By Arab News
By Faisal J. Abbas
The massive escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict sends so many messages at the same time. The first thing one has to note is that a Hamas attack on this scale could only have been possible after months of planning. In fact, this is exactly the kind of “explosion” warned of as a consequence of continued occupation and deprivation of Palestinian rights. Those claiming that the attack was unprovoked are wrong — this is precisely the reaction that deliberate and systematic intimidation by the current Israeli government garners when insult is added to injury.
Does this justify the killing and kidnapping of civilians? Absolutely not, and this is true regardless of who the villains or victims are.
So, what happens now?
Well, given recent history, the outcome is pretty predictable: Israel will say it has the right to defend itself, declare a full-scale war and inflict the maximum pain possible in retaliation. Hamas will declare the outcome — no matter what it is — a victory. Many Palestinians will celebrate the unprecedented early success portrayed in images of Israelis fleeing and soldiers being detained. Shortly after, the same Palestinians will suffer the devastating consequences at the hands, tanks and aircraft of the Israeli army. After that, Arab countries — namely the GCC — will come to the rescue and help rebuild Gaza.
Will this escalation change anything in the balance of power? Well, given the number of captured soldiers, it does provide Hamas with a few more bargaining chips. It also boosts the morale of the group’s followers since this is the first time such an operation has been so widely shared on social media. However, it is unlikely to change the reality on the ground, as Hamas simply does not have the means to sustain a standoff against the world’s 18th-strongest army, which has just been pledged full support by the US.
So, could this be a strategic move by Hamas aimed to tell the international community that “we alone decide for Palestine?” That is a possibility. At the end of the day, while it is true that the Palestinian Authority is the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, the PA’s influence has always been limited compared with that of Hamas. It is the unfortunate reality that in the failed states of this part of the world, illegitimate, armed representatives, such as Hamas, Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Houthis in Yemen, will always have the upper hand. Meanwhile, the PA has no choice but to support Hamas in order to avoid further internal Palestinian friction. As a result, it will only be perceived as even weaker globally.
However, here are the cons of Hamas’s most recent adventure: It gives Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a way out of his internal political turmoil at a rare moment when even members of his own Israeli military were opposing him. Now, it is a full-scale war to protect Israel and rescue kidnapped soldiers and civilians, so it is a case of “all hands on deck.” It also further empowers his right-wing coalition at a time when the world has been trying to convince them to back down and tempt them with peace proposals.
Will Hamas emerge stronger or weaker after this? Well, this time they have crossed the Rubicon, and Israel has already signaled that the gloves are off. Given the level of escalation, even opponents of Netanyahu’s right-wing government in the US and Europe will be reluctant to call for restraint. In other words, Hamas must brace itself for tough times ahead, and, sadly, it is the average Palestinian who will eventually pay the price.
What effect will the latest events have on prospects for a wider regional peace proposal? The short answer remains: Time will tell. However, in my opinion, it is time for the world to double down. As the statement by the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs clearly indicated, the international community must act now to activate a credible peace plan that enables a two-state solution, which is the best means to protect civilians. Easier said than done? Perhaps, but at least Saudi Arabia can say it tried its best, and has been for decades.
- Faisal J. Abbas is editor-in-chief of Arab News. X: @FaisalJAbbas