Resurgence of Palestinian issue in Middle East diplomacy

By Ikftikhar Gilani. Dated: 10/10/2023 6:27:59 AM

Hamas' surprise attack exposes Israel's vulnerabilities and underlines the need for addressing Palestinian issue for sake of stability and peace in the region.

When the U.S. born Israeli journalist, Yaakov Katz, asked by the Israeli newspaper, Jerusalem Post, on September 22 whether the Yom Kipper War could be repeated, he had no idea that a deadly attack was being planned under Israel’s nose, reviving memories of 1973.

Like the 1973 Yom Kipper War, the surprise attacks by the Hamas resistance group from Gaza shattered Israel’s illusions of invincibility. Because of this illusion, it was unwilling to make any concessions to the Palestinians except to spend a few dollars on development in the region while discussing the modalities of the Abraham Agreement for peace with its Arab neighbors.

Off late at the diplomatic meeting, the Israelis used to cut off any discussion on Palestine and remain focused instead on regional connectivity and stability. Awaiting the signing of the final stage of the Abraham Agreement with Saudi Arabia, the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also encouraging Jewish nongovernmental organizations to settle more and more Jewish settlers and to occupy as much land as possible in the West Bank.

As for who has benefited from Hamas operations, many analysts believe they have worked well for many stakeholders. For Iran, China, and Russia, it has dealt a serious blow to the U.S.brokered Abraham Agreement. In anticipation of stabilizing the region, the U.S. has been trying to shift resources from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region to counter a rising China, with India a key anchor in its plan. For Russia, it is a good distraction from Ukraine.

While Iran may not have directly supported Hamas, its influence over the resistance group and its proximity to Hezbollah in Lebanon poses a challenging security situation. How can it dissuade the Jewish nation from attacking Tehran. Middle Eastern countries forced to maintain relations with Israel can now negotiate on a sounder footing because, no matter what it does now, Israel has lost face.

The crossing of hundreds of armed Palestinians from Gaza into Israel as the Jewish people celebrated Simchat Torah, an important Jewish vacation, on October 7, has shaken Israel’s façade of invincibility.

This may also bolster U.S. efforts to force Israel to make Palestine a core issue when it makes deals with its Arab neighbours. Despite U.S. mediation and urging, Tel Aviv was unwilling to make any concessions on Palestine. It was as if historical events from before the 1973 Yom Kipper War were repeating themselves.

A few years ago in New Delhi, David Shlomo Rosen, former chief rabbi of Ireland and an official of the American Jewish Committee, told this writer that the Camp David agreement between Egypt and Israel became possible after the 1973 war because the Israelis were depressed.

“Our illusions of invincibility had been shattered. Even if we had won the war, we felt we had lost it. And ironically and paradoxically, although the Egyptians had lost the war, they felt victorious. There was a feeling in Israeli society that we had been abandoned,” he said.

The 1967 Six-Day War had made Israel overconfident, having convincingly defeated Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Documents show it had rejected repeated U.S. nudging to begin peace talks or make some concessions to its Arab neighbors.

1973 war brings sense in Israel

The recently published book “Master of the Game: Henry Kissinger and the Art of Middle East Diplomacy”, by Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and special envoy for the 2013 Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, provides an insightful history of diplomatic negotiations in the Middle East.

Henry Kissinger had advised the U.S. government not to help Israel in 1973 war until the Egyptians crossed the Suez Canal and captured much of the Sinai Desert, in order to shock Tel Aviv and shake its concept of unassailability.

According to Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, deputy mayor of Jerusalem in charge of foreign relations, the 1973 war increased Israel's willingness to negotiate with its Arab neighbors. In 1979, Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt, the first with an Arab country, which was later reflected in the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians.

The Hamas operation may have caught the world off guard, but there was little disbelief in the region. Palestinians had been talking about a new escalation since the early months of 2023. These discussions grew louder both during and after each Israeli spike in violence in the occupied territories. For the Palestinians, the Hamas attack was a surprise not so much in concept as in scale and nature.

Frustration spread among the Palestinians, as the signing of the Abraham Agreement did not change the reality for them. The first agreement was signed between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel on September 15, 2020, followed by similar agreements between Israel, Morocco and Sudan. Last month, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that a basic framework was being worked on with Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The surprise and unprecedented attack also followed a series of threats by prominent Hamas leaders in recent months in response to repeated attacks by Israeli settlers in the West Bank and on the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

In the first nine months of 2023 alone, Israel has killed at least 230 Palestinians, a level of violence that has already exceeded the 2022 death toll. According to the United Nations, this is the highest number of casualties in the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians since 2005.

In the first half of this year alone, at least 1,148 attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians were recorded.

This increase in brutality by the Israeli military and settlers signifies an unprecedented level of violence across the Palestinian territories, fueled and encouraged by a disturbing sense of impunity and lack of accountability for those responsible.

The provocations have come from Israel's ultra-religious zealots, who have deliberately marched through the Al-Aqsa complex and desecrated the shrine revered by Muslims around the world. Recently, they also insulted the Christian community by spitting on the Via Dolorosa, which is sacred to Christians.

An unnamed Egyptian official told the media that they had warned the Israelis that the situation in the Palestinian territories was becoming explosive.

“We warned them that an explosion of the situation was coming, and very soon, and it would be big. But they underestimated those warnings,” he told news agencies.

“Israel has received an extremely harsh and rude reminder that it cannot talk about normalizing relations with other Arab countries without addressing the problems regarding Palestine”

Goal of Hamas

Hamas’ goals in this operation were: first, retaliation and punishment of Israel for its occupation, oppression, illegal settlement and desecration of Palestinian religious symbols, especially the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem; second, normalization of Arab relations with Israel; and finally, another prisoner exchange to free as many Palestinian political prisoners as possible from Israeli jails.

Talmeez Ahmed, former Indian ambassador to Saudi Arabia and author of the book “West Asia at War,” said that while the current events following the return of peace require in-depth study, they have shown that the Palestinian issue cannot be swept under the rug. Many in the world, he said, are aware of the simmering anger of Palestinians due to the aggressive provocations of Netanyahu’s extremist government.

“But most have turned a blind eye, mainly because large sections of the Western media are pro-Israel or shy away from criticizing this country for fear of being labeled anti-Semitic,” he said.

Several observers have noted that Saudi Arabia deliberately ignored Palestinian concerns and interests in its agreement with Israel, he said. Netanyahu had rejected the American proposal to move towards the idea of a two-state solution. He was not even willing to consider freezing settlements or dismantling illegal outposts, although he had agreed to handover Al Aqsa custodianship to Saudi Arabia from Jordan.

In his speech at the General Assembly of UN. Netanyahu further complicated the issue by presenting a map of Greater Israel. The "New Middle East' illustration showed the West Bank and Gaza within Israel's borders.

“I believe that Israel has received an extremely harsh and rude reminder that it cannot talk about normalizing relations with other Arab countries without addressing the Palestinian issue,” Ahmed said.

Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, acknowledged that the Hamas operation represents a major intelligence failure.

The savage Hamas attack, which required months of planning and careful training and coordination among multiple groups, has called into question the capabilities of Israeli intelligence.

The Israeli intelligence agencies such as the Mossad, Shin Bet, and military intelligence had created an aura around themselves that they are the ones who are known for tracking Hamas activists in Dubai and reportedly killing Iranian nuclear scientists in the heart of Iran without knowing about it.

Some analysts say Hamas commanders have found ways to circumvent Israeli intelligence, who have remained overdependent on technological surveillance.

Israel will undoubtedly try to take back the strategic and military initiative from Hamas by dealing it a heavy military blow immediately, but that is unlikely to destroy the Palestinian resistance.

The Hamas operation is also a lesson for Arab neighbours and great powers that ignoring the Palestinian issue is a big mistake. Not paying attention to it because of fears that relations with Israel will suffer will prove more catastrophic.

Kissinger’s words that if you ignore a problem, especially this one, it will eventually blow up in your face have proven prophetic.

Events have shown that things can change very quickly in the Middle East, from one direction to another. Therefore, in the interest of lasting peace, it is necessary to approach regional stability by addressing the Palestinian issue through credible means.



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