An empty Security Council Chamber is pictured at UN headquarters in New York City on December 20, 2023 prior to a vote on "The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question". The Security Council is expected to vote on a resolution calling for a pause in the conflict, diplomatic sources told AFP, after previous votes were delayed as members wrangled over wording. Image Credit: AFP

Thursday witnessed one of the fiercest bombardments of the Gaza Strip since the war broke out on 7 October 2023. Hamas retaliated by firing a salvo of rockets at Tel Aviv while it’s leader, ex-Gaza premier Ismail Haniyya arrived in Cairo for ceasefire talks. Hamas is pushing for a long truce, no shorter than two weeks straight, while Benjamin Netanyahu remains as defiant as ever, threatening the Palestinian group to surrender “or die.” Twenty thousand people have already died, and yet, neither side has surrendered, nor seems ready to bend.

The UAE resolution

Also on Thursday, the UN debated a draft resolution put forth by the UAE ambassador Nana Nusseibeh, calling for an increase in humanitarian aid to Gaza and the unconditional release of all hostages. Deputy UAE Ambassador Mohammad Abushahab put it forcefully: “Israel must stop blocking the entry of aid.”

The UAE resolution had been scheduled for debate earlier in the week, with the hope of bringing a sustainable truce ahead of Christmas, but was postponed with the hope that the US would either play along, or at best, refrain from using its veto power.

It remains unclear how the US will vote, having vetoed an earlier resolution.

Netanyahu confused

Tough talk aside, Netanyahu seems quite confused on what to do with Gaza. In 2006, his predecessor Ehud Olmert went to war against Lebanon with the declared objective of releasing two ISD prisoners taken hostage by Hezbollah. When that didn’t go as planned, he eventually stepped down in 2009, indirectly admitting failure.

Israel didn’t lose the Lebanon War of 2006 but it clearly did not win it as well, a scenario that is starting to repeat itself with Gaza in 2023.

Netanyahu began this war promising to eradicate Hamas and either kill or expel its leadership from Gaza. Israel went as far as to toy with the idea of depopulating the entire strip and forcefully expelling its 2.3 million inhabitants to Egypt. That was vetoed by practically everybody in the neighbourhood, including Egypt.

Israel’s Plan B

A seemingly unannounced Plan B was to uproot all the residents of Gaza — which has mostly been done — while still focused on either killing the leaders of Hamas leadership or exiling them in a manner similar to what Israel did Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) during the Lebanese Civil War.

Times have changed however and there is no will for such a project.

Netanyahu, however, has presented the world with no road map as to where they would go, how they would leave, and who would administer Gaza the day after.

He has refused returning the strip to Palestinian Authority also. He has also said that he has no plans to annex Gaza or restore it to direct Israel rule, given that it had been a nightmare for the Israelis when they were actually in control of the strip.

Give peace a chance

The only path that Netanyahu has not taken is trying to go for a just and sustainable peace, not only in Gaza but with the Palestinians at large. He built his entire career on challenging the Oslo Accords of 1993 and has moved heaven and earth to make sure that nothing serious ever materialises with the Palestinians, both under Arafat, then Abu Mazen, and now Hamas.

If he survives the Gaza War — which is highly unlikely — then he ought to give peace a serious consideration, now that all else has clearly failed. If he ever manages to resurrect his career, it will also give him the chance to move towards a sustainable peace, now that every other option has been tried and failed.

— Sami Moubayed is a historian and former Carnegie scholar. He is also author of the best-seller Under the Black Flag: At the frontier of the New Jihad.