Sunday, December 3, 2023

Israel-Hamas War: Zero Sum Game or Regional Cooperation?

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In the midst of the Israeli-Gaza war, which has now entered its fifth day, one cannot help but wonder why neighboring peoples are engaged in such a brutal and hellish conflict. The stories emerging from this war are nothing short of horrific – large-scale massacres of entire families and individuals in Israel, air strikes and artillery bombings of civilian buildings in Gaza, resulting in the deaths of hundreds and the injuries of thousands, and a blockade that has pushed Gaza into a state resembling the stone age. These narratives are profoundly unsettling, and many rightly question how such atrocities can occur in a supposedly post-modern era. This war has obliterated decades of strategic studies dedicated to understanding the causes of war, and it serves as a grim reminder of the depths to which humanity can sink.

To understand this ongoing conflict, one must acknowledge that it did not erupt out of nowhere. The Israeli-Palestinian discord has deep historical roots, with the core issue being a contestation over real estate. Palestinians argue that Israel illegally occupied their lands after World War II, while both parties lay claim to these territories based on their historical narratives. In reality, both have legitimate claims according to the principles of statehood established by the Treaty of Westphalia. Israel and the Palestinians have satisfied the requisites of statehood, and their respective territories are geographically defined. So why do they persist in this seemingly endless struggle over land?

Unlike other territorial disputes, the Israeli-Palestinian issue has evolved into a complex expression of political dynamics on two levels: the intractable power conflict between Israel and the Arab world, and the broader geopolitical competition between major global powers. These geopolitical rivalries exacerbate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, making it even more intractable. Sadly, it is these power plays that perpetuate the suffering of the people in the region.

The solution seems clear: a two-state solution that grants political and diplomatic legitimacy to the Palestinian State Authority. Such recognition would disincentivize Israel from encroaching on Palestinian territories, as it would provide a framework for peaceful coexistence. Hamas argues that the root cause of the conflict is Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.

However, as this war rages on, the viability of such a solution appears increasingly remote. The rhetoric exchanged between the two ethnic groups has transformed the issue from a purely political dispute into one deeply rooted in ethnicity and identity. This shift has turned the conflict highly emotional, with both sides claiming to be victims of actions that defy the bounds of human imagination.

One perplexing question lingers in the air: it seems that Israelis have demonstrated a willingness to coexist with Palestinians, but the reverse does not hold true as Palestinians find it exceedingly challenging to live alongside Jews. As Israel strives to normalize its relations with the Arab world, with an initial focus on forging ties with Saudi Arabia, one must ponder what hurdles lie in the path of this seemingly reasonable endeavor.

To begin with, a significant obstacle emerges in the form of the deep-rooted concerns of the Arab states that were once engaged in conflicts with Israel. Many among them might perceive the very fabric of their ontological security as being at risk the moment a peace agreement is brokered between Israel and Saudi Arabia. The prevailing sentiment could revolve around the notion that Saudi Arabia, as a prominent leader of the Sunni world, represents a denominational faction within the larger Islamic realm. Meanwhile, states with Shia influences continue to define the landscape of the Middle East.

In this complex tapestry of geopolitics, a potential alliance between Jewish and Sunni nations emerges as an intriguing but fraught proposition, fraught with historical, cultural, and religious complexities that must be delicately navigated. The absence of trust between and among states in West Asia is most probably the main root cause of continuing conflict.

One compelling vision revolves around the establishment of a regional security community in the mold of the European Union, encompassing the entirety of the Middle East and the Levant. This solution hinges on the cultivation and nurturing of trust among the states in the region, offering a stark departure from the current landscape dominated by realist geopolitics.

Israel, the Palestinians, as well as Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon, ought to come to terms with their shared identity as Levantines. Regardless of their respective religious affiliations, these peoples are bound by a multitude of ethno-cultural realities and traditions, underscoring the possibility of a broader Levantine identity.

Regrettably, the prevailing perspective seems to be one of mutual exclusion, where one side seeks to eliminate the other, perpetuating a destructive zero-sum game. In such a scenario, there are no victors; even if Israel were to possess the capability to eradicate Hamas entirely, the aftermath in a post-Hamas Palestine could lead to increased resistance from traditional adversaries, the Arab States. The prospect of Israel annexing Palestine in its entirety is a nightmarish scenario that nobody in the Levant or the broader Middle East wishes to contemplate. The imperative here is to avoid the perils of a zero-sum game, seeking instead a path toward coexistence and shared prosperity.

In essence, the Israeli-Gaza war is a stark reminder of the horrors that persist in our supposedly modern world, and it underscores the urgent need for a resolution that can bring a semblance of peace and justice to this long-standing conflict.

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