Javaid Beigh

Middle East Again

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The latest flare up between Israel and Hamas has once again brought focus of the world on one of the longest outstanding disputes in the post world war era. The flare up has come at a time, when Israel is undergoing destabilizing phase, after four back-to-back inconclusive general elections that have failed to throw up a clear majority to anyone. On the face of it, the latest confrontation may look like a new chapter in the old story book of historical Jewish & Palestinian feud but once the surface is scratched, more political shenanigans emerge on both sides as probable reason for the escalation of a small confrontation into a full-fledged battle and military crisis involving world community at this crucial time, when the entire globe is fighting war against the ravaging Corona virus pandemic.

As a precursor to the latest dispute is the fractured outcome of March general elections this year, which like previous three general elections did not give majority to any political alliance. The caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to gather the necessary number of members of Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) and form the government largely because his far-right wing Israeli political partners refused to participate in a coalition government with an Israeli Arab party called United Arab List of Mansur Abbas. It is speculated that Prime Minister Netanyahu himself was not in favor of Mansur Abbas joining any prospective coalition government. He is believed to have favored continuing to serve as caretaker Prime Minister until a new general election are held with his improved chance of wining them, a strategy, which would additionally give him time to postpone his trial for corruption.

This is where the theatre of politics shifts to East Jerusalem, the focal point of the current flare up, from where the whole thing began. The Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem is inhabited predominantly by Palestinian families. Sheikh Jarrah is also located a mile away from Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine. Towards the beginning the holy month of Ramadan, the Israeli police force began using unnecessary restrictions against Palestinian worshippers in East Jerusalem. First, it prevented them from customary gathering at Damascus gate and then beating up protestors at Sheikh Jarrah, where six Palestinian families were facing a legal eviction from their homes in East Jerusalem. Tensions soon boiled over when Israeli forces stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque using stun grenades and rubber bullets, which left hundreds of people wounded.

This is where the politics begins at both sides.

Hamas a Palestinian military cum political organization based in Gaza strip retaliated by firing a barrage of rockets into Israel from Gaza strip prompting retaliatory air strikes from Israel. Many political analysts believe that Hamas saw this as an opportunity to redeem itself from its dwindling popularity among Palestinians and to present itself as the defender of Palestinian rights. Furthermore, analysts also believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s over enthusiastic military strike back at Hamas is fed by his own opportunistic desire to use war against Hamas as a rallying point of his Israeli supporters around Israeli Nationalism and win a decisive victory in next general elections.

So far, the international reaction to the fast-escalating conflict has been mixed as nations around the world continue to grapple with the deadly consequences of Coronavirus pandemic. The Organization of Islamic Council (OIC) has expectedly strongly condemned the bombing of Gaza by Israel and demanded a complete and immediate stoppage of the air strikes. The Israel on the other hand has been supported by its historical and traditional ally United States with the newly elected US President Joe Biden throwing his weight behind Israel and supporting what it describes as Israel’s ‘right to defend”.

India has continued with its traditional support to Palestinian people and government, despite what many though would not be the case. India’s permanent representative to the UN, T S Tirumurti made a statement at the UN Security council “open debate,” implicitly holding Israel responsible for triggering the current cycle of violence. India requested both sides to refrain from “attempts to unilaterally change the existing status quo including in East Jerusalem and its neighborhoods”. India further reiterated that “the historic status quo at the holy places of Jerusalem including the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount must be respected”.

On international level, Joe Biden administration has been trying to broker a cease fire by flying its officials to hold talks with Israeli government, but so far, all mediation efforts by US, the Egyptians and some Gulf nations have been unsuccessful.

There is danger of the violence escalating and spreading to previously relatively peaceful areas in West Bank and other towns in Israel having mixed Arab-Jewish population. Already, situation is said to have been worsening in most Israeli towns with Arabs population with mass protests being staged and a fear of a third Palestinian “intifada” rising.

In the end, it is the ordinary people of Israel and Palestinian territories, who will collectively pay a price of desire of self-preservation by PM Netanyahu and desire of Hamas to not only gain back its foothold in Gaza but also increase its influence in West Bank.

The writer is State Secretary of People’s Democratic Front and can be reached @javedbeigh on Social Media Platforms

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