After a surprise attack by Hamas killed nearly 1,000 Israeli civilians, the Middle East stands on the brink of being engulfed by war. Israel’s retaliation has been no less devastating as the IDF laid siege to Gaza, killing more than 1,000 Palestinian civilians so far in a bombing campaign of unprecedented ferocity. A ground invasion seems imminent, and the fighting threatens to spill over into a catastrophic regional war.
To understand the genesis of this crisis, New Lines magazine’s Danny Postel and Joshua Martin spoke to political scientists from three different countries about what the unfolding conflagration means for the future of the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
“Hamas would have known that by invading Israel itself and puncturing this myth of invincibility of Israel in its own land, Israel would have to respond even more harshly than normal,” says Jeroen Gunning, professor of Middle Eastern politics and conflict studies at King’s College London and the author of “Hamas in Politics: Democracy, Religion, Violence.” After decades of failure to end the Israeli blockade through other means, he adds, “it may be that Hamas’s calculation was that this was worth the cost — but they’re sacrificing the lives of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza.”
In other words, the massive response from Israel was almost certainly part of the plan. Moreover, Gunning says, it’s unlikely to deliver lasting security and prevent such an attack from happening again.
“A lot of Israelis, including former heads of the Mossad and former generals, have gone on record that there is no military solution to the conflict,” Gunning says.
“Hamas is one of the few groups that still claims resistance against the Israeli occupation,” explains Dana El Kurd, a political scientist at the University of Richmond and the author of “Polarized and Demobilized: Legacies of Authoritarianism in Palestine.”
“So what this moment speaks to is the fact that a lot of these other Palestinian actors have become very irrelevant to the ongoing conflict.”
Unlike their counterparts in Gaza, Fatah, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, has cooperated with Israel since the Oslo Peace Accords were signed in the 1990s. By provoking a response of this magnitude, Hamas has an opportunity to not only delegitimize their main rivals but also shore up its own support.
“In the context of Israel bombing Gaza, there is obviously a rally-around-the-flag effect where even people who are completely ideologically opposed to Hamas are not going to express something like that,” El Kurd points out. “I can’t describe how outraged people are, how just dehumanized people feel, that violence against Palestinians is ignored.”
“Although it may sound completely utopian at this dark point, I think it might also serve as an awakening for moderates on both sides.”
“It’s the vicious cycle of humiliation and revenge. And we’ve seen it throughout the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” says Uriel Abulof, a political psychologist at Tel Aviv University and the author of “Living on the Edge: The Existential Uncertainty of Zionism.”
“You feel the fear, you feel the humiliation caused by the others, and you want revenge.”
Yet the events of the past week, he believes, have shown the futility of that cycle. “The only thing you can do is live by the sword and hope that you’ll be able to survive. And Netanyahu was the main agent of that doctrine over the past 30 years.”
But while he may be hoping that a forceful enough reprisal may placate the public, the attacks happened under Netanyahu’s watch, Abulof points out, and a great many Israelis blame him for the bloodshed.
“Although it may sound completely ludicrous and utopian at this dark point, I think that it might also serve as a sort of an awakening for moderates on both sides. And I think there are many, many Palestinians who abhor what Hamas has done,” he adds. “I think there is a potential that both sides may come together and try to do something that we haven’t really tried before, which is a real coexistence, truly, fully recognizing the existence of the other.”
Produced by Joshua Martin