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Fri. July 23, 2021
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The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: What Next?
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Earlier, religious tensions had first boiled over at multiple sites in Israel earlier in May 2021 when Israeli police had raided Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Islam, leaving hundreds of Palestinians wounded. Later, Hamas had fired more than 3,000 rockets in Israel and the Israeli military had responded with scores of aerial bombings in Gaza. The number of Palestinian civilians killed and injured had vastly exceeds the number of reported Israeli civilian casualties. By May 19, 2021, the death toll in Gaza was an estimated 230 people and about 1,500 have been wounded. Also, more than 58,000 displaced. At least 12 Israelis had been killed while at least 300 had been wounded.in Hamas’s rocket attacks.[i]

Finally, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which had started on May 10, ended on May 21, 2021, because of frantic efforts of the US and Egypt.  The eleven-day conflict had been the deadliest since the two sides fought a war in 2014. At least 253 people were killed in Gaza, including 66 children and more than 1,900 wounded, during the fighting that saw hundreds of Israeli air strikes.

The Israeli military put the death toll in Israel at 13, with hundreds treated for injuries by rockets fired by Hamas and other armed groups from Gaza during the conflict. There was also break out of violence between Palestinians and Jewish settlers across Israel, in which several Palestinians were killed in protests in the occupied West Bank.[ii] Meanwhile, Israel has struck targets in Lebanon after four rockets were fired towards Israel from Lebanese territory.

Earlier, the diplomatic efforts to end the conflict were failing. Despite growing international calls for a cease-fire, the US had continued to block the UN Security Council from issuing a joint statement urging an end to the hostilities, telling diplomats that a public statement would not help calm the tensions. Meanwhile, France, claimed it had worked with Israel’s neighbors, Egypt, and Jordan, on a ceasefire resolution. China had said that it was “supportive” of the French proposal.[iii]  Meanwhile, On May 17, 2021, President Biden had said that he supported a cease-fire. On May 18, 2021, France had called for a U.N. Security Council resolution on the fighting. By contrast, White House press secretary Jen Psaki had said the US preferred "quiet, intensive behind-the-scenes" discussions to resolve the conflict.[iv]

The Biden administration had been criticized for its unwavering support for Israel’s right to “self-defense”. Progressives, and more recently moderate allies in Biden’s Democratic party, had come out in support of a ceasefire before the president’s announcement.

The Biden administration had come under increasing pressure to take a harder line against Israel during the bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip, which had destroyed infrastructure and hundreds of Palestinian homes and what critics had said amounted to collective punishment.[v]

Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Jordanian King Abdullah II had supported efforts to reach a ceasefire. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, French President Emanuel Macron and Jordan's King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein, had jointly worked on a ceasefire on May 18. They agreed to push the peace process forward and reaffirmed the need to protect the Palestinians, stop all illegal Israeli violations and measures in Jerusalem, and end the aggression on Gaza. Earlier, Egypt and Qatar's efforts to broker a truce had stalled over an insistence by Hamas that any ceasefire must include the ending of Israel's "provocations" at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and resolution of the situation in Sheikh Jarrah, an East Jerusalem neighborhood where several Palestinian families had faced eviction. A pro-Jewish settler organization called Nahalat Shimon had been using a 1970 law to argue that the owners of the land in question before 1948 were Jewish families, and so the current Palestinian landowners should have been evicted and their properties given to Israeli Jews.

Palestinians had argued that the restitution laws in Israel were unfair because they had no legal means to reclaim property, they had lost to Jewish families in the late 1940s in what became the state of Israel.[vi]

Meanwhile, there had been a mounting international concern over the violence, with world leaders and humanitarian organizations had urged for measures to be taken to avoid residents being hurt, killed, or having their lives upended by the destruction.

The United Nations has also expressed concerns about the damage to infrastructure in the already impoverished Gaza Strip, home to two million people. 

China has spoken out against the Biden administration’s support for Israel. President Biden had not publicly called on Israeli forces to halt their attacks, which Israel said were aimed at Hamas militants and their infrastructure in Gaza. Later, he had taken a tougher stance with Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. China had condemned the US for its support of Israel and had accused it of hypocrisy in going after it for human rights abuses in Xinjiang while not coming to the aid of Palestinians in the Gaza conflict. Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) foreign ministers had overwhelmingly called for an immediate cease-fire to stop the fighting between Israel and Hamas militants.

In an emergency meeting on May 18, 2021, all the bloc’s member states except Hungary had backed a statement that also condemned Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israel and supported Israel’s right to self-defense but cautioned that it had to be done in a proportional manner and respecting international humanitarian law. The number of civilian casualties in Gaza had been unacceptable. The EU would push to relaunch a serious diplomatic process for the immediate cessation of all violence and the implementation of a cease-fire. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany had expressed her hope that the fighting would end as soon as possible. Meanwhile, President  Biden had expressed support for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, but he had not demanded one, and he had continued to assert that Israel had a right to defend itself.

Meanwhile, the devastating violence gained urgency on May 19, 2021 as a growing chorus of international parties urged the Israeli military and Hamas’s militants to lay down their weapons. France was leading efforts to call for a cease-fire at the United Nations Security Council.

As Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations mediated talks between Israel and Hamas, the two adversaries had indicated publicly that the fighting could go on for days. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the attacks against Hamas would continue if necessary, to restore calm to the citizens of Israel. The Biden administration has said that it is working urgently toward a de-escalation of the violence, but those efforts faced a test at the Security Council, where France said that it had drafted a cease-fire resolution after consulting with leaders in Egypt and Jordan. The text has not been disclosed, but UN diplomats said the language had been designed to be acceptable to the entire 15-member Council. The US had been the lone holdout for any action in the UN.

Since the fighting erupted, President Biden and his administration’s top officials have officially supported Israel unequivocally, while insisting that they were working through diplomatic and military channels to try to de-escalate the violence. Earlier, the United Nations General Assembly rejected a U.S. resolution condemning Hamas as a terrorist organization in December 2018. The support given by the US to Israel was expected. What was not expected was the popular support of the Palestine cause inside America, and most importantly was the internal split in the Democratic party on the issue. Meanwhile, President Biden was facing increasing pressure from rights advocates and members of his own Democratic Party for a ceasefire to end violence in the Gaza Strip. Twenty-five Democratic members of the US House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on May 12, 2021, calling on him to pressure Israel to halt the planned forced eviction of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem. The letter cited a report which revealed that an estimated 5,000 Palestinian homes were destroyed by Israeli authorities in East Jerusalem between 1967 and 2017. Also, twenty-eight U.S. Senate Democrats have signed a statement urging a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

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Surprisingly, Biden had faced criticism both from Republicans as well as progressive members of the Democratic Party. There were increasingly calls for a ceasefire rise in US Congress. Today, President Biden is facing increasing pressure from rights advocates and members of his own Democratic Party for a ceasefire to end violence in Gaza. Given the growing worldwide popular support for the Palestine cause, and the mounting international concern over the violence, earnest diplomatic efforts will be made by the Biden administration to resolve the conflict. Certainly, some change is in the air now. What has changed?  It is sheer worldwide pressure and American public opinion on the Biden administration that will make the policy reversal possible in future. The support given by the US to Israel was expected. What was not expected was the popular support of the Palestine cause inside America, and most importantly the internal split in the Democratic party itself on the issue. Today, among Democrats in Congress, attitudes toward Israel have grown more questioning as the party base expresses concern about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.  Several high-profile progressive lawmakers have become increasingly vocal in criticizing President Biden for his stance. Twenty-five Democratic members of the US House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on May 12, 2021, calling on him to pressure Israel to halt the planned forced eviction of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem. The letter cited a report which revealed that an estimated 5,000 Palestinian homes were destroyed by Israeli authorities in East Jerusalem between 1967 and 2017. Also, twenty-eight U.S. Senate Democrats have signed a statement urging a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Meanwhile, Biden faces criticism both from Republicans as well as progressive members of the Democratic Party. There are now calls for a ceasefire rise in US Congress. Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader of the US Senate, on May 17, 2021 joined rising calls for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. On May 13, Representative Rashida Tlaib criticized the Trump administration for failing to acknowledge Palestinian humanity amid the Israeli air attacks. Today, Tlaib and other progressive Democratic Representatives Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are very vocal critic of Israel. Omar, who is popular, has stated that Israeli airstrikes killing civilians in Gaza is an act of terrorism and that Palestinians deserve protection. Bernie Sanders, the extremely popular senator, has asked the US to stop being an apologist for Israel. He asked the question that how come  only Israel, with its enormous military power, has the right to self-defense and not the Palestinian people? Democratic Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer also called for a ceasefire. Representative Rashida Tlaib, confronted President Biden on May 18, 2021over his support for Israel amid its bombing campaign against Hamas in Gaza, urging him to stop enabling a government that she said was committing crimes against Palestinians. Earlier, Tlaib said on the House floor that Biden must do more to protect Palestinian lives and human rights. Tlaib told the president that the status quo was enabling more killing, and that his policy of unconditional support for the Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not working. Surprisingly, among Democrats in Congress, attitudes toward Israel had grown more skeptical as the party base had expressed concern about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Several high-profile progressive lawmakers had become increasingly vocal in criticizing President Biden for his stance. For the first time, President Biden had faced a lot of criticism from inside the Democratic party leadership. There was outrage from some Democrats over a report that the Biden administration had approved the sale to Israel of $735m-worth of precision-guided bombs. The weapons sale had s exposing fault lines in the Democratic Party over what to do about escalating violence in Israel, splitting party leaders who remain solid allies of Israel and more progressive Democrats who see Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as a social injustice. Democratic leaders had paved the way for the sale of joint direct attack munitions, which Israel can use to make precision strikes, despite the outrage the sale is provoking among progressives.

The Biden administration had notified lawmakers on May 5 that it had approved selling Israel $735 million worth of precision-guided bombs. Separately from arms sales, the US supports Israel with $3.8 billion in security assistance annually, as set in a 10-year memorandum of understanding that was signed by the Obama administration in 2016 and entered into force in 2018. The US is supposed to provide $3.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing funds and $500 million in missile defense assistance each year of the deal. The weapons sale had exposed fault lines in the Democratic Party There was outrage from some Democrat progressives, including some in positions of power such as House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Betty McCollum and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders were increasingly pushing to place more conditions on or revisit the annual military aid the US sends Israel. Sanders, said  that the US must also take a “hard look” at the military aid to Israel  as it was “illegal for U.S. aid to support human rights violations”.[vii] Rep. Ilhan Omar had  said that it would be “appalling” for the sale to move forward, while Rep. Rashida Tlaib said that there should be “no more weapons to kill children and families.”[viii] Even before the current conflict, McCollum proposed a bill that would bar U.S. funding to Israel from being used to support “military detention, interrogation, abuse or ill-treatment” of Palestinian children, property seizures and forcible evictions in the occupied Palestinian territories or the deployment of personnel or equipment to annex territory in the West Bank.[ix]

Now must begin the hard part of bringing permanent peace in the Palestine-Israel region. It bears repetition that the Two-State Solution, though exceedingly difficult, is the only viable way to establish it. The Biden administration is the key player in this effort as it alone has the clout to sustain the negotiations phase. Remember, the Two-State Solution has the support of the entire world, including Israel, Palestine and even the US. The United Nations can be the forum for these negotiations to take place, if there is a will, there is a way. It all depends on President Biden now. The historic opportunity cannot be missed.

The project of establishing an independent, sovereign, and viable Palestine now begins. Not easy by any means but still doable. It is not about just Hamas and its rockets or Jerusalem for that matter. There is a long history that stretches to about a hundred years or so that must be understood to resolve the dispute. A two-state solution is still doable. However, it will take immense resolve of not only Israel and Palestine but the whole world community.

There are several implications of the conflict.

On May 25, 2021, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken began a Middle East mission by a visit to Jerusalem where he held talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Then he went to Ramallah, Occupied West Bank and met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Blinken will be in the region through May 27, 2021 and will also travel to Egypt and Jordan. In tandem with his visit, Israeli authorities allowed fuel, medicine and food earmarked for Gaza's private sector to enter the territory for the first time since the hostilities began on May 10. Blinken had pledged on May 25, 2021 that US would rally support to rebuild Gaza as part of efforts to bolster a ceasefire between its Hamas Islamist rulers and Israel. However, he made clear that the United States intended to ensure that Hamas, which it regards as a terrorist organization, did not benefit from the humanitarian aid - a potentially difficult task in an enclave over which it has a strong grip.[x]

Blinked stated that "We know that to prevent a return to violence we have to use the space created to address a larger set of underlying issues and challenges…And that begins with tackling the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza and starting to rebuild." The US would work to rally international support around that effort and make its own "significant contributions", to be announced later in the day.

Blinken said he hoped to rebuild relationships with the Palestinian Authority. Earlier, negotiations between Israel and the Authority had collapsed in 2014, and US President Biden's predecessor Donald Trump had cut aid to the Palestinians while promoting a plan that would leave Israel in control of many of the settlements it has built in the West Bank.

But while Biden had maintained that a two-state solution was the only answer to resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict, US officials had suggested it was too early for wider peace talks.

Meanwhile, Israel is in political flux after four inconclusive elections in two years, and the Palestinians are divided by enmity between Hamas and Abbas, who holds sway in the West Bank.

Blinken said he and Netanyahu discussed "other steps" that need to be taken by leaders on both sides to set "a better course" for Israelis and Palestinians.

"As President Biden said, we believe that Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely, to enjoy equal measures of freedom, opportunity and democracy, to be treated with dignity," Blinken said. .[xi]

Infrastructure and housing across the Gaza had been damaged or destroyed by the time the ceasefire was announced. In Gaza, Palestinian officials estimated reconstruction costs at tens of millions of dollars. Israel has blockaded the territory since 2007, in what Palestinians condemn as collective punishment. Egypt also maintains restrictions on its border with Gaza. Both countries cite security concerns for the measures. The population of Gaza is now 2 million.

Meanwhile, Israel pronounces that air strikes had struck only legitimate military targets and that it did its utmost to avoid civilian casualties, including giving prior warnings when it was about to strike residential buildings that it said also had a military use.

Violence between Arabs and Jews also erupted in some Israeli cities, and Blinken said he discussed the inter-communal unrest with Netanyahu.

"Healing these wounds will take leadership at every level," Blinken said, echoing Biden's condemnation of what the secretary of state called "a shocking eruption of antisemitic attacks" in the US itself.[xii]

The Biden administration is reopening the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem, restoring ties with the Palestinians that had been downgraded by the Trump administration.

"We are discussing the re-opening of our Consulate General in Jerusalem to strengthen our ability to engage the Palestinian people and execute our assistance, public diplomacy, and diplomatic reporting," a State Department spokesperson told The Hill.

The Associated Press reports that Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the announcement following a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.[xiii]

“As I told the president, I’m here to underscore the commitment of the United States to rebuilding the relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, a relationship built on mutual respect and also a shared conviction that Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve equal measures of security, freedom opportunity and dignity,” Blinken said.

The consulate in Jerusalem had served as the office in charge of U.S.-Palestinian diplomatic relations before being shut down by former President Trump.

Blinken did not provide a date for when the consulate would be reopened, the AP reports.

Blinken is currently in the Middle East meeting with both Israeli and Palestinian officials to continue the Biden administration’s diplomatic efforts following the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

On May 25, 2021, Blinken also pledged to "rally international support" for Gaza, which has been devastated by the 11 days of fighting that ended last week.

"We know that to prevent a return to violence, we have to use the space created to address a larger set of underlying issues and challenges, and that begins with tackling the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza and starting to rebuild,” he said. “The United States will work to rally international support around that effort while also making our own significant contributions."

He also announced around $40 million in US aid to Palestine, with the AP noting that the amount of aid the Biden administration has sent to Palestine now totals nearly $360 million, a significant increase from the Trump administration that cut off nearly all assistance to Palestine.[xiv]

The onus on resolving the Palestine-Israel is on the US, as it is the only country that has enough clout on Israel to make a difference. Therefore, it is an imperative that the US gets involved in resolving the age-old Palestine-Israeli dispute. A failure would lead to another cycle of violence in the future, surely. The project of establishing an independent, sovereign, and viable Palestine now begins, albeit gradually. Not easy by any means but still doable. It is not about just Hamas and its rockets or Jerusalem for that matter. There is a long history that stretches to about a hundred years or so that must be understood to resolve the dispute. A two-state solution is still doable. However, it will take immense resolve of not only Israel and Palestine but the whole world community.

If you want permanent peace in the Middle East region, then support the Two-State Solution, agreeable to all, otherwise be prepared for another round of fighting. The Palestinians deserve their freedom and let us all support it. An independent and sovereign Palestine will bring peace, surely.

Thankfully, the Palestine-Israel conflict has ended. As expected, the Palestinian Authority failed to respond to Israel’s aggression in Gaza, even the West Bank itself. Meanwhile all other Islamic political leadership has failed to respond the crisis. Also. Given the near paralysis of the Islamic world’s rulers, this was expected.  What was surprising was the response of the people all over the world in a manner unprecedented in history. This happened because of the global media, especially the social media, which was charged, as never before in history. We have now entered a different world altogether. Seemingly, true democracy is being denied to the Palestinians who are treated as second class citizens denied human rights.  The Palestinians are a minority in Israel and are facing discrimination by Israeli state, a fact that cannot be refuted. See the reports of various international human right watch dog groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

There are some implications of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict beyond the region.

Firstly, relations between the US and China will further deteriorate and will further confront each other in the UN. Today, China is speaking out against the Biden administration’s support for Israel. Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, called on Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza. The Chinese state news media has condemned the US for its support of Israel, accusing it of hypocrisy in going after the Chinese government for human rights abuses in Xinjiang while not coming to the aid of Palestinians in the Gaza conflict.

Secondly, there will be a reset of US foreign policy posture regarding Palestine and Israel. This development will be very gradual, though.  Today, many organizations like Black Lives Matter, The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), back the Palestinian Cause. The CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, has called on congressional leaders to condemn both the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for running anti-Muslim ads targeting Rep. Ilhan Omar. The ISNA strongly condemns Israeli police violence against Palestinian civilians in East Jerusalem. It calls out Israeli police brutalities and condemns recent attacks perpetrated at the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque, where Palestinians have been brutalized by Israeli police. The ISNA stands in solidarity with Palestinians and calls on the Biden administration to intervene and cease all settlement activity and occupation of the Palestinian land. Thus, President Biden is facing increasing pressure from his own party to take a tougher line towards Israel.

Thirdly, since most of the Muslim world populace, with few exceptions like Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain, are openly supporting Palestine, the US will now attempt to forestall any new conflagration in the region. The US will pressure Saudi more to resolve the Yemen conflict. Most importantly, the US will try to mend its relations with Iran.  At the end of two more weeks of negotiations, representatives of world powers party to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal appear more certain that work to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the landmark accord will soon succeed. However, not all the many hurdles on the way of bringing the JCPOA back have been removed. The Biden administration will now quicken the pace of the negotiations to get Iran back in the JCPOA framework.

Dr. Sohail Mahmood is an Independent Political Analyst based in Chapel Hill NC.


[i] Julian Borger in Washington, Oliver Holmes in Jerusalem and agencies

Thu 20 May 2021 23.29 EDT

Israel-Gaza conflict: world leaders hail ceasefire after 11 days of attacks, The Guardian, May 20, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/may/21/gaza-israel-ceasefire-biden-raab-guterres, accessed May 21, 2021

Hadas Gold, Ofri Eshel, Abeer Salman, Kareem Khadder and Mohammed Tawfeeq, “Israeli-Palestinian conflict enters 10th day as pressure builds for ceasefire”, CNN May 19, 2021 https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/19/middleeast/israel-palestinian-conflict-wednesday-intl/index.htmlJackie Northam, “Israeli Warplanes Pound Hamas Tunnels In Gaza”, NPR, May 19, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/05/19/998152164/israeli-warplanes-pound-hamas-tunnels-in-gaza, accessed May 19, 2021 and Zaheena Rasheed and Virginia Pietromarchi, “Ceasefire elusive as Israel continues to pound Gaza: Live”, Aljazeera, May 19, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/19/ceasefire-elusive-as-israel-continues-to-pound-gaza-live, accessed May 19, 2021

[ii] Aljazeera News , “Netanyahu promises ‘very powerful’ response if ceasefire broken” Aljazeera News, , May 25, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/25/netanyahu-vows-very-powerful-response-if-ceasefire-broken, accessed May 25, 2021

[iii] Zaheena Rasheed and Virginia Pietromarchi, “Ceasefire elusive as Israel continues to pound Gaza: Live”, Aljazeera, May 19, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/19/ceasefire-elusive-as-israel-continues-to-pound-gaza-live, accessed May 19, 2021

[iv] Jackie Northam, “Israeli Warplanes Pound Hamas Tunnels in Gaza”, NPR, May 19, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/05/19/998152164/israeli-warplanes-pound-hamas-tunnels-in-gaza, accessed May 19, 2021

[v] US says UNSC statement won’t calm Israel-Palestine violence, Aljazeera, May 19, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/19/us-says-unsc-statement-wont-calm-israel-palestine-violence, accessed May 19, 2021

 

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