Seeing A Way Out Of The Gaza War – OpEd


In the face of an increasingly terrible conflict, political leaders, academic scholars, engaged officials, and media experts tend to explain how the conflict arose and is escalating badly. This has the effect of making the conflict appear inevitable and insurmountable short of totally defeating the adversary. Such thinking is evident in many of the current disorders in the United States and in many other countries. Such tendencies unfortunately fuel the intensity and gravity of the Israeli-Hamas war. Less attention tends to be given to constructive alternatives.

Fortunately, there are alternative approaches, deeds. and consequences. Attention might be given to what various actors might have done or failed to do to avert or transform tragic conflicts. These alternatives can point to ways of averting escalation and transforming the conflict constructively. In this way, some officials, non-governmental intermediaries, critics, and conflict resolution workers can eventually succeed in transforming tragic conflicts.

For example, consider the transformation of the Israeli-Egyptian conflict. In 1970, Egyptian President Gamal Nasser died, and Vice President Anwar El Sadat became president. In 1973, Sadat led Arab nations to another defeat in a war against Israel. Consequently, Israel took control of the Sinai peninsula. Sadat began to envision a different path to retrieving the Sinai. He reduced his dependence on the Soviet Union and improved his ties with the United States. In 1974, Yitzhak Rabin succeeded Golda Meier as the Israeli prime minister. Then in June 1977, Menachem Begin became the newly elected Israeli prime minister.

In a surprising gesture, Sadat flew to Jerusalem and spoke to the Israeli Knesset in November 1977.  Despite thisIsraeli-Egyptian negotiations regarding an Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai failed again and again, including Jimmy Carter’s efforts in 1978 at Camp David. Finally, during Ricard Nixon’s presidency, Henry Kissinger undertook mediation between the Egyptian and Israeli governments. Three agreements were reached for partial Israeli withdrawals from the Sinai, with UN monitoring. In March 1979, Egyptian and Israeli leaders signed a Treaty of Peace that endures. Egypt regained the Sinai, and Israel is secure from Egyptian military attack.

Presently, in regard to the Hamas-Israeli war, a succession of similarly incremental changes could open a path to the constructive transformation of the war. One possible change is being negotiated right now: a ceasefire that includes the exchange of Hamas-held hostages for Israeli-held Palestinian prisoners.  Another imaginable change is a restructuring of the Palestinian Authority to play a major role in the governance of Gaza and the West bank, aided by the United Nations and a few Arab nations. A third possible change is a new Israeli government recognizing the security and other benefits of a Palestinian state.  Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and a few other Arab states might then openly proclaim their readiness to work with Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank to govern and rebuild Gaza. Finally, the political wing of Hamas might become dominant, recognize Israel, and foreswear violent attacks against it.

Any one of these changes would be more likely if it were understood to be met by the adversary’s move toward a constructive transformation. Many different non-governmental organizations, engaged citizens, government officials, and political leaders can act to make this change happen.

Not possible, you say? The same was said of the Israeli-Egyptian détente, until it happened. Each of the possible changes in the current conflict in Gaza looks improbable, until steps are taken to make it happen.

Louis Kriesberg

Louis Kriesberg is Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Social Conflict Studies at Syracuse University and the author of Fighting Better (Oxford University Press, 2022), Realizing Peace (Oxford University Press, 2015), Louis Kriesberg: Pioneer in Peace and Constructive Conflict Resolution Studies (Springer, 2016) and co-author with Bruce Dayton of the fifth edition of Constructive Conflicts (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017).

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