Nearly a century old Palestinian movement has its own kaleidoscope of internal dynamic, competition for power and legitimacy even if the sole object of their attention remains the Jewish state of Israel. While Palestinians want their own free sovereign State, Tel Aviv, especially its far right-wing leadership, wants a failproof security without granting much. Both sides have a deep-seated mistrust and hatred. After several wars between Arab States and Israel, occupation, two intifadas, militancy, evictions and settlements and excessive use of force by Israel have ensured that cycle of violence continues. Most recent was the 11 days war between Israel and militant group Hamas controlling Gaza since 2005. Even as the 2 million Palestinians cramped in nearly 363 sq Km Gaza strip under squalid conditions have been under blockade their resistance groups and Qassem Brigades have been able to upgrade their military capability after each war that should be instructive. They are no match to the most innovative, sophisticated, and committed Israeli Defence Forces but keep on surprising the world with their low-tech strike capabilities.
Everyone seems to want a Two State Solution which logically should enable the two rivals to somehow learn to coexist side by side despite the genesis of historic wrongs and claims and counter claims. As the history shows any solution is not easy to come by and a small charge can be incendiary enough to do even more damage.
Palestinians have a big structural problem too. It is their disunity that has also defied the resolution of Palestinian issue at least since the onset of Hamas. Besides overtime a donor and causal fatigue has set in among the Arab and Islamist countries. It was also evident from the geo-political changes engineered by the US apathy or engineering and undercurrents of the unstable regional dynamic that Abraham Accords, bringing about a much needed though contested rapprochement between some Arab states and Israel, were signed. But even though Arab leadership could be aligned the streets are live and directly opposed to any laxity. The most recent conflict just acted to recharge the Arab street and demonstrations by Palestinian diaspora and pressured the Arab leadership to be vocal once again. It also pulled back the not so ready Americans to the scene apart from huge international uproar seeing the livid images out of Gaza and East Jerusalem. Politically caretaker PM Netanyahu spruced up his strong man image who only could secure the Jewish state and his people.
Costs both real and nominal for both sides indulging in the political opportunism are huge. But a small window of opportunity for a move forward on the stalled peace process can be availed if both sides and the Quartet and regional powers be on the same page. A major issue is the fluid political situation in both Israel and Palestine as to who would negotiate is the big question? From all counts it may be the end of the road for Netanyahu but would the next fledgling coalition be any more understanding is unlikely. Another Rabin is not on the horizon.
Hamas was born in 1987 in Egypt and maintains good relations with them and the sole window to the outside world as they remained under seize for years. It not only challenged the authority of Arafat and Abbas but has become far more popular among Palestinians. Analysts do not discount the so-called conspiracy theory that Hamas was initially created as a counter point to Arafat and his PLO by the Israeli Mossad. Even Arafat himself and his outfit Fatah were treated and declared as terrorists until much later. Likewise, Hamas has been declared a terrorist organisation by US, UK, EU and Israel and was not allowed to take part in governance after 2006 elections despite a great showing which alienated them even more. Hence, they captured Gaza and have been waging a battle for Palestine and extermination of Israel after the Intifadas. Its basic philosophy, modus operandi and objectives have been openly hostile to the Jewish State.
Hamas Charter of 1988 amended in 2017 seeks to reject Israel’s right to exist howsoever wishful it might sound. The Article 25 also justifies the cause, means and ends “Resisting the occupation with all means and methods is a legitimate right guaranteed by divine laws and by international norms and laws. At the heart of these lies armed resistance, which is regarded as the strategic choice for protecting the principles and the rights of the Palestinian people”.
Therefore, if there has to be a Two State solution or any solution at all then certain fundamental attitudinal and juridical changes will have to be made by both sides. Primarily, Israel will have to come to terms with settlements and violations of international laws and UN resolutions to establish a Sovereign state of Palestine living in security and peace and prosperity next to it. Hamas and other Palestinian organisations and their regional benefactors will have to recognise the right of Israel to exist, and Hamas will have to restrain from using violence to achieve the ends as the Jewish side scales down its suspicion and so-called preventive actions that generate more robust and volatile reaction from the disadvantaged Palestinians. An idyllic hope perhaps but try one must. Conviction for peace and genuine commitment for resolution of core concerns of both the sides can only take the peace process forward. Hamas and Israel are the two weights on the fulcrum, even if unevenly balanced.
One of the most important and intractable issues remains the status of Jerusalem. The holy Old city is the repository of the conscience of the three Abrahamic religions. Prophet Mohammed ascended to heavens from the Al Aqsa mosque. Jesus carried the Cross for the humanity on the streets of the holy city. For the Jews, the Temple Mount and Wailing wall harks them back. More than 15% of the Indian population have a religious connect with the city which also hosts over 800 years old Al Zawiyya Al Hindiyya-the Indian Hospice which was referred to in the Indian statement of Peace at the UNSC deliberations recently. Indian soldiers in the first World War even protected the Holy city with exemplary bravery. Could the ‘Old City” become another ‘Vatican” of peace for humanity, under the UN auspices and custodianship of Jordan’s King like now, where baggage of history and irony of geography will unite people in peace, respect and happiness than divide them continuously on religious lines.
International community and regional actors who have leverage with both sides have to come clean and be a part of the solution and not the perpetuation of the problem. Egypt, Qatar, Iran, Syria and Turkey have good relations with Hamas and have been instrumental in bringing about some semblance of ceasefire and cooperation between the two warring sides even at worst of times and must prevail upon the Hamas leadership to work in tandem with Palestinian authority, whatever its eventual political complex and with Israel to go back to the basics even if much water has flown down the drying River Jordan. Tel Aviv will also have to count the benefits of a reasonable and equitable two state solution as it does not want a one state solution either, which if happened, in my view will be a hundred-year war from within. Security that Israel seeks on its external borders is likely to be compromised unless all citizens have the equal rights which even the current 20% do not seem to enjoy. Or is one looking even at a Three State solution not necessarily the #3rd Option which the Jordanians do not want?
It was witnessed during the recent flare up between Tel Aviv and Gaza that despite initial reluctance US eventually will have to take the lead to keep the process moving forward for which it does not seem to have the appetite due to domestic and other foreign policy considerations. But abdicating this responsibility at this juncture when even the Palestinians are placing hopes in the hands of the Americans will simply be criminal. If the US leads rest of the pack will follow or else a not so frozen conflict will continue to erupt off and on with greater vehemence each time. Secretary Blinken’s visit to the region was significant as he also promised to reopen the US Consulate in Jerusalem for ties with Ramallah apart from announcing relief funds and measures for reconstruction of Gaza -which should not fall into the hands of Hamas. Hamas is an actor and will have to be contended with whether we like it or not. Obviously, Hamas is unhappy at this exclusion since they seem to have emerged as the hallowed protectors of the Palestinian cause.
China and Russia are other major non-regional players that play a pro-Palestinian role for their own geo-political reasons without being very well entrenched therein. Russians got involved with Turkey and Egypt rather early on for a de-escalation and ceasefire since they could predicate their stance with Israel given a somewhat roughed up relationship with the Jewish state without rocking it. Chinese FM Wang Yi heading the UNSC Presidency for the month wasted no time in taking the lead and even calling the warring parties to Beijing for talks while reiterating the standard support for Palestinian cause in accordance with UN Resolutions. This was also directed at the vacillating US that as such is being perceived in the withdrawal mode from the Middle East.
India which has excellent relations with the West Asian countries and acquired the high trust quotient with both Palestinians and Israelis started with all out efforts to deescalate the spiralling conflict at the UNSC where her statement addressed all the core issues in a balanced and factual manner especially a ‘Just Palestinian Cause’. But India could do more to help start the dialogue, which it promotes, in concert with US and other Quartet and regional powers. It has to be seen to be there even if it does not have direct relations with Hamas. But Indian assistance and projects have reached Palestinians in Gaza too. Humanitarian assistance, to Gaza via the UN and PA and Doha or Cairo, even though India is struggling with its second Covid wave, could be a good starting point. Some feel that India should not burn its fingers in the conflict, but can India afford to be immune from developments there if it wishes to secure its existential interests in West Asia and to play a credible role in the regional affairs as behoves a power which has earned the trust of all actors -else what is it for? Perhaps a Special Envoy could have been in action as messenger of peace and hope. Peace indeed has its dividends.
The article was originally published (https://www.vifindia.org/article/2021/june/02/the-hamas-factor)on the portal of Vivekananda International Foundation.
-The writer is a former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta and is a Distinguished Fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) and a commentator on Foreign Policy issues