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‘I Take Him Down with Me or Survive with Him’

‘I Take Him Down with Me or Survive with Him’

Monday, 17 May, 2021 - 06:15
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Some images jump at you from the screen and remain in your memory. The Gaza war, like all new wars, is a conflict of images above all else. Wars are no longer confined to their arena, but they are now everywhere: On television screens, online, telephones and places near and far. It is a war of images because its developments will draw the picture for each party to the conflict. The picture of their stance, reasoning, ability to persuade, ability to destroy and incur losses on their economy.

The picture also poses complicated questions about the ability to deter. The ability to reimpose “red lines”. The ability to impose a settlement that includes an attempt to change the balance of power in this direction or that. Questions about what the arsenal in the current confrontation can offer compared to previous bouts. Ever present is the regional picture where the confrontation is taking place. The international picture is also there, along with the “advice” major countries and the Security Council can offer.

The current confrontation doesn’t need more jarring pictures. Pictures of swarms of rockets launched from Gaza and forcing residents in Tel Aviv to remain in bomb shelters. Pictures of the same rockets force traffic at airports to stop and tourists to cancel their planned visits to Israel. The Iron Dome succeeds in intercepting most, but not all, rockets.

On the other side, we have pictures of towers collapsing from Israeli air strikes. The collapse of a tower is dramatic, not only because it is reminder of the New York towers, but also because it was written by an organization. The story of today’s tower is written by a state.

As the images pour in, viewers are reminded that wars are an opportunity for both sides to test their arsenals, sources of armament, strength of alliances and extent of changes.

It is natural for the viewer to recall that the current confrontation is taking place as the Joe Biden administration in Washington is involved in negotiations to mend the nuclear deal with Iran.

Perhaps the message that has been most repeated amid these images is that the knockout blow is not in the cards during the current confrontations. Israel cannot take Gaza out of the equation and Gaza cannot take out Israel. Moreover, nothing in the cards leads any side to believe that they can move forward towards an actual settlement. The war is a reminder of where the weaknesses of the other lie. It is an attempt to show their fragility and score points in a longer conflict.

Real peace is not possible and not even on the table. Israel is not ready to take unavoidable “painful decisions” and Hamas is not ready to go beyond reaching a “long-term truce” at best. The Biden administration’s talk of the two-state solution is not enough, especially if we take into consideration the Israeli society’s leaning towards the right and the weakness that has plagued the Palestinian Authority, the heir of the Oslo Accords.

The intertwining of fates between the warring Palestinians and Israelis is frightening and terrible. I recall a the time when I was in Tunisia to discuss the situation after the Oslo Accords were signed and after the earthshattering handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin. I sought the opinion of Mahmoud Darwish over that difficult development. At first, he tried to avoid sitting down for an interview, but he eventually relented.

He was his usual succinct self, saying: “I am afraid of looking at the map.” He sensed the difficulty that was felt by all Palestinians when they realized that the map that they dreamed of reaching through peace through the Oslo Accord fell very short of the map that they believed was a sacred legacy of their ancestors. It was evident that a fully legitimate Palestinian leader had taken “very difficult” decisions on behalf of his people to salvage whatever rights and territories that he can.

“I am afraid of looking at the map.” I pondered his statement. Darwish was sure to avoid criticizing Arafat. After stopping the recorder, I asked him about the Palestinian leader and his reply proved to me that he was more understanding of what he had to do.

“Sometimes, a duel reaches such a difficult point that the weaker side is forced to merge with his enemy. He merges with him to seek protection and perhaps even to tie fates together. Sometimes the aggrieved sits on the lap of the aggressor to hinder his ability to deal blows,” he said. “The picture is like a fight on a sinking ship. The weak may have no other choice than to cling on to his enemy so that he will either take him down with him or survive together.”

In the later years of the past decade, it appeared that Israel had achieved many unprecedented victories, especially in wars it was not involved in. It boosted its position, while that of its neighbors declined. Benjamin Netanyahu emerged as the strong man, not only because he managed to stay in office for such a long time, but also because of the network of relations he forged with influential capitals.

He was the close friend of the US president and reaped from him what past American leaders hesitated to offer, especially in regards to Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. He also forged a warm relationship with Vladimir Putin that allowed him to program his war against Iranian entrenchment in Syria without colliding with Russian forces deployed there.

Throughout his long tenure, Netanyahu boasted of Israel’s belonging to the new economy and how major global technology companies had set up regional offices or headquarters in Israel. Amid these comfortable international relations, the Israeli army imposed “red lines” in its relations with Palestinians and neighboring Arab countries. The rule was that any violation of these lines would lead to hefty and dire consequences.

In contrast, the Palestinian picture was very bleak. The rift between the West Bank and Gaza turned into permanent or semi-permanent divorce. Hamas, the Gaza ruler, appeared caught between Iran’s aid to it and Syria’s criticism. The living conditions in Gaza deteriorated and the PA’s authority in the West Bank diminished.

Amid all this, Donald Trump’s administration brought normalization on the table, given that the Iranian onslaught took precedence over all other concerns for countries in the region.

The picture in the Arab world was indeed very bleak. The revolts became painted in blood and darkness and oppression claimed the lives of civilians and destroyed homes. Syria’s sovereignty and stability were struck at the core and it has been left in tatters. Lebanon embarked on its unprecedented downward spiral to its own hell. Jordan is struggling with a lack of resources with no solution in sight.

Will the Gaza war become a turning point? Can the war alter the “red lines”, balances of power and rules of the game, rearrange priorities and change the picture? The answer is very difficult. As we wait, the duel intensifies and the warring sides cling on to each other with both either sinking or swimming.

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