The first take-away from the October 2023 violence surrounding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is that this conflict—regardless of what has been said before—remains at the center of Middle East politics. Moreover, transforming the world order into a “just” form requires great effort and responsibility on the part of regional powers. With the limited and only “verbal” participation of Arab regimes in the conflict, there is, first, a lack of Arab state political subjectivity, as their actions fail to meet the demands of the population; and secondly, the potential for the radicalization of the Arab population. Currently, the main international message regarding the need to stop violence and move towards a peace settlement is being ignored by Israel and the US. In the meantime, the international community, represented by the UN, is not imposing sanctions on Israel, even though the latter violates the right of nations to self-determination. Nevertheless, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a meeting in Moscow with Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Abu El Gheit on October 9, “it is not only urgent to stop the bloodshed between Israel and Palestine, but also to start searching for a peaceful solution to the conflict.”
Arab Betrayal and the Palestinization of the Conflict
The historical failure of Arab regimes to resolve the conflict has been one of the main reasons why Arab rulers have lost legitimacy in the eyes of their societies. The history and various formats of Palestinian-Israeli settlement have been complex, but one of the key reasons for the failure of a peace settlement has been Israel’s rejection of the negotiation process. As noted by Grigory Lukyanov, “Oslo II” was supposed to be the basis for subsequent negotiations on the preparation of a final comprehensive peace agreement. However, it turned out to be the last significant achievement on finding a peaceful solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Over the next two decades, Israel consistently refused to continue the negotiation process, viewing Palestinian organizations and population only as a terrorist threat, while proceeding with constructing new settlements in the disputed territories, maintaining an economic blockade of Palestine, as well as carrying out regular punitive raids and military operations. Holy Muslim sites in Jerusalem have become a place of constant police harassment, as well as political accomplishments and triumphs for populist right-wing Israeli politicians who have continuously inflamed the situation year after year.”
Topics such as the Arab-Israeli conflict and the occupation of Holy Jerusalem dominates radical Islamist rhetoric and has strongly influenced their ideology. Nevertheless, what the world is witnessing today can be referred to as the Palestinization of the conflict. HAMAS’s actions were planned and carried out by its own initiative: no Arab or non-Arab country has engaged in a real war with Israel during the current escalation, and it is clear from the HAMAS’s rhetoric that this movement counts only on itself. All of this goes in stark contrast to the way Palestinian organizations have dealt with the conflict in the previous decades.
As far as the inner Palestinian political scene is concerned, what is happening in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict zone has already dealt a major blow to the prestige of Fatah and personally to Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Mahmoud Abbas. Throughout all these years, Fatah has been committed to establishing a Palestinian state but has never achieved the desired goal. HAMAS, for its part, has taken note of Fatah’s decades-long fruitless methods to establish independence, keeping track of the unwillingness of Benjamin Netanyahu and the right-wing Israeli government to achieve peace. Eventually its leaders came to the conclusion that an armed struggle for Palestinian independence was unavoidable. Israeli takeovers of what were once Palestinian territories convinced many Palestinians that HAMAS’s tactics are justifiable and even correct. Fatah needed rebranding, perhaps new faces and even a “strong leader” to be sustainable. Yet none of the above-stated dynamics transpired in reality. Israel’s gradual “strangling” of the PNA does not add any points to Fatah’s rating either. With this, HAMAS (should the organization withstand the onslaught of Israeli Defense Forces) is making a bid for leadership in the Palestinian house.
HAMAS’s latest actions suggest that the movement can afford not to depend on its Arab neighbors. The UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia (the latter wishes to preserve the possibility of establishing public relations with Israel as part of a deal with the US) are downright treacherous to HAMAS followers, given what is going on in Palestine. Furthermore, Arab regimes securing their own security through separatist agreements with Israel and the United States are accused of using “false logic,” as Hamas representatives publicly expressed to their Arab brethren. Israeli leaders, on the other hand, see no need to take Oslo II seriously or to promote a two-state settlement: they have received no resolute armed pushback from the “weak” Palestinians in the wake of their aggressive actions. Also, with US support, they have purposefully knocked the foundations out of a possible future Palestinian state. Additionally, the key “Game Changer”, Lebanon-based Hezbollah, has not sought to engage in a large-scale military campaign against Israel, maintaining a controlled escalation level. However, since October 8, Hezbollah has already lost over 60 of its soldiers in battles with Israel, forcing Israel to keep massive forces on its border with Lebanon (for many Lebanese, it is not seen as the Israeli-Lebanese border, but the Palestinian-Lebanese border).
It seems that many Arab leaders are stuck living in the “old unipolar world order”. The Arab world appears afraid to move forward, held hostage by the fear of the US hegemon. Logically, only by breaking out of this paradigm will the elements of the new world order appear. Decisions are either maturing now or they never will, in which case the Arab world must accept that it will not be able to take its rightful place in the new multipolar world. Arab regimes are striving to hold on to power, but in the medium term they may face radicalization within their very own societies.
The United States: Part of the Party and Author of Manipulation
When thinking about the options for ending hostilities and intensifying negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, many recall that such crises were once stopped thanks to statements made by Washington and Moscow. Both powers had instruments of coercion, to put pressure on the opposing sides.
Today’s settlement cannot include the United States and Russia alone. A joint statement and a series of measures by these powers (even if China were included) is but a fantasy; yet these are the powers that many would like to rely on to end the violence. This is now hard to achieve, however, for various reasons, such as the attitudes of the said actors toward the conflict, and specifically, due to the fact that the US has become a supplier and client of one of the parties involved—an image that Washington tried to dissociate itself from up until the 21st century.
Indeed, US military aid to Israel has been actively ramped up since the earliest days of the current escalation and has yet to stop. Israel has been a key recipient of US military and economic aid since the end of World War II (over $260 billion has been sent since). It is believed that Israel has already received some $3.18 billion in aid this year alone (and it has promptly requested another $10 billion. The US Congress is still discussing the allocation of additional funds for supplying more military aid).
Of course, Israel cannot ensure its security on its own. American military assistance must be taken into account when analyzing the state of the Palestinian-Israeli settlement. Over the past few decades, Israel has been reluctant seek a settlement or to consider the two-state solution for the two nations precisely because of the large-scale support of this global hegemon, including the country’s reliance on US foreign aid and the law of the strongest. Israel has insisted on the need for separate peace agreements with Arab states, bypassing Palestine, which led to the so-called “Abraham Accords.” This approach was vigorously backed by the United States and is far from being a new tactic. As Evgeny Primakov once said “…As I see it, the path to peace becomes longer and the stability of peace is made more problematic due to the general nature of US tactics. From the very beginning, the US has designed a system to draw one Arab country after another, and then separately the Palestinians, to a peace treaty with Israel….” 
American involvement, as disproportionate as it is, may trigger a significant backlash from other players in the conflict. The hybrid nature of the Palestinian-Israeli war has the potential for de-escalation under massive international and regional pressure. The direct involvement of external stakeholders (conflict internationalization), on the other hand, will lead to more casualties, a steep rise in stakes, and exponential escalation in other parts of the region, as will the involvement of groups that are still on standby. This dynamic does have an upside: having hit rock-bottom, the parties can try to go for negotiations. It is at this point when international mediators come to the table.
Arab-Muslim states are currently choosing between self-preservation and populist self-preservation. Arab regimes like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt see HAMAS as a threat. For years, the power of these states has been directed against the Muslim Brotherhood (banned in Russia), with which Hamas originally associated itself. This helps Israel pursue its strategy, which at this stage appears to be aimed at defeating HAMAS in the northern part of the Gaza Strip and depopulating the area. The next stage will be for Israel to push the Palestinians out of the southern part of Gaza, leading to the full annexation of the Gaza Strip. Israel will then gradually settle its own citizens into the newly occupied territories. In this scenario, the Palestinians are destined to be a people without a state, scattered around the world. Only this strategy (if not labeled as outright hateful and dehumanizing) can explain the number of civilian casualties in Gaza (over 10,000 in a month), which continues to soar in the absence of real action taken by the Arab world and the international community to stop the violence.
Another scenario is tied to the defeat of HAMAS as a result of military action and the transfer of control over Gaza to the PNA or an international coalition led by the US. These scenarios are vigorously backed by the United States as the only global power on Israel’s side.
The third scenario, also plausible, implies prolonged hostilities in the Gaza Strip. HAMAS fought in Syria, so it certainly has a rich experience of fighting in dense urban areas. In the event of an increase in IDF military casualties, as well as mounting pressure from regional powers (primarily challenging US regional interests), Israel could suspend ground operations, securing its forces and revert back to air strikes. However, such an approach would not allow it to establish control over the territory and HAMAS could claim leadership among Palestinian movements in the post-Abbas period. This would go against the interests of Israel and the Arab states that are trying to undermine Palestinian unity but would certainly weaken the military capabilities of HAMAS. Israel may suspend hostilities in order to continue them at a later stage, which will be determined by the Israeli leadership—perhaps already without the current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
The situation in the Gaza Strip is currently being described as a humanitarian catastrophe, with no international or state-sponsored humanitarian organizations being able to operate in Gaza due to Israeli military actions aimed at preventing those humanitarian organizations from entering Gaza. Palestine has been under Israeli occupation for decades, which violates the nation’s right to self-determination. The Palestinian blockade, which provided no opportunity for the nation to build its own airport or ports, stripped it of independent economic development (due to constant Israeli control, keeping people in reservations), denied all opportunities for developing foreign relations (outside of Israeli control), and instilled cynical policies of its Arab neighbors (primarily Jordan and Egypt), must be reconsidered if the goal is to achieve at least partial agreements to advance a peace settlement.
The Arab powers let go of their subjectivity during the October-November 2023 escalation, but the new world order calls for responsibility and action by those who want to secure their place therein. Transformation of the regional order could be triggered by a regional initiative, but so far Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and others have neither put forward a plan nor demonstrated their commitment to address the conflict. It is safe to assume that discussions are currently being held in private, just as it is safe to assume that Saudi Arabia, Iran, and even some US officials are unanimous to stop the violence. Nevertheless, diplomatic pressure on Israel requires American conviction of the futility of the current Israeli strategy of destroying HAMAS, which depends on the dynamics of hostilities and pressure from US regional allies.
1. Примаков Е.М. Встречи на перекрестках. Издательство Центрполиграф, серия Наш ХХ век. 2021. / Primakov E.M. Meetings at the Crossroads. Centrpolygraph Publisher, Our XX Century Series, 2021
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