Exigencies of electoral politics in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority continue to bleed Palestinians
Would that happen if Bernie Sanders was the President of the United States today! Before we dwell into the aftermath of the 11-day devastating war between the hapless Palestinians and the all-powerful State of Israel; let’s take a look at what the progressive Senator, and two-times Presidential candidate, had to say on the current crisis in the Middle East. On May 12, hours after the skirmishes between Hamas and Israel went into full swing, Sanders tweeted: “Once again, we are seeing how the irresponsible actions of government-allied right-wing extremists in Jerusalem can escalate quickly into devastating war.” And: “Israeli children should not have to spend the night scared in bomb shelters, as many are doing tonight. Palestinian children should not have to grow up under the constant violence and oppression of occupation, as so many do, and have done.”
An unbiased approach! Of course, as a senior-most politician in the United States, he has his stakes as he deals with Zionists, too. Then on May 19, when death and destruction was at its height, Sanders once again had the courage to stand up on the floor of the Senate and proclaim: “The Senate mourns the loss of innocent life caused by Hamas’ rocket attacks… But what about the loss of 227 Palestinian lives, including 64 children and 38 women…Or perhaps some people think that Palestinian lives don’t matter. I would hope not. “And let us be very clear that when we talk about the tragedy that is now taking place in Gaza, what we are talking about is not only the terrible loss of life. As I hope most people know, Gaza before this war was an extremely poor and desperate community. And the latest Israeli bombardment has only made a bad situation, much, much worse.”
This was realism at his best. Unlike President Joseph Biden’s administration that took refuge behind political exigency, in order to pamper and protect Israel, Sanders called a spade a spade! His concluding remarks were thrilling and result-oriented: “…My friends day after day, year after year, decade after decade, non-violent Palestinian activists struggle against the daily violence and harassment of occupation. Violence and harassment subsidized, by the way, with billions of US taxpayer dollars.”
He was referring to the massive aid of around USD 3 billion per annum to Israel from the American coffers. In a polite way, he reminded that as per the Constitution of the United States, “…it is illegal to aid and support a state that indulges in human rights violations.” Sanders’ was just being honest and quite American in essence; and that is how America of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson should have been! Now let’s see what went wrong suddenly and why.
This is not the first war between the unequal foes to take place in the last many decades, since the Palestinian resistance movement turned into a full-fledged armed struggle in the occupied lands. This May 2021 outbreak of hostilities has its genesis in political upheavals in both Israel and the occupied territories’ quasi-controlled by Hamas and Fatah.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who believes in ‘racist nationalism’ felt that he is now at the twilight of his career. He badly needed a jingoistic narrative to stay put in power. Two years of ceaseless electioneering and a host of scams in Israel had weakened Netanyahu’s position. Likewise, the divisive Palestinian Authority under Fatah leadership, and the Hamas holed-up in ghettoized Gaza were unable to deliver.
The Palestinian struggle for statehood was languishing with no clue, no direction, and no way out! Hamas ultimately found an opportunity and went into a proactive gear as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas unilaterally decided to put off the first planned Palestinian elections after more than 15 years. Across the Iron Dome divide, Netanyahu too was perfecting his own nefarious designs. The coals were being stoked for Hamas by provoking it into formal warfare.
The plot thickened as Jewish extremists resorted to excesses against the Palestinians in Jerusalem throughout the holy month of Ramazan. They set up barricades at the Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City, where Palestinians traditionally came for evening prayers and to break the fast. This led to clashes in East Jerusalem. This was followed by evicting Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah to make room for Jewish settlers.
The last straw came as Israeli police threw grenades into Al-Aqsa Mosque. The outrage among the Palestinians was obvious. This provided Hamas with an opportunity to step in as the ultimate defender of Palestinian rights. Fatah leadership had never been quick to reciprocate and take a stand. Netanyahu’s trap worked. But to the surprise of Tel Aviv, Hamas reportedly fired more than 4500 rockets into Israel from its bastion in Gaza; and ultimately drew fire. The response from the Zionist state was tragic, to say the least: 11 days of aerial bombardment, 260 deaths, and destruction of property worth billions of dollars.
Gaza is home to about two million Palestinians, and rightly termed as the largest open-air jail in the world. It is landlocked and blockaded by sea and air. The United Nations says the life of more than 70 per cent of its populace depends on succor from outside. Now it is in ruins. This war was the fourth since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. Irrespective of the fact that the only armed threat to Israel comes in the form of rocket attacks from Hamas, Israel has learnt to live with it.
Tel Aviv is content with the divisions in the rank and file of Palestinians. This is why Israel refuses to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority for realising a two-state solution despite overwhelming international pressure, including the soft-pedalling of the United States. Divisions among the Palestinian factions in Gaza and the West Bank come as a bonanza for Israel.
Thus, the new episode of warfare has pushed back the Palestinian cause of statehood in a renewed limbo. Israel for obvious reasons of geopolitics isn’t interested in a deal on trading the land for peace. And as far as the Palestinians are concerned, they have always lacked the muscle to triumph in terms of diplomacy.
The so-called Muslim might and voices of emotionalism end up in thin air, sooner than later! The 30-plus Muslim States Multinational Islamic Force stationed in Saudi Arabia is perhaps not meant for Palestinians’ defence! So is the case with the so-called Al-Quds force of millions being groomed up in Iran! Tall claims, hollow promises and chest-thumping bravados are modus operandi of the Muslim world!!
Muslim states and their respective leadership is an ardent believer in tabling resolutions, attending summit meeting, and dispersing happily after a celebrated and televised photo-op! It is no less than a cruel joke as far as the Palestinians’ rights are concerned. Then why lament over the West’s so-called prejudice and favouritism towards the Jewish state? The Muslim world too has its own failings. Though the ceasefire holds, this is not going to be the last skirmish, anyway. Hamas and Israel will soon be in another faceoff at the expense of Palestinian lives.
Notwithstanding the obliging path that many of the Muslim states have adopted by recognizing Israel – from Egypt to Turkey and from UAE to Sudan and Bahrain, Tel Aviv will not be showcasing any gesture of kindness when it comes to building Jewish settlements and devastating the Palestinians. That is the Zionist mind-set.
So what is the way out? How long will this game of death and destruction be played? It has to be borne in mind that volatility in the Middle East has ramifications for the world at large, and this Palestinian-Israeli brawl has a jaundiced religious connotation. It can blow up the entire world in war flames. It is futile to believe that in an era of geo-economics alliances and vested realignments, Palestine will figure anywhere for a solution.
The only possibility is if the Western powers and the United States decide on their largesse to broker a solution, as they did when they decided to do away with colonialism by crafting unreal geographic states from the Middle East to Africa and Asia. But the good point is that in this age of social media, it is the Western audience that is getting pro-Palestine, and has mustered the courage and decency to distance itself from barbarism and illegitimate occupation. This is no small achievement.
This mostly non-Muslim constituency should be saluted for standing up for a cause that has no political or emotional linkages with them; but are purely humane in essence. The biggest such change is ensuing in the United States itself. In a survey carried out in American media recently, by eliciting response from Middle Eastern scholars and academicians, it was evident that pro-Palestinian statehood constituency has swollen from 15 per cent to a staggering 31 per cent. Public opinion firmly behind Israel is 19 per cent; whereas more than 24 per cent of populace is indecisive but sympathises with humanitarian considerations of the Palestinian people.
This transformed into a political chorus will mean a bonanza for Palestinians. People like Sanders, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Kurtzer, a former US ambassador to Israel, and last but not least, Republican Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez insists that the two-state solution remains the only policy goal worth striving for — preferable to a single bi-national state, or an Israeli-Palestinian confederation where Jerusalem is shared. Their voices cannot be brushed aside, as they mean congeniality and a long-term solution for both the feuding factions.
United Nations Secretary General António Guterres described the hostilities as “utterly appalling,” and warned that hopes of “coexistence and peace between Palestinians and Israelis are being pushed even farther to the horizon.” He was more forthcoming than many of the Muslim states representatives at the Security Council, when he described Gaza as an “integral part of the future Palestinian State,” saying no effort should be spared to bring about “real national reconciliation that ends the division.” Big and meaningful words from a high officeholder at the world body – in an era when many of the neighbouring states, including Egypt and Jordan, are craving for a booty in Gaza.
The Muslim world has failed miserably to live up to the expectations of Gazans. If Egypt throws open its borders with Gaza, it will take air out of the Israeli balloon. But Cairo will not do it for its own interests. So is the case with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Turkey. Will their ultimatum to react militarily and arm Palestinians openly change the entire paradigm? Again, that is not going to happen and such a probability is not on the cards. Until then, Palestinians are on their own.
So what could be a lasting solution? The Holy city of Jerusalem is, in fact, the real bone of contention in terms of a geopolitical solution in terms of defining its suzerainty. Historians, academicians and theologians endorse a roadmap that should rewind the region back to the original partition plan of 1947. According to the UN General Assembly’s decision, a Jewish state and an Arab state were to be established with Jerusalem as an international city. Jordan’s King Hussein had called it ‘God’s City’ because it caters to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Give it a try. Rest of the territorial configurations in realpolitik will fall in line.
Note: This article appeared in TTI Magazine.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.