Stage set for further escalation of Mid-East violence



Hamas militants attacking Israelis in the current Mid-East violence

Militant group Hamas could very well have ‘bitten off more than it could chew.’ Hamas’ ongoing morbidly bloody and dramatic military onslaught on Israeli territory bordering the Gaza strip is by any standard daring but isn’t it more foolhardy than bold and courageous?

The more seasoned Middle East commentator could not be faulted for raising the above poser in relation to the latest round of violence which was sparked on October 8th. After all, it is plain to see that over the decades the Middle East cycle of violence has only grown progressively bloody and savage with neither side showing signs of moderating its stance on the conflict’s gut issues.

The current, unprecedented Hamas onslaught, given this historical track record, is tantamount to perpetuating the military deadlock in the region and aggravating several fold the identity-based hatreds at the center of the Middle East imbroglio. The more sensitive sections of world opinion could not be faulted for giving-up on Middle East peace right now.

It is the above identity-inspired antagonisms that call for close watching. The morally-sensitive are bound to find the international TV footage from the conflict zone at present revolting in the extreme. For example, young children, purportedly Palestinian, are shown brutally roughing-up children of the same age group from the Israeli side.

Supposedly Hamas militants are shown knifing and beating senseless Israeli elders and women. Israeli infants are shown being manhandled cruelly by the same offenders.

The ‘commonsense view’ would be that all this and more should be expected from the Middle-East Killing Field, which has witnessed little or no abatement to the relevant and entrenched cycle of violence since 1948. However, a corrective to this point of view is that to the degree to which this process of mutual-brutalization continues, to the same extent would fade all hope of bringing even a semblance of peace and stability to the region.

It is for the above reason that the current Hamas-initiated violence could be described as foolhardy. It has set the stage for a vast escalation of identity-based hatreds, since the Israeli side could not be expected to stand idly by as the violence and attendant affronts proliferate. Accordingly, there could be no easy let-up in the present violence cycle, going forward. On the other hand, the populations concerned would suffer indefinitely amid the ever-rising mutual antagonisms.

Moreover, the international battle lines have been drawn. The West, in its entirety, is standing firmly behind Israel. Islamic militant opinion the world over and Iran have indicated their support for Hamas. Significant sections of the Arab world could be expected to back Hamas as well. Given their anti-West tendencies, China and Russia would likely close ranks with Hamas as the conflict unfolds.

India has taken the principled position of backing Israel, considering its opposition to terrorism. This is a farsighted policy decision in view of the fact that there could be no double standards on the issue of the use of brute force by any quarter in resolving problems of a political nature.

The South should consider itself as being obliged to take a position similar to that of India since even in the South there is general official unanimity on the rejection of the use of force in the resolving of political disputes. Fence-sitting by states on this question would be tantamount to saying ‘Yes’ to the exercise of force in the resolution of contentious political questions.

However, the hardening of policy positions by the main adversaries to the conflict and their international backers has grave implications for regional and, eventually, world peace. For instance, a choice by Iran and its allies in West Asia to continuously militarily and politically back Hamas could draw a like position and response from the Western camp, for example, on behalf of Israel. Consequently, the conflict would aggravate with the possibility emerging of a full-blown regional conflict which could even significantly undermine international stability.

Accordingly, the onus is on the international community, ideally under the leadership of the UN, to explore the possibility of bringing the current round of hostilities in the Middle East to an end. Next, political negotiations between the warring sides should commence with the aim of resolving the Middle East tangle once and for all. Hamas would need to be spoken to, directly or indirectly.

There is no disputing that land ownership is at the heart of the conflict. The Palestinians are a dispossessed people. But so are the Israelis. However, they have been native inhabitants of the areas in contention in the Middle East and history bears this out. The challenge before the international community is to help carve out two states in the region for the Palestinians and the Israelis. That is, the Two State solution remains the ideal.

However, what constitutes a thorny question in this connection is the exact geographical contours of these proposed states. On this matter the sides to the dispute do not see eye-to-eye. Hence, the seemingly intractable conflict.

Inasmuch as it would not be helpful to shun negotiating with the Hamas and other militant groups that are party to the conflict, it would not prove advisable to label the Israelis as ‘land grabbers’ who should first vacate currently contested territories to facilitate the working out of a solution.

Rather, it is important to view both sides as having legitimate security concerns. Reduced to its basics, the conflict revolves around these unresolved security considerations of the warring sides. The international community, led by the UN, should aim at defusing these security concerns by helping to carve out two separate states with clearly demarcated land boundaries which would not be in contention, going forward.

Admittedly, all this is easier said than done. Despite the Oslo Accords of the early nineties which brought the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority into being, substantial peace has eluded the Middle East because not all sections to the conflict are seeing the Accords as having satisfactorily resolved their main security needs. However, almost all the main sides have accepted the Two State solution on principle and this is a solid enough basis to build on.

Alongside the UN’s peace efforts, the international backers of the warring sides would need to condition their continued support to the relevant parties on the latter giving a negotiated final solution a try.

Hopefully, these international backers would open their eyes to the troubling reality of the suffering people on both sides of the divide. They would need to impress on the adversarial parties that mutual annihilation awaits them, provided power aspirations are compromised for humanity.