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The United Arab Emirates walks a geopolitical tightrope, juggling big power rivalries and mounting regional instability fuelled by the Gaza war.
Separating the wheat from the chaff in the Israeli-Palestinian fog of war is key to preparing for the day after the guns fall silent and resolving a conflict that constitutes a perennial regional ticking time bomb.
Spanish philosopher George Santayana didn’t have Palestine in mind when he coined the phrase, ‘history repeats itself.’ Yet, Mr. Santayana’s maxim may apply to Hamas when comparing the group’s political evolution to the 16-year-torturous road traversed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from classification by Israel and its Western allies as a terrorist organization to establishing the Palestine Authority on Israeli-occupied Palestinian land.
A recent clash between pro-Palestinian Muslims and pro-Israeli Christians in the North Sulawesi coastal town of Bitung raised the spectre of Indonesia’s worst nightmare, inter-communal violence. In a country that prides itself on a culture of inter-communal harmony, the death of a protester set off alarm bells. “This is very worrying” said Yahya Cholil Staquf, chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest and most moderate Muslim civil society movement. Mr. Staquf, popularly known as Pak Yahya, spoke at a one-day summit in Jakarta of religious leaders, convened to define “religion’s role in addressing Middle East violence & threats to a rules-based international order.”
Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel has not just divided Muslim political leaders. It’s also solicited diverse responses from religious figures and institutions, reflecting deeper divisions about what Islam stands for in the 21st century. At the core of the differences is the ability and willingness to empathise with innocent victims on both sides of the Israeli-Palestnian divide, even if the focus is on the carnage caused by Israel’s assault on Gaza, the West’s double standards, and the international community’s impotence in imposing a long-term halt to the fighting.
Israel’s war on Gaza. Cracks in Western support have emerged not only because of the devastating human toll of Israel’s military campaign, including stepped-up attacks on hospitals and schools, but also due to differences on how Gaza would be governed once the guns fall silent.
Words matter. No more so than in legal settings. Genocide is the word most associated with Israel's more than one-month-long assault on Gaza. In response to the October 7 Hamas attack against Israel, in which at least 1,200, mostly civilian, Israelis were killed. Genocide and Holocaust scholars, including those who believe that Israel has and is committing war crimes in its assault are divided about whether Israeli actions amount to genocide. Even so, they warn that Israeli actions could lead to genocide, if it not already has. What is certain is that optics streaming out of Gaza of the destruction and the plight of innocent Palestinian civilians, including large numbers of children and babies, explain the popular use of the term genocide when discussing the Israeli assault. To get some proper definitions and put things in perspective. I am joined today by Professor Omar Bartov, a world-renowned genocide and Holocaust scholar at Brown University in Rhode Island.
When US President Joe Biden insisted there could be no return to the status ante quo once the guns fall silent in Gaza, he revived debate about the viability of a two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet, for all practical purposes, Hamas’ brutal October 7 attack against Israel and Israel’s more than month-long indiscriminate bombing of Gaza have likely delayed any realistic effort to resolve the conflict.
It took Arab and Muslim leaders 35 days of war to call an ‘emergency’ meeting to discuss Israel’s assault on Gaza. Their limited ability to influence developments was on public display when they finally gathered this weekend in the Saudi capital Riyadh. So were the differences that raised questions about efforts in recent years to sustainably reduce regional tensions without resolving fundamental disputes and conflicts.
Few bring an understanding to the table of both sides that is grounded in having mediated between Israel and Hamas rather than only having engaged with one side or the other, particularly as Qatar negotiates a release of some hostages kidnapped by Hamas on October 7. A hostage negotiator, former advisor to Israeli prime ministers, critic of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, and an investor in East Jerusalem housing for Palestinians, Gershon Baskin is one of those few. In 2011, Mr. Baskin negotiated Hamas’ release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for 1,027 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. Mr. Baskin was in touch with Hamas leaders in Gaza until a week ago. He says the release by Hamas of women, children, and elderly hostages is being negotiated on three different tracks in Qatar, Egypt, and Lebanon, countries that host exiled Hamas officials and/or have a relationship with the group. The release could involve an exchange for Palestinians in Israeli prisons and/or a temporary silencing of the guns.
Gershon Baskin may be one of the few sane voices left on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide. Mr. Baskin speaks with authority when he denounces the Israeli assault on Gaza as a war crime and Hamas for its brutal October 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,400, primarily civilian, Israelis.
Israel’s options are central to discussions about the day after the guns fall silent in Gaza. Absent from the debate is what Palestinians want.
The stakes in the Gaza war for the United States and President Joe Biden could not be higher.
US President Joe Biden’s bear hug approach and refusal to pressure Israel more forcefully involves a complicated cost-benefit analysis as well as a crucial political battle that could not only drag the United States into another Middle East war but also change the paradigm of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.
Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is in a bind. He is caught between public support for the Palestinians, and for Hamas in significant quarters, opponents painting him as a Western and Israeli lackey, and the need to not be seen as enabling a militant organization that brutally targets civilians.
Israel will likely win the Gaza war on the battlefield. Even so, it has already been defeated in the court of public opinion.
Human beings’ most destructive instincts – survival, anger, fear, despair, and vengeance – dictate Israeli and Palestinian war strategy and policy in the wake of Hamas’ October 7 brutal attack on Israel.
If there is a lesson to be drawn from the Gaza war, it is that history repeats itself: hardliners on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide reinforce each other.
Hamas, the Islamist militia that controls Gaza, will likely emerge a victor regardless of how the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting ends.
Saudi and Iranian sports have politics written into their DNA.
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