Jim Shalom
A semi-retired physician

Leadership in the Middle East Conflict – A Scoreboard

Given the historical events and recent developments, achieving a feasible and peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems doubtful. Three exacerbating factors are the involvement of extremist Islamic fundamentalists led by Iran including Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis, (termed the Axis of Resistance), the absence of a Palestinian peace camp, and a lack of high-quality leadership among key partners. Positive change can only occur if Islamic extremists are firmly held at bay, there is a greater willingness on the Palestinian side for normalization with Israel along with calls for leadership change within Israel and the Palestin3ian Authority (P.A.) that are heeded.

The Axis regimes vehemently oppose any two-state solution and reject any compromise with Israel. Hamas, in particular, explicitly aims for the destruction of Israel, as evident in their verbal statements, written declarations, and recent war actions since October. The Axis of Resistance’s extremism extends beyond Israel, as seen in their ruthless authoritarianism within their own regimes, targeting dissenting voices and repression of women’s rights. There is a consistent correlation between the severity of their authoritarian measures against their population and their hostility towards Israel.

The Hamas Scorecard:
Hamas has indeed caused havoc in Israel, but instead of improving the welfare of Gaza citizens, as it claims it is committed to, it has horrifically worsened their predicament. An estimated two million Gazans are now displaced, many without homes to return to. If the conflict persists, the devastation in Gaza will intensify, and there are indications that the conflict is spreading to Lebanon (Hezbollah), Iraq, Syria, Yemen (Houthis), and potentially beyond.

The Palestinian Authority’s (P.A.) Failing Government:
The last elections in the West bank were held in 2006, that is 18 years ago. The P.A. has refused to hold further elections for fear of losing. Incompetence and corruption characterize its failed governance, not a lack of funds or Israeli policy. Regarding Israel, the P.A. have mostly abstained from the Hamas use of terror but do align with Hamas’s goal of dismembering Israel and continue to educate their children to hate Jews. Their support for a two-state solution appears to be a political strategy for Israeli withdrawal, seen as a step toward the eventual dismantling of Israel. No Palestinian leader has declared otherwise. In contrast to the Israeli side, there is no significant Palestinian peace camp advocating for territorial compromise, normalization with Israel, and a two-state solution as an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The late Abba Eban, Israel’s former foreign minister, famously quipped that the Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” The current moment is an ideal opportunity for the Palestinian leadership to assert itself. On paper, the solution seems simple: competent leadership committed to the betterment of the Palestinian people, coupled with a willingness to peacefully coexist and engage in bilateral compromise with Israel. Reality is apparently different.  However, without a change in leadership and direction, the chances of improving the plight of Palestinians and bringing stability to the region are minimal. A different leadership with a fresh outlook is needed.

The view from Israel:
Over Israel’s 75 years, the Palestinian leadership’s repeated refusal to engage in effective negotiated reconciliation, coupled with their support for terror, eroded confidence in Israelis to feel secure beside an independent neighboring Palestinian state. Nevertheless, until the current government took office in December 2022, about half of Israelis still supported a two-state solution, conditional on Israel remaining militarily secure, and the Palestinians abandoning their pursuit of destroying Israel. Unfortunately, the facts that  Gaza-Hamas, that an independent Palestinian state viciously attacked Israel on October 7 and received widespread support for their actions by both the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian public, have shattered the Israeli peace camp’s belief in the viability of a two-state solution. However, it’s crucial to note that most Israelis still oppose Israel ruling over Gaza or the West Bank and overall reject any solution where Israel governs Palestinians. Most Israelis prefer a “live and let live” solution.

Regarding the second group, a significant minority of Israelis, including some current coalition partners, believes in annexing the entire West Bank due to the biblical promise to the Jews. They firmly oppose the establishment of a Palestinian State under any circumstances.

Israel’s Failing Government:
The Israeli government, led by Netanyahu, was caught off guard by the events of October 7. Despite the military’s successful turnaround after Oct 7, many Israelis believe that alongside the military effort, were it not for its ineptitude, the government should be and could be handling the war effort more effectively. Over three months into the war, the government, by its own accounts, is still far from achieving its goals of defeating Hamas, securing the release of the remaining hostages, or providing security for Israeli citizens. It continues to prioritize inappropriate coalition demands and ideological rigidity over war needs, contrasting with the sacrifices Israeli soldiers make by setting aside personal issues and political differences to risk their lives for the country. Because some of the coalition partners’ ideological views are problematic for Israel’s allies, the government has been unable to present a political vision following a potential military victory, creating a critical vacuum. A military victory alone will be ineffective without a complementary political solution. Israel lacks the means of resolving the conflict politically by itself. The US and other supportive Israeli allies find Israel unrealistic and unnecessarily unreasonable to deal with. Without a coordinated policy with the Americans and moderate Arab states, the potential political vacuum for dealing with  “the day after” will be perilous. Since October 7, Israel’s overall precariousness has worsened, with the Netanyahu government lacking any notable successes. Most Israelis no longer support the government and wish for elections, with some preferring them after the war to avoid interference with the war effort. However, as the war drags on, the indefinite prolonged wait is becoming less palatable and more harmful.

Minor policy changes are insufficient at this point. For all his efforts, Netanyahu and his coalition partners have failed. Another leader and government should be given a chance. The most patriotic course for Netanyahu and his team would be to resign as soon as possible paving the way for an interim government appointed by the Knesset or perhaps by the President. Cooperation by Netanyahu and his coalition partners with the interim government would ease the disruption of the transition. Alternatively, if a sufficient number of Likud or other coalition party members in the Knesset agree that the ongoing failures of the government are worsening Israel’s situation, and subsequently withdraw their support, they have the potential to topple the current government.

Qatar – The Potential Game Changer:
Relating to all secondary players is beyond the scope of this blog. However, Qatar, a notable participant, holds a unique position of influence. Oil revenue has made Qatar influential in the Gaza-Israeli conflict. Qatar has supported Hamas financially and helped build its vast military infrastructure, and also provided accommodations for Hamas leaders residing in luxury and security in Doha. However, Qatar has also played an instrumental role in securing the release of 105 hostages, providing appreciated relief for Israel. Moving forward, Qatar faces the choice of continuing to support Hamas, thereby worsening Gaza’s devastation, or redirecting its support for the Palestinians by actively participating in the pursuit of a self-determined government body in Gaza without Hamas.

Western and Moderate Arab Countries:
If they do not want Islamic fundamentalist extremists to spread and further destabilize the Middle East and beyond, the US, Western European countries and moderate Arab states must cooperate to limit the influence of the Axis of Resistance regimes. This will most likely require the use of force and ongoing resolve as that is the only language that the Axis of Resistance regimes understand.

The overall deteriorating situation in the Middle East due to the Hamas war on Israel has the potential of degenerating the region into chaos and bedlam. A victory by Hamas will embolden other extreme Islamic fundamentalist groups, exporting a threatening radical worldview contrary to Western democratic pluralistic principles. A military victory by Israel without a complementary political policy addressing Palestinian needs could lead to a toxic vacuum. Pivotal leadership changes are needed to steer a more encouraging course. Without a change in leadership in Israel committed to pursuing Palestinian reconciliation if possible, which is neither bridled unduly by ideology nor coalition pressures, the development of an accountable Palestinian leadership committed to betterment of the Palestinians and normalization with Israel, along with a firm global stance against the Axis of Resistance regimes, it’s difficult to envision how improvement towards conflict resolution improvement can come about.


About the Author
Jim Shalom is a specialist in family medicine, with interests in end-of-life care and the Israeli political scene. He resides in Galilee. He has spent most of his adult life living and working in Israel.