As Israel’s war on Gaza enters its third week, there is still no indication that a ceasefire will take place soon, despite growing public pressure in the US and other Western countries for an immediate pause so that essential humanitarian convoys can go through uninterrupted.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows that bowing to pressure now and accepting a truce will send the wrong message to an angry Israeli public. It will also mean that the declared objective of the war, which is the destruction of Hamas and the dismantling of its infrastructure, has not been achieved. There is a chance, though, that he may accept a short-term truce to allow for the release of some, or all, hostages taken by Hamas on 7 October.
The sheer number of Israelis captured by Hamas has put pressure on Netanyahu and his war cabinet to stop the war and accept a prisoner swap. That too will bring the Netanyahu government down once such a deal is done.
The sad reality is that as Israel seeks to avenge those who were killed on that day, the people of Gaza are being subjected to an unprecedented form of collective punishment; with thousands killed and many more injured amid a horrific humanitarian crisis, not to mention the levelling up of entire residential blocks. Over one million Palestinians are now homeless and have been displaced.
Israel’s allies came out in support of its right to self-defence and later called on it to respect the rules of war and protect civilians. But its performance so far has eroded the initial global sympathy that it received in the first few days following the Hamas attack. Western leaders will have to deal with the effects of the public outcry at the ballot box.
The reluctance to carry out a ground invasion after 20 days and substituting that with aerial and naval bombardment has turned global public opinion against Israel. It may win this war, but it has lost considerable political assets abroad.
But let us imagine for a moment that the war is stopped. What happens next?
If Hamas is destroyed, which will not happen without a full ground offensive and the reoccupation of the Gaza Strip by Israel, what are the possible unfolding scenarios? Israel cannot stay in Gaza, and at one point, it must withdraw. But who would take over? This is one of the most challenging questions facing Israel, its allies, and the international community. All options are problematic.
Egypt and the rest of the world will never accept the Israeli notion that millions of Gazans can be forced to evacuate into Sinai. Israel will open a Pandora’s Box if it carries such a scheme through.
For Israel, the day after will bring Netanyahu’s emergency government down. The Israeli public is demanding a complete and impartial investigation into the events that took place on 7 October, how one of the most technologically advanced security fences in the world was readily breached with virtually no warning and no resistance. The inquiry will end Netanyahu’s political career. He will be held responsible for the gross security and intelligence failures.
That failure, which was preceded by the extraordinary polarisation of Israeli society as a result of Netanyahu’s Far Right government’s controversial policies, will also weaken the extremists who have dominated Israeli politics for the past few months. A more centre-right government is likely to be formed, and that may open the path to a peaceful resolution to the Israel/Palestine conflict.
Western double standards
It is hoped that Israel will learn the lessons of appeasing Hamas, mainly by Netanyahu himself, for years at the expense of the PA, which resulted in the October debacle. Failure to absorb the lessons of this war could result in future crises.
On the international level, two things need to be done: One is an independent and complete investigation of Israel’s performance in this war. The bombing of residential towers, houses, churches, and mosques, in addition to threatening to destroy hospitals, cannot be excused, no matter the reason. War crimes have been committed, and Israeli impunity must end.
The second thing that the international community must do is to revive the peace process, which Netanyahu had sidelined for more than a decade. The world and, indeed, the region cannot tolerate the failure to implement the two-state solution any longer. Western double standards must end, and so must Israel’s impunity. Palestinians deserve justice, and it’s time that they should get it.
Failure to carry out these objectives will bring down the entire edifice of a rule-based world order. The Global South will see everything the West says and does with suspicion and doubt. The integrity of institutions such as the United Nations is under scrutiny, raising doubts about the stability of the current global order.
One thing is sure: the world will undergo many changes once the dust of this war settles.
Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.