, begs a question: Can there be any equivalence between Hamas depredations and Israel’s retaliation? The answer is an unqualified no. The Israelis are acting out of anger at themselves over their colossal intelligence failure and making the hapless men, women and children the cannon fodder of their wrath. This challenges the basic percepts of humanity and its civilisational ethos.

If the conflict widens, it will engulf the entire Middle East and make the United States’ position in the Islamic world untenable, given that it has military bases/military presence in Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE and security arrangements with a host of other countries in GCC and the wider Middle East. All of whom without exception today stand with the Hamas irrespective of the fact that they may be gnashing at the teeth to have been put in such a situation. The Hamas has succeeded in squarely putting the Palestinian Question front and centre on the Middle Eastern Table.

Where does it go from here? The preponderance of probabilities is still omnipresent. However, first and foremost, the Israeli depredations in Gaza must stop.

Tags: hamas, israel palestine conflict, gaza airstrikes