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The horrific breakdown in Israeli Palestinian relations: where do we go from here?

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Tuesday, 31 October 2023


The unfathomably horrific massacre that Hamas perpetrated against innocent Israelis offers an unprecedented opportunity to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace which has eluded both sides for 75 years. It is precisely the colossal breakdown and the impossibility of merely returning to the status quo ante that has created such a historic opportunity for a breakthrough.

The Horrific Breakdown In Israeli-Palestinian Relations: Where Do We Go From Here?

The unprecedented and unfathomable savagery that was inflicted by Hamas on 1,400 innocent Israeli civilians and off-duty soldiers has shaken to the core every human being with a conscience. Beyond that, it has also rattled the prevailing conditions between Israel and the Palestinians, making it impossible to return to the status quo ante. This incomprehensible massacre offers, though under horrifying circumstances, an unprecedented opportunity to bring a gradual end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Those Israeli and Palestinian extremists who have been dismissive of each other's right to exist in an independent state and in peace have now been awakened to the bitterest reality-that both sides are here to stay.

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This unparalleled breakdown resulting from Hamas's savagery has fundamentally changed the dynamic of the conflict and created a new paradigm that could lead to a breakthrough of historic proportions to reach a peace agreement based on a two-state solution. This opportunity can be realized or lost depending on how well thought-out the post-war strategic plans that Israel (and its indispensable ally the US) puts in place are, which is of paramount importance, and without which the sacrifices and losses that innocent Israelis and Palestinians have sustained will be in vain. And once again, it will be only a question of not if but when the next horrific Israeli-Palestinian conflagration will befall.

Introduction

Since the 1967 Six Day War, many efforts have been made to reach a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians through mediation conducted by an impartial mediator, face-to face negotiations, international conferences, offering incentives, back-channel talks, interim agreements (in particular the Oslo Accords), and occasionally by an influential party exerting pressure on both sides, especially the US. As we know, none of the above approaches nor several others to reach a peace agreement have worked. The failures to reach an agreement are fundamentally attributed to the fact that both sides claim exclusive ownership to the entire land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, albeit they blame each other for failing to make the necessary concessions to reach a peace agreement.

While the prospect of a two-state solution was viable following the 1993 Oslo Accords, the outlook for such a solution became progressively dimmer as Israel moved to the right-of-center. Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was bent on sabotaging the Oslo Accords when he served as prime minister between 1996 and 1999, and has been in power for most of the past 15 years, made it clear repeatedly that there will be no Palestinian state under his watch. The idea of a two-state solution was steadily losing traction in Israel, the occupation of the West Bank was normalized, and a de facto apartheid state was created, which became a way of life for most Israelis and Palestinians.

The changing dynamic of the conflict

It is well known in conflict resolution that sometimes it takes a major breakdown that precipitates an extraordinary crisis to change the dynamic of a conflict. The shockingly unexpected and devastating Yom Kippur War in 1973, which subsequently led to a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, offers a potent example. As such, it made it simply impossible to return to the status quo ante. Indeed, neither Israel nor the Palestinians, including Hamas, will be the same following this most heinous and unprecedented massacre and Israel's retaliation that has already exacted (as of this writing) more than 7,000 Palestinian casualties-not to speak of the unimaginable death and destruction that will occur should Israel undertake a full-scale ground invasion of Gaza.

This unfolding horror should have been expected because of what was happening on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza over the past few years, especially in the last 10 months since the formation of the most extremist right-wing messianic coalition government in Israel's history (as I pointed out in my article published on October 3, 2022). Indeed, it did not take a prophet to augur what would happen next. The increasingly violent flareups in the West Bank have been claiming hundreds of Palestinian lives, mostly under the age of 30, each year (so far this year nearly 300 West Bank Palestinians have already been killed, including 102 since October 7 (as of the time of writing). The frequent night raids, evictions, incarcerations, demolition of houses, and gross human rights abuses became the norm.

Despair, depression, and hopelessness swept much of the Palestinian population, akin to the gathering of a ferocious storm that successive Israeli governments led by Netanyahu chose to brush off. Moreover, it is the psychological dimension of the conflict that has now come into full display, exposing decades-old mental and emotional trauma the Palestinians have been experiencing to which the Israelis were oblivious and which was bound to manifest in an unprecedented way.

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The Palestinians' resentment and hatred of Israel were intensifying. Since the new government could not formally annex Palestinians territories, it has resorted to intimidation and harassment of the Palestinians under the watchful eye of the criminal Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir, who gave the settlers free reign to rampage Palestinian communities in order to 'encourage' them to leave. The Netanyahu government's intent to slowly annex much of the West Bank became abundantly clear. None of the above can justify under any circumstances Hamas' heinous attack on Israeli civilians. Hamas must pay for it dearly, and pay they will. But such unthinkable carnage happened because of the perilous "strategy" that successive Israeli governments pursued that enabled Hamas and prevented the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. This also explains why Netanyahu consistently refused to negotiate with any prospective unity government between the PA and Hamas.

The creation of Hamas

Israel created Hamas to counter balance the secular national Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) movement led by Yasser Arafat, which was intended to divide the Palestinians into two camps and prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. The creation of Hamas by Israel, which has been confirmed by many top Israeli military and civilian officials over a number of years, is unquestionable. Former Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Segev, who was the Israeli military governor in Gaza in the early 1980s, told a New York Times reporter that he had helped finance Hamas as a "counterweight" to the secularists and leftists of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Fatah party, led by Yasser Arafat, stating "The Israeli Government gave me a budget and the military government gives to the mosques." And among many others, Avner Cohen, a former Israeli religious affairs official who worked in Gaza for more than two decades, told the Wall Street Journal in 2009 that "Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel's creation."

In a 2015 interview, Bezalel Smotrich, the current finance minister who is also in charge of Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), stated "The Palestinian Authority is a burden, and Hamas is an asset" [emphasis added]. And in an article published in the New York Times on October 18, 2023, entitled "Netanyahu Led Us to Catastrophe. He Must Go.," author Gershom Gorenberg stated that "Bringing Gaza back under the Palestinian Authority was apparently never part of the prime minister's agenda. Hamas was the enemy and, in a bizarre twist, an ally against the threat of diplomacy, a two-state solution and peace."

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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