At the onset of a new year wars are escalating into an orgy of brutality, producing more and more civilian victims, devastating their places and sources of livelihood. We see it in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine now in its third year, as well as in the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas with the growing danger of its escalation and extension on the border between Israel and Lebanon, with the Hezbollah militias and their Shiite allies in Syria armed by Iran. It is difficult to imagine today, in the horror of the ongoing war, a long-term agreement that contemplates the end of Hamas terrorism against Israel, the interruption of arms smuggling to Gaza, a multinational interim force between the parties, the enormous reconstruction work after the humanitarian and material disaster.
Yet we need to think about the “day after”, how to rebuild, after the crude death toll, a minimum of civil and economic order in Gaza and thus favor the path towards peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. The task that falls on us as world public opinion attentive to human rights, convinced of the need to partition a disputed land between two peoples and two rights of equal dignity is not to assign blame or inflict punishments. It is to offer bridges, push the warring parties into dialogue, resume the logic of the Oslo agreements of 1993 when the mutual recognition of rights had opened up a concrete glimmer of hope: reconciling the right to peace and security for Israel with that of an independent state for the Palestinians. The trauma inflicted by the mass murder perpetrated by Hamas on October 7, and the anguished sense of insecurity it has exacerbated in the psychology of Israelis, tend to dull their sensitivity to the suffering of Palestinians, whose only the terrorist threat can be seen. In parts of public opinion, in the media, in the proclamations of the chauvinist and fundamentalist components of society, the desire for revenge, even for the expulsion of the inhabitants of Gaza from their land, dominates. A similar mechanism operates among Palestinians who demonize Israel as the aggressor. In the opinion polls following the October 7 massacre, that massacre enjoyed the support of the population, more in the West Bank than in Gaza itself because it symbolized the “resistance” to Israel when the methods of non-violent action – diplomacy, civil society protests, security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel – appear to have failed. Thus in both arenas it is the defense of one’s own exclusive reasons that prevails, to the point of dehumanizing the “enemy”.
Hamas’s militaristic illusion of subduing Israel with violence is defeated; since its electoral victory in 2006 he has fueled a guerrilla war against Israel interrupted by limited periods of truce. The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 could have been the prelude to future, necessary Israeli withdrawals from significant parts of the West Bank. Gaza was an embryo of a Palestinian state, although it required a physical and political link with the West Bank itself, open transit places, a truly sovereign border with Egypt. This was not the case. The “rejection of Israel” and of the Oslo agreements remains a paralyzing element in the ideological sectarianism of Hamas.
On the other hand, it is senseless for Israel to rely on repression alone without offering negotiations that allow the Palestinians to reap the concrete benefits of the repudiation of violence and the birth of a sovereign state. Israel’s right and duty to self-defense against the infamous sadism of Hamas is legitimate, but the point is how to exercise that right by observing the laws of war, limiting the damage inflicted on civilians and infrastructure. A “tragic choice” which Israeli moral philosophers have posited given the material conditions on the field, the population density, the widely documented contiguity between the military-terrorist apparatus of Hamas and the inhabited places. However, the very roots of terrorism can only be eradicated from within Palestinian society; It is Israel’s vital interest to do everything in its power to dissociate it from the fundamentalist extremism of Hamas. It is urgent to resume negotiations with the PA on the issues of settlements, borders with an equal land swap between the two states, and the status of Jerusalem, the shared capital of the two states.
As for the “day after” of Gaza, the possible options are the emergence of a new Palestinian leadership there, antagonistic to Hamas and alien to its jihadist ideology, accompanied by the return of the PA which was violently excluded from it in 2007. A difficult process with a PA largely delegitimized in public opinion, accused of autocracy, corruption and connivance with Israel. Security and order could be ensured by a coalition of Arab countries that have signed peace agreements with Israel – Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Morocco – under the auspices of the UN and with the active support of the United States and European countries.