Dr. Nassif Hitti

The Second Round of the War on Gaza and its Horizons

The second round of the Israeli war on Gaza began after a week-long ceasefire. It continues after two months. The Israeli leadership, although it is unwilling to publicly admit this, realizes that it has fallen captive to the unattainable goals to obliterate Hamas it had set. The war rages on because several government ministers, starting with the Minister of National Security, Ben Gvir, have threatened to withdraw from the government and bring it down otherwise. Also, Benjamin Netanyahu faces growing opposition from right-wing groups because of his handling of the war.

They hold him primarily responsible for this security failure and its strategic repercussions, which allowed Hamas to succeed with its attack in October and has had negative implications for Israel. The attack also “covers” those attacking Netanyahu, amplifying criticism tied to other Israeli policies. This has heightened tensions within the right-wing camp between his supporters and those who oppose him. The resumption of this war is now linked to preventing Netanyahu’s political career from coming to an abrupt end.
The increased global, and especially Western, public outrage at the war has begun to embarrass Israel's allies, particularly given the unrealistically high bar it has set. These allies led by Washington have realized that they must explore more realistic and achievable options. Nonetheless, some continue to cling to the same objectives that the Israeli government has set for its war against the Gaza Strip. Other allies have started to subtly hint, though with trepidation for now, at the need for more temporary ceasefire or an open-ended truce that ends this genocidal war, because they recognize that Israel is incapable of achieving the objectives it had set at the beginning of the war.
Israel and its friends understand that for reasons of principle and practicality, no Arab or global country could accept to, let alone succeed in, temporarily administering the Gaza Strip amid Israeli security control, given the regional and international implications. Moreover, Israel is beginning to realize that the objectives it had declared on the first day of the war are unattainable: the establishment of a safe zone in southern Gaza and the previously stated goal of expelling them to Egypt.
Israel is now surely aware that this is not feasible. Both the Palestinians and Egyptians prevent the realization of these objectives. In its war against Gaza, Israel has become captive to the slogans it had raised and will find itself caught in a protracted conflict that escalates and de-escalates without any of the war's core objectives being achieved. Indeed, tensions have begun to expand, as expected, to the West Bank, and recent developments, particularly in the Jenin area, are a clear indication of that. We should remember that the government’s clearly articulated policy of Judaizing the West Bank, through both laws and measures, as well as the increasing settlement activity and violence against Palestinians, could lead to a third Intifada in the West Bank.
Some Western countries’ handling of the situation has been interesting. On one hand, they repeatedly voice their support for a two-state solution and thus the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. However, they have done nothing to push back against Israel's actions, especially settlers' efforts to undermine the foundations of a future Palestinian state. It is both surreal and sad to see threats of action being taken against the settlers attacking Palestinians in the West Bank, as the settlements are a blatant violation of international law, norms, and UN resolutions concerning occupied territories. These powers have not taken a single concrete position or action against the policy of dismantling the foundations of the solution that the international community laid out for these territories since Israel occupied them in June 1967.
Today, there are three different "theaters of confrontation." The intensity and declared objectives differ in each of them, but they are interconnected: first and foremost, Gaza, with the ongoing war and all its repercussions, which have spilled over to the other two theaters: the West Bank and South Lebanon.
One cannot look at Gaza and the West Bank separately in assessing the current situation and proposing solutions for the conflict, whether through violence or de-escalation. The link between the two becomes evident when one looks for practical solutions that safeguard peace within the framework laid out by UN resolutions, even if those solutions are on hold until further notice although this delay makes reaching a solution more difficult. Nonetheless, the delays and Israeli wars do not provide a realistic and sustainable alternative to what is the only durable solution.
Over time, Israel may "come down from the tree" it has placed itself on and accept a prolonged ceasefire or a cessation of hostilities at a later stage, contenting itself with parallel security arrangements to create calm along the borders between Gaza and Israel, rather than Israeli control over the Gaza Strip. Israel could back down and “get off its high horse,” agreeing to a long-term truce and security guarantees that ensure calm on the border between Gaza and Israel.
The second theater of confrontation is the West Bank. Developments there are evolving quickly, and they will have serious ramifications, not only for the West Bank but also for the region and neighboring countries, specifically in the event that things get out of hand, which cannot be ruled out so long as the foreign actors capable of influencing Israel’s position do nothing but issue warning that have no impact on the ground. Meanwhile, the policy of Judaization continues in various forms and at different rates, with the aim of eliminating the prospect of the needed Palestinian state.
The third theater in South Lebanon. There are growing concerns that the skirmishes on this front could precipitate a destructive war like in 2006. Israel is trying to alter the rules of the engagement and establish a safe zone along the border, demanding the implementation of a provision of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 (point two of paragraph eight regarding the demilitarization of the area between the Blue Line and the Litani River). Decision-makers on the Lebanese side (Hezbollah and its allies) on the ground believe that as long as Lebanese territory remains occupied (Shebaa Farms, northern Ghajar, and the Kfar Shuba Hills), Lebanon must fight to ensure they are liberated, and they cannot accept Israeli conditions. Others believe that the issue of the occupied Lebanese territories is merely a pretext to allow Hezbollah to maintain its arsenal and use it to serve broader objectives.
The demands set by Israel cannot be achieved, and thus what is attainable is restoring calm and going back to the pre-war status quo and rules of engagement. Some argue that the rules of engagement have also changed after the Gaza war, since the adoption of the strategic doctrine of the "unity of fronts," which the ongoing war has underlined. Besides the "Palestinian front," the most significant and active front in this strategy is currently the Lebanese front, which remains central to this strategy.
Undoubtedly, the developments in Gaza and the settlement that could be reached with time, as we mentioned earlier, will have an impact. It could be reached if Israel walks back on its declared objectives, which requires international pressure on Israel that compels it to end its ongoing assault, which could lead to a regional war. Negotiations through indirect channels and active mediators are needed for the re-establishment of stability along the Lebanese front. This would lead to the crystallization of new rules of engagement, as happened after the 2006 war.
All the fronts are interconnected, despite their varying degrees of intensity, and they could all either escalate or de-escalate. While de-escalation is necessary, it is not sufficient if we do not, despite all the obstacles (both old and new) revive the peace process. This is no easy task, and many conditions must be met if this is to happen. While it is not impossible, overcoming these impediments will prove challenging. The most important is undoubtedly that the Palestinians get their house in order.