The recent conflict in the middle east with attacks from Hamas and reprisals from Israel have once again polarised the world. What has shocked several Israeli friends and myself, has been the viciousness of the civil strife in “mixed” cities and communities. Violence between neighbours is not limited to Israel and the middle east, however the synchronicity of this urban warfare with the missile attacks was seemingly unexpected by Israeli society as well as took a lot of us by surprise (and regret) as Israeli society by and large aims to be inclusive and has been very welcoming. Whether it be violence between protestants and Catholics in Ireland, Hindus and Muslims in India, Muslims of various sects in Iraq, social violence has been emblematic of social evolution, often in times of distress and crisis. What is important to investigate is if this social uprising was spontaneous or pre-planned and if so by whom.
The questions here, rightly, are of social inclusion and while analysts focus on what is broken within the Israeli society, the timing of this new wave of terror brings about many interesting consequences. The first is the shelving of democracy. Both the Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), were preparing for an uncomfortable power sharing agreement against a potential challenge at the ballot boxes by new lists presented by Marwan Barghouti, who remains a controversial figure in Israel, serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli jail and Mohamed Dahlan, controversial on the Palestinian street, a former exiled security chief, openly backed by the United Arab Emirates. While this would have been the first Palestinian election since 2006, this would have also been the first election since the Abraham accords which has changed the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic. It was in the interest of both the PLO and the Hamas that this election did not happen and the status quo continued. This conflict has now gained Hamas the unique position as the defender of Jerusalem in the eyes of the Palestinians and allowed Abbas to postpone the elections indefinitely.
An eventual victory of Marwan Barghouti’s list would have been an embarrassment for the Israeli state, but first it would have toppled power centers both the Hamas and the PLO are desperate to hold on to. This is now a problem for another day. The Abraham accords were criticised heavily by all Palestinian factions not only because it destroyed the Arab embargo of Israel but also because it brought to account the Palestine National Authority to the Arab regimes which supported them. Due to the Abraham accords, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain directly and Saudi Arabia, Oman and other GCC members indirectly, have become stakeholders in a peaceful and prosperous Israel. This has reversed the direction of the pressure. The Palestinian factions now need to find a reason to remain relevant to the Arab world. This conflict creates that relevance.
Today Israel finds itself drawn into a proxy war which originates ideologically with the US withdrawal in Afghanistan and the western “defeat” by the Taliban. But the real conflict being played out in Israel is in between Iran and the Sunni Arab states, most of whom have formally or otherwise accepted the existence of Israel. It is in Iran’s, the Hamas’s and PLO’s best interest that the Islamic signatories to the Abraham accords are put in an embarrassing position where either they have to criticise Israel or support Palestine, or both, essentially damaging the warm relationships that have been developed in the past year.
Another consequence is the public fracture of Israeli society. Israel has prided itself on being the only democracy in the middle east. While the barrage of missiles has been largely blocked by the iron dome, civil unrest has won the propaganda battle for Hamas and Islamic Jihad. While much time and analysis will be needed to understand what really went wrong, the urban violence in Lod and other cities in between communities and neighbours will need strong political leadership for reconciliation and healing. With time, today’s fractures will only strengthen tomorrow’s society. But strong leadership, tolerance and vision will be needed from Israel’s future government and leaders.
Finally, this current conflict will be the test of the strength of the Abraham accords. The support that the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan can provide directly and indirectly to protect Israel’s security as well as facilitate a truce will portend the future of this historic agreement. For now Turkey has seized the bullhorn and is trying to wrest the mantle of the leader of the global Islamic community from Saudi Arabia, and will try to use this conflict for the same objective. Whether it is Kashmir or Palestine, Mali or Tchad, Turkey uses every opportunity as a megaphone to broadcast its cause. The coming months will reveal Turkey’s direct role(if any) in supporting the Hamas and the PIJ in the current conflict.
Above all, we all hope the Israeli electorate will understand the need of a unified government that seeks peace and not conflict. The Abraham accords were the perfect opportunity for Prime Minister Netanyahu to encourage a peace deal with the Palestinians, an opportunity he has since squandered. This conflict is the demonstration of the damage that the lack of a decisive government and multiple elections has done to Israeli society and security. Hopefully, the embers of this conflict will be used to light lamps and not fires.