Nadim Koteich

Are Netanyahu and Hamas Perpetuating and Deepening the Conflict?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s war in Gaza lacks a clear long-term political plan. That is evident from his recent suggestion that Arab countries help a Palestinian civilian government run Gaza after the war.

Outside the framework of perpetuating the conflict without ending it decisively, Netanyahu has nothing to offer the Israelis and his country’s strategic regional partners beyond shifting the responsibility onto others and evading the demands that must be met to reinforce genuine peace.

Accordingly, Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s denouncement of Netanyahu’s statements and his emphasis on the fact that he “does not have any legal capacity to take this step,” came as no surprise. Bin Zayed also stressed that his country refuses “to be drawn into any plan aimed at providing cover for the Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip."

It is true that Arab and Gulf countries contributing to a peacekeeping force in Gaza, or playing another political role, present the Arab moderate camp with an opportunity to expand its regional influence and reinforce the pillars of peace. However, this should come about as part of a series of conditions placed on Israelis and Palestinians alike.

There is no doubt that none of these countries will accept to play any role in Gaza that does not clearly align with the diplomatic objectives they have set for the future of the Palestinian question. No one will take a step forward so long as there are no guarantees that it would not jeopardize their relationships and interests, both with the Palestinians and Arabs and with Israel and the United States.

With his bizarre proposal, Netanyahu is trying to paper over a simple rationale. The Arabs will not make any contribution to managing “the day after” in Gaza that is not part of a broader peace plan that is recognized internationally and endorsed by major powers and the United Nations. How else could the security of the Arab or joint forces, or political and logistic reinforcement teams, be guaranteed, in light of the complex military and security situation in the Strip and the absence of clear rules of engagement and a political mandate that is agreed upon to guarantee the safety and effectiveness of the foreign forces in Gaza?

Moreover, it is strange that Netanyahu did not mention Egypt and Jordan, as both countries have direct security and political interests tied to the Palestinian question. Indeed, he did not even indicate that his proposal must be supported by a broader regional consensus. It is as though Netanyahu is suggesting that the Gulf states have a direct responsibility to foot the bill for reconstruction, regardless of the political context!

A televised interview may not be the appropriate occasion to lay out a complex political proposal for a complex conflict. However, the tone taken by the Israeli prime minister, which evoked a sharp and swift Emirati response, shows that the man is deliberately avoiding discussions regarding political, leadership, and administrative responsibilities on “the day after.” It also shows that he does not take the strategic interests of the parties whose assistance he seeks into account.

There is no doubt that the devastating Gaza war is a direct result of the attack of October 7, 2023, and the terrifying intransigence of Hamas’s leadership, who do not factor the suffering of the Palestinians in their calculus. However, above all, it is the cumulative result of Netanyahu’s performance over a long period.

He has always sought to marginalize politics, managing Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians through political finagling and crude security policies. His policy of helping Hamas maintain its rule over the Gaza Strip and deepening the Palestinian split to end the Palestinian state project are the highlights of this finagling. In fact, this wheeler-dealer approach is also reflected in his recent statements about helping a civilian Palestinian government manage Gaza after the war.

The truth of the matter is that no one will come to pick up the pieces of everything that Netanyahu and Hamas have broken together, unless the participation of these parties aligns with the broader political goals of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE. The most prominent of these objectives are the enhancement of stability, economic development, and the normalization of relations between regional powers, through new and different governments in Israel and Palestine.

This is exactly what both parties responsible for the calamity are evading. Hamas and Netanyahu are trying to exploit Arab intervention and turn it in their favor, a dangerous game aimed at perpetuating the conflict and deepening its dynamics. Neither of them has the slightest concern for the fate of the defenseless Palestinians.

Both parties to the disaster are kidding themselves before anyone else if they believe that the clear humanitarian role the Arabs have been playing, which the UAE is contributing to through a comprehensive aid strategy and the delivery of goods by sea, land, and air, can be turned into a tool of conflict, or that it can be built upon to lure Abu Dhabi and others into playing a role that goes beyond the humanitarian framework of their mission.

Yes, the Arab’s financial and political potential presents an opportunity for preserving peace and ensuring development. It offers the Palestinians a different trajectory linked to cooperation, economic integration, regional stability, and comprehensive peace in the Middle East... Obstructing this trajectory is the lethal drive of Netanyahu and Hamas to cling to power, as well as the criminal effort to perpetuate the conflict by other stakeholders, most notably Iran.

By the way, a loaded question: Who bombed the vicinity of the Kerem Shalom crossing, a vital crossing for humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, as Arab pressure on Hamas to accept the deal with Israel was succeeding?!