It is imperative during a war to consider how to avoid immediate escalation of conflict while also figuring out how to resolve the conflict for good.
These ingredients are missing from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and most significantly from the confrontation between the Jewish state and Hamas in Gaza. In the past the world has witnessed the tragic ritual of tensions building up on the Gazan border, leading to the exchange of fire and ending in almost full-blown war.
Hamas’ cross-border rocket attacks on main city centres in Israel and the excessive retaliation by Israel through air and artillery bombardment have all the hallmarks of past hostilities that resulted in thousands of fatalities and devastation, especially among Palestinians.
Likely to worsen before getting better
The situation has deteriorated to a point that it is bound to get worse before getting better, as both sides try to assert themselves. Hamas has upped the ante by ferociously attacking densely-populated areas inside Israel, crossing a line for the first time by launching rockets on Jerusalem in addition to Tel Aviv and other major cities.
This creates a new equation linking the Jerusalem and Gaza fronts which, for Israel, is an unacceptable scenario. It explains, though is far from justifying, Israel’s massive and disproportionate retaliation. To make matters even worse for Israel, many of its Arab citizens have joined in the violent protests against Israel’s policies in Jerusalem.
They protest against the blocking of East-Jerusalemites from participating in Palestinian elections, the heavy-handed approach of the Israeli security forces in East Jerusalem, including around the sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque during the holy month of Ramadan, and the eviction of Palestinians in East Jerusalem in Sheikh Jarrah.
While both sides lock horns, deluding themselves they will be able to declare some sort of victory by the end of this debacle, the international community has thus far failed to make its voice heard and influence felt to stop these deadly events from escalating further.
As much as the UN Middle East envoy’s stark warning that the sides were sliding ‘towards a full-scale war’ is welcome, members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) must hold all sides accountable for what seems to amount to war crimes on top of the already alleged past atrocities currently under investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
It is for the UNSC to treat the situation with the gravity and urgency it deserves, and to use whatever power it has to demand an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. It is also the responsibility of international leaders, especially in Washington, Brussels and within the region, to lean on both sides to negotiate a ceasefire.
In the past Egypt, with the active support of Saudi Arabia, was instrumental in bringing about a ceasefire when one was desperately required. This is a likely scenario this time too and Qatar, which enjoys close relations with Hamas, should wield it to good effect with the leadership on the Palestinian militant organization.
There is also a new aspect in this round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, as these are the first such clashes since the signing of the Abraham Accords, which resulted in normalization of relations between Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain, and was followed by similar agreements with Morocco and Sudan.
Normalizing relations between these countries and Israel was the logical conclusion of regional developments in recent years, however, they will find it hard to fully flourish without a just and fair solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
There is little doubt the pictures of what is taking place right now in Jerusalem and in Gaza upsets many of the leaders in the region and, most significantly, angers many of their citizens. Israel needs to balance its wish to deter Hamas while avoiding the use of excessive force which results in indiscriminately harming civilians and inflicting damage on already-crumbling infrastructure.
A prolonged war in Gaza with all its devastating consequences could put an unbearable strain on the budding relations between Israel and some of its new friends in the region, which goes against the interests of all sides.
This article was originally published in The Telegraph.