A Palestinian boy stands on the rubble of a destroyed house in Nuseirat following Israeli bombardment overnight on May 23, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Image Credit: AFP

It is undeniable that Arab public opinion is deeply divided over the war in Gaza. Some view it as a conflict triggered by foreign agendas, while others see the mass killing of civilians by the Israeli army as an unprecedented crime.

No one can claim to know the absolute truth about this conflict. War is inherently atrocious, and its realities are often murky. What seems evident, however, is that both parties entered the war without a clear exit strategy, resulting in ongoing violence and the spread of misinformation.

Yet, there are three assumptions that can be considered, which form the structural basis of the conflict. The first assumption concerns the timing of the war, starting on October 7.

Gaza has been under siege for an extended period, and there was a semi-truce between Hamas and Israel. The timing seems influenced first by an agreement at the G20 countries’ meeting in December 2023 in Delhi, known as the strategic corridor from India through Israel to Europe.

The second factor is the potential agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel, mediated by the United States, to establish a Palestinian state and a strategic security agreement with Israel.

These factors contradict Iran’s strategy, which aims to push the US out of the region. Given the close relationship between Hamas and Iran, the conflict escalated from a stalemate to active combat.

Read more by Prof Mohammad Alrumaihi

Maintaining the status quo

Iran’s goal was initially to obstruct the strategic corridor and, secondly, to galvanise Arab public opinion against its political institutions to weaken them. Although this strategy might have delayed the initial factor, it had little impact on the second, pushing Tehran to engage directly in an aggressive military response after several provocations.

This escalation revealed its ineffective military capabilities, leading to secretive negotiations with the United States to ostensibly de-escalate tensions in the region while maintaining the status quo.

The second assumption involves Hamas believing that capturing a significant number of Israeli hostages would quickly force Israel to negotiate, as seen in the past with the release of one Israeli soldier for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in October 2011.

This assumption proved incorrect, as Israel, without any public declaration, began to consider the hostages as deceased and manipulated the situation to justify their military actions against civilians.

The third assumption from Israel’s perspective was that the substantial loss of civilian lives in Gaza, including women and children, would compel Hamas to reconsider its stance and seek a truce on Israeli terms to preserve innocent lives and relieve the suffering of bereaved families.

However, this assumption proved incorrect, as Hamas, which has solidified its control over Gaza over the years and established a strong security presence, showed no inclination to alter its position. Hamas appeared indifferent to the scale of civilian casualties from the bombardment, thereby rendering Israel’s assumption ineffective.

Shift in global public opinion

Israel’s war in Gaza has indeed shifted a segment of global public opinion, particularly among vocal groups such as student movements.

However, this outcry has largely gone unnoticed within the corridors of Western political power. Moreover, the Palestinian side lacks the robust political institutions necessary to capitalise on this shift in sentiment.

Even figures known for their sympathetic views, like former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, have reiterated America’s commitment to Israel’s borders and sovereignty. Furthermore, the British Prime Minister recently described Israel as the sole democratic oasis in the Middle East.

These sentiments echo long-standing Western policies.

Internally, the Palestinian political landscape is increasingly fragmented, with the Palestinian leadership engaging in power struggles. Some factions propose explanations for the conflict that verge on the fantastical, while others fail to address international shortcomings effectively. The focus on loyalty over competence continues to plague Arab politics, preventing the utilisation of the brightest Palestinian minds.

The latest statements by Mahmoud Abbas about Hamas in front of international and Arab leaders and the responses from Hamas spokespeople showcase a deep and historical rift within Palestinian leadership, which undermines efforts towards unity.

Recently, a knowledgeable friend and I discussed the potential for historical reconciliation at the Beijing meeting between the factions. However, I expressed scepticism, remarking that the time it would take for the negotiators to fly from Beijing back to the Middle East might be enough for them to part ways again.

I know this is a harsh observation, but if they couldn’t agree in the land of Kaaba, how can they possibly agree in Beijing?

Despite the ongoing power struggles, misguided alliances, and a failure to adapt to changing global dynamics, the conflict continues to escalate, driven by incorrect assumptions and significant turmoil.

The burning question remains: When will the war end? The answer may only come when Iran secures a deal with America, regardless of the cost to Arab lives.

Mohammad Alrumaihi is an author and Professor of Political Sociology at Kuwait University