Sam Menassa

What Comes After the Flood?

The Aqsa Flood operation Hamas launched against Israel could change the course of the entire region’s politics for decades to come. Israel’s wound will not heal quickly or easily, given the sense of humiliation it engendered and the number of people killed, wounded, and taken hostage after Hamas successfully infiltrated its Israeli territory and hit Israeli with its rockets. Israel has responded with hysterical and unrestrained bombardment of the Strip, leaving hundreds dead, thousands injured, and indescribable destruction in its wake. “Tragic" does not seem enough of a word to describe the Palestinian operation, Israel's response, and its repercussions.

It would not be hyperbolic to compare the significance of this current war with those of 1967 and 1973. In fact, it may leave a more substantial impact on the region and the balance of power within it. Its background and repercussions can be seen from three parameters: Palestinian, "regional-international," and Israeli, albeit with differences in the scale of each dimension’s impact.

In our discussion of the Palestinian factors, we will not delve into all of the suffering that has been inflicted on the Palestinians over the past seventy years, the violence, displacement, and denial of rights they have endured at the hands of Israel that could justify their recourse to the use of force. We will not go into how several players have exploited their cause, the sins of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and its entanglement in the swamp of intra-Arab disputes.

Instead, we will focus on how the Palestinians have let themselves down over the years by walking away from and squandering opportunities that they should have seized when they still had the chance. Indeed, given all of their own grave errors in judgments in this regard, we cannot put the blame for their troubles solely on the occupier, although it does bear significant responsibility.

We begin with their contributions to thwarting the Oslo Accords, which allowed for the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority, paving the way for a two-state solution. Ten Palestinian factions opposed the agreement, while Yasser Arafat took an ambivalent position on peace, continuing to support the "armed struggle" behind the scenes. This struggle was crowned with the Al-Aqsa Intifada (also referred to as the Second Intifada) of 2000. However, the Palestinians’ most consequential blunder was their failure to lay the foundations for the establishment of a state.

The second disappointment came in 2007, when Hamas decided to end all negotiations with the "national unity" government, seizing control of the Gaza Strip by force of arms and throwing members of Fatah from rooftops. It thereby instigated the ongoing "Palestinian-Palestinian" conflict; more importantly, it allowed Israel, at a time when the world was engrossed by fears of violent political Islam,to push the narrative that there is no distinction between the struggle for Palestinian rights and Hamas' extremist ideology.

Today, the ‘Aqsa Flood’ has indeed shaken the mighty state of Israel, but its objectives remain obscure: is it the liberation of territory, an attempt to empower Hamas at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, or an effort to put an end to "Arab-Israeli" normalization?

The "regional-international" factors are the shifts being seen in several key regional countries. Due to regional threats and the shaky policies of global powers, regional actors began prioritizing their national interests and development in their countries, focusing on the containment of regional conflicts and seeking balanced international ties. All this has weakened the Arab dimension of the “Arab-Israeli conflict" and turned it into a "Palestinian-Israeli conflict."

Iran's expansionist agenda and its “quasi-nationalization” of the Palestinian cause have played a pivotal role in precipitating this shift, as did Washington's misguided decision to turn its back on its traditional allies in the region.

Iran and its allies are convinced that Israel’s deep internal schisms have left it vulnerable, and they sense an opportunity to gradually undermine Israel’s stability until its existence is in peril. This view, however, underestimates Israel's immense destructive capacity and the international support it enjoys, including from both China and Russia. All the gains that Iran claims to have accumulated in the region have become burdens; the countries it controls have been torn apart and are riddled with civil strife and tensions with neighbors, in addition to suffering from dismal economic and social conditions.

Iran's role in the region has hit a dead end, and the only path forward seems to be reigniting the "Palestinian-Israeli" conflict. There is no other way for Iran to retrieve their appeal after support for them plummeted. Another potential motive could be to divert US energy away from the Arab Gulf and undermine its support for Ukraine.

The Israeli factors do not end the rise of extreme right-wing power and its violence against Palestinians. Israelis' deep divisions and the country’s unprecedented protest movement have exposed the deep political and social rifts of Israeli society, which has implications for its military and security agencies and are seen as signs of weakness.

Tel Aviv made two serious mistakes, one is a political misjudgement and the other is an intelligence failure. The political mistake was trusting Hamas’s pledges to keep things calm in Gaza. This original sin was not reversed by any of the Israeli governments that have been formed since, due to their misguided belief deals can be made with Islamists like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Indeed, they ignored these groups’ ideological denial of Israel's right to exist, as well as the fact that they consider all Israeli citizens to be soldiers and legitimate targets.

Israel tolerated the rise of Hamas at the expense of secular and moderate forces, because of its conviction that this would undermine PLO and Fatah and divide the Palestinians. Israeli governments thus made deals with Hamas aimed at maintaining stability in the Strip. Israel’s staggering blunder, however, was its intelligence failure, which was a consequence of the first mistake and allowed Hamas to capitalize on the element of surprise.

What comes after the ‘Aqsa Storm’ and Israel’s response? The only certain outcome is more death, destruction, and displacement in Gaza. Palestine and its cause will not benefit, and Israel will not gain anything more than an attempt to restore its deterrence and punish Hamas. Meanwhile, civilians, especially Palestinians, will pay a hefty price. The costs will mean that Hamas can never become a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Moreover, its extreme ideology gives an excuse for Israel to perpetuate its cruelty, racism, and violence against the Palestinians. A national unity government that excludes extremists remains the best chance for coming out from the other end of this war and discrediting the argument that Israel has no genuine partner for peace in Palestine, which it exploits to avoid concluding an agreement with the Palestinians.

The only real way out is through a radical political solution that recognizes the Palestinian people’s rights. This solution will remain tenable even after the war, and its framework has already been outlined by Washington and certain influential Arab nations, notably Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan. These countries could play a role in helping the Palestinian Authority and the PLO solve their quagmire, by initiating peace talks for a two-state solution sponsored by the US and Arab powers that accounts for the new state of affairs on both sides.

Only a comprehensive settlement can remove the "Palestinian card" from Iran and its allies' hands. The two-state solution is the only path toward Palestinian moderation and recognition of Israel's right to exist. Washington can turn this war - tragedy - into an opportunity, as happened following the 1973 war.