Jim Shalom
A semi-retired physician

Obstacles to Resolving the Palestinian Israeli Conflict

The ghastly war initiated by Hamas on October 7 has persisted, causing immense suffering on both sides. Its impact is increasingly spreading, involving Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and the Houthis in Yemen, all of whom have also launched attacks on Israel.

Obstacles to reaching an accommodation with Hamas:
Hamas’ declared goal is to destroy Israel.  Excerpts for the Hamas covenant of 1988 express this in a manner that cannot be misinterpreted: ​”The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinguished Palestinian movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” (Article 6) .”The land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf [Holy Possession] consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgment Day. No one can renounce it or any part, or abandon it or any part of it.” (Article 11) .”Palestine is an Islamic land… Since this is the case, the Liberation of Palestine is an individual duty for every Moslem wherever he may be.” (Article 13) ” The Hamas destructive intentions  are indisputable.

Since 2005, there has been a concerted effort by Hamas to pursue this goal as their top priority. Despite millions of dollars of aid from Qatar, Iran, the European Union, the US, and even Israel to Gaza, Gaza civilians remained poverty stricken because most of the funding either ended up in the hands of the Hamas elite or was diverted to build their military infrastructure for the planned assault against Israel. Clearly, Hamas prioritized the clandestine development of their military capabilities over the well-being of the Gaza population.

On  October 7, Hamas launched an  attack on Israel murdering hundreds of civilians, committing atrocities,  taking hostages, and incessantly bombing Israeli cities with thousands of missiles. After over 80 days, they refuse to release hostages or permit Red Cross visits, violating the Geneva Conventions. They have shown no concern for the deaths or critical needs of thousands of displaced Gazans, the population they are governing. Their ceasefire condition is Israel’s total capitulation.

Hamas had created an either-or situation, either Hamas or Israel. Israel’s only viable option is to continue fighting, its very survival being at stake.

Regrettably, and pathetically, the international community, including the UN, has worsened the conflict by not strongly condemning Hamas for initiating aggression and committing atrocities. Their failure to denounce countries supporting Hamas and urging Israel to agree to a unilateral ceasefire has emboldened Hamas to persist in their destructive path. The international community appears oblivious to the presence of other Islamic extremist groups ready to observe the outcome and potentially export their fundamentalist ideology beyond the Middle East, primarily to the West, if decisive action is not taken to halt Hamas.

Those who oversimplify the current conflict by framing it solely as a Palestinian-Israeli issue, fail to comprehend its far-reaching implications beyond mere nationalism. All Islamic extremists oppose fundamental Western principles such as democracy, a free press, an independent legal system, respect for religious diversity, full rights for women, and individual freedoms. Whether or not individuals realize it, supporting Hamas aligns with an orientation that contradicts the foundations of Western values, which are integral to freedom and prosperity.

The only unwavering condemnation of the Hamas’ coupled with justification of Israel’s response has come from President Biden, the American government, and the American people. While the United States, like any nation, operates within its realpolitik interests, unlike other major countries, it also distinguishes itself by standing for its core moral principles, even when such stances may be unpopular. The U.S. is also willing to take actions that may pose short-term challenges but are deemed beneficial in the long run. The United States recognizes that, among Middle Eastern nations, Israel is the sole free democracy aligned with the principles cherished by the Western world. Recognizing the critical role Israel plays, the U.S. understands that if Israel were to fall and be seized by ruthless extremist fundamentalists, there would no longer be a barrier to impede the global spread of Islamic fundamentalist extremism.

The Palestinian – Israeli conflict:
Palestinian nationalistic aspirations are diverse and not solely represented by Hamas. Many Muslims worldwide, as well as Palestinians, seek a non-Hamas Palestinian solution / state. The Jewish people also assert their entitlement to a state. The competing claims stem from centuries of Arab connection to Palestine and even longer historical roots for the Jewish people. After all, millions celebrate Christmas, rooted in the story of the Jewish historical and religious figure Jesus who lived in Israel over two thousand years ago. The political ties to modern Palestine/Israel are more recent. Modern Zionism emerged in the late 18th century, along with the nationalism of many other European countries, while the concept of a Palestinian state evolved during the latter half of the 20th century. Both sides believe in the validity of their aspirations.

A notable difference is that Zionism explores the nature of the Jewish state, while Palestinian nationalism, whether religious or secular, focuses on dismantling the Jewish state. Additionally, while Israel operates as a democratic country, the Palestinian political entities—the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza—are characterized by authoritarianism, incompetence, corruption, and in the case of Hamas by ruthlessness.

Despite millions of dollars of financial aid to these entities, there has been no notable improvement in the freedom or standard of living of Palestinians under Palestinian Authority or Hamas control. In contrast, Israeli Arabs, constituting about 20% of the population, enjoy better financial conditions and more freedom than Arabs anywhere in the Middle East. This observation aligns with my personal impression, residing in the Western Galilee, which is approximately 50% Arab.

Assuming Israel achieves a decisive victory over Hamas, a critical challenge for Israel and the international community will be to establish an interim or takeover government that benefits the Gaza population without posing a security threat to Israel. Both aspects present significant challenges.

Addressing the governance issue is complex, as examples like post-Gaddafi Libya and post-Saddam Hussein Iraq demonstrate that removing authoritarian leaders does not guarantee the emergence of Western-style democracies. Unfortunately, there is no established Arab model of a Western-type democratic government for the Palestinian leadership to emulate.

Moreover, overcoming the Palestinian preoccupation with destroying Israel, necessitates a profound ideological shift. Some Arab countries, such as Egypt, Jordan and Bahrain, acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, and Israeli Arabs generally accept the concept of Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East, and indeed thrive under it. However, neither the Hamas-Gaza leadership nor the Palestinian Authority has adopted this perspective as of now. Similar to many authoritarian governments, they probably believe that attributing the country’s problems to an external cause, such as Israel, provides a shield against accountability.

A concerning issue, stemming from Israeli policy, is the expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and the discrimination faced by the Palestinian population. This approach poses the risk of alienating moderate Palestinians who are open to coexistence with Jews, provided their rights are safeguarded, and their land is not taken from them.

What lies ahead for Gaza and the Palestinians? With millions of Jews and Palestinians residing in the territory, and neither group showing intent to leave or capitulate, the only viable win-win option is a path of compromise. Achieving this compromise will require four essential  formidable changes:

  1. The Palestinian leadership must ideologically abandon their objective of destroying Israel.
  2. Any further Palestinian government, be it on the West Bank or Gaza should strive to be based on democratization, a free press and an independent judiciary along with an independent outside auditor to oversee the government’s flow of funds. Textbooks must be changed so that children are not taught at a young age to hate Jews. The objective would be the improvement of the Palestinians’ well-being and political autonomy with a policy of coexistence toward Israel.
  3. The Israeli leadership must refrain from pursuing a Greater Israel by no longer establishing further settlements throughout the West Bank. Whether or not a mature and responsible Palestinian State emerges, the indigenous Palestinian population must be allowed to live in dignity.
  4. A coordinated and steadfast Western approach against all forms of fundamental Islamic extremism is crucial.

Each of these four points poses significant challenges. Shortcuts won’t work.  However, isn’t this arduous alternative preferable to the cataclysmic conflict that is going on now?

In order to move on, the Hamas rule needs to be stopped, and their fighting force destroyed. The longer it takes to halt Hamas, the more both sides will suffer, with the Gaza population bearing the heavier burden. While Israelis are grappling with their losses, the government and volunteer groups have been supportive. Israel’s resilient citizens be they Jews, Muslims or Christians all realize that they have no alternative and what to strive for. In contrast, the Gaza population faces a high casualty rate, displacement, and the destruction of so many of their homes without any attempt my Hamas to alleviate their suffering.

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.