Hamas and the American crossing
Horrors are not new to the sick Middle East. Its blood has been shed in many wars and across many maps. The wars often end in a settlement that goes against the ambitions of those who fired the first bullet.
There remains one endless war: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It often lies in embers under the ashes before rising again in fierce flames. The current horrors in Gaza are unprecedented. The losses are unimaginable and the images pouring in from the enclave are horrific. Schools, hospitals and ambulances have not been spared the wrath of airstrikes.
The war is playing out on screens and mobile phones. It is as if the casualties are dying in our own homes and offices. It is as if we are living among the corpses and rubble. This is why ending the war is the most pressing demand. But who can end this vicious conflict, which is operating at its full terrifying might?
What can Vladimir Putin offer the people of Gaza? What can Xi Jinping offer? What role can Europe play when the conflict has dashed its objective stances and constant preaching about human rights? Who can stop this horrifying killing machine that has exploited the West’s talk about the “right to self-defense” to launch a war to kill scores of innocent people?
What more can Iran offer the people of Gaza other than “terrible consequences” for the continuation of the war? The attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria may lead Washington to take up an even more biased position toward Israel. The plan to expel America from this corner of the Middle East may lead it to become more committed to its guaranteed ally.
Netanyahu realizes that declaring a ceasefire now would mark the end of his long and dangerous career.
The Hamas leadership finds itself in a position reminiscent of the one the Palestine Liberation Organization was in when the Israeli army besieged Beirut in 1982. The occupation bloodied the Lebanese capital, killing people and destroying everything in sight. Ariel Sharon cut off the water and electricity. Beirut found itself confronted with only one crossing toward restoring the water and power, and also toward a ceasefire.
Who could possibly arrange a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza? Who could pressure Israel to agree to aid and to allow the evacuation of the wounded? Who is capable of arranging a ceasefire later? More than four decades since the invasion of Beirut, the answer seems obvious: the US, regardless of its biased policies. During his tour of the region, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken heard blunt Arab statements demanding that he pressure Israel to agree to a ceasefire.
Hamas’ Al-Aqsa Flood operation on Oct. 7 dealt a powerful blow to Israel’s image and its deterrence power. Benjamin Netanyahu retaliated by waging a bloody war that has been a calamity for the people, setting Hamas’ annihilation as his goal.
The fact that this is likely his final war only compounds concerns. He realizes that declaring a ceasefire now would mark the end of his long and dangerous career. The opposition against Netanyahu views this as an existential battle. The Israeli generals are aware that destroying Gaza is easier than destroying Hamas and its tunnels. They have turned the war into the collective punishment of civilians, blaming Hamas for the hefty price being paid.
The current Nakba in Gaza demands a ceasefire, which is only possible through the US. Another obstacle, however, is that Washington itself wants Hamas out of the Gaza equation. It believes that a ceasefire now would pave the way for the situation in Gaza to return to the way it was before. It is a very difficult crisis.
There appears to be no option on the horizon except for the Blinken crossing. But taking this route has a price.
Hamas did not wage its largest ever operation only to be taken out of the equation, even if an agreement were reached to pave the way to a two-state solution. Moreover, managing Gaza over the remains of Hamas will not be an easy task. President Mahmoud Abbas was blunt about that. The role of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority is tied to a comprehensive political solution. How could Hamas possibly accept a solution that would eliminate it after it incurred massive losses in its ranks and among the people?
There appears to be no option on the horizon except for the Blinken crossing. But taking this route has a price. Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ political leader, cannot be a partner in a peace process that would stipulate the need to recognize Israel. He cannot, but what other option is there? Is it the continuation of the war to demonstrate that Hamas cannot be taken out of the equation? Is Hamas banking on the conflict spilling over to the region to allow members of its regional axis to join a major, fateful battle? Are its calculations aligned with those of its allies?
We are obviously unlikely to witness a ceasefire any time soon. The war machine needs more strikes and corpses to impose or withdraw some of its conditions. However, the continuation of the war will be fraught with dangers and the possibility that it will gradually spill over into the region.
Did Hamas, when it launched its operation last month, predict that it would lead to the current scenario? Is it prepared to offer the hostages as the price of stopping the fighting? What about its role after the fighting ends? The PLO paid a price for opting for the American crossing. Will Hamas pay a certain price even though it is not the same as the PLO? And does a ceasefire mean ending the Sunni and Palestinian role in the “resistance axis?” Will the Arabs succeed in easing the conditions for a ceasefire needed to access the American crossing?
• Ghassan Charbel is editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.