Can the world order survive Israel’s war on Gaza?
What will our region and indeed the world look like once Israel concludes its war in Gaza? The statistics coming out of the beleaguered, narrow strip of land that is home to 2.3 million Palestinians — 70 percent of whom are refugees from previous wars — are staggering. In the first 36 days of the Israeli onslaught, under the guise of self-defense, more than 11,000 people were killed, with thousands more missing under the rubble, and 24,000 were injured. Some 4,500 children have been killed, 40 percent of homes and towers have been destroyed or damaged and 30,000 tons of explosives have been dumped on what has become an unlivable wasteland. At least 50 journalists are dead — compared to the 63 who were killed in the entire 20 years of war in Vietnam. The list of unimaginable atrocities goes on and on. More than 1 million Gazans have been displaced. There is no water, food, medicine or fuel and no safe zone. This is truly a Palestinian holocaust.
Israel has rebuffed calls for a ceasefire and has failed to deliver humanitarian pauses to allow sufficient aid to reach Gaza. According to Israeli officials, international pressure on the country to stop the war will increase over the next two to three weeks. Tens of millions of people around the world have come out to call for an end to the war. Western officials refuse to listen.
In the eyes of many, this is no longer a war to destroy militant group Hamas, but a war of extermination. The appeals of UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch and other nongovernmental organizations have been trashed. Israel is not only bent on revenge for the atrocities of Oct. 7, but it also wants to implement a game-changing strategy that aims at bringing down the very foundations of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The goal is to go back to the 1948 Nakba and start again from there.
In the eyes of many, this is no longer a war to destroy militant group Hamas, but a war of extermination
The far-right partners of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk publicly about the need to reoccupy the Gaza Strip, forcibly transfer its inhabitants and make way for new Jewish settlements. They also say that what is happening in Gaza is a prototype of what will happen in the West Bank. Israeli analysts say Netanyahu is too weak to rein in his radical coalition partners. The religious Zionism movement is blackmailing Netanyahu as he tries to salvage his political career and establish his legacy.
Arab leaders have been explicit about the war crimes, genocide and ethnic cleansing being perpetrated by the invading Israeli army. They have also bluntly pointed to the double standards the West uses when applying international law. The US has hindered attempts by the UN Security Council to adopt a ceasefire resolution; not that Israel, with its dismal track record at the UN, would honor it anyway.
So, in reality, no one knows how the Gaza war will end. But it will at some point. Then, the international community will get a true look at what the Israeli war machine has done. The dead will be in the tens of thousands and the number of maimed and injured will be appalling. The level of destruction will resemble the post-Second World War German and Japanese cities. The humanitarian catastrophe will become a global nightmare for many years to come.
Netanyahu and his partners are using the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas as a blank check to carry out a war of annihilation. There is no proportionality, restraint or adherence to international humanitarian law and the rules of war. For Israel’s political establishment, all Gazans are complicit, including civilians. When Netanyahu resorts to uttering Talmudic verses that can only be interpreted as calls for genocide, one gets a sense of what his soldiers are doing. When US politicians say that this is a religious war, one can only feel a mixture of disgust and fear about what Israel and its fanatical supporters are willing to allow to happen to hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.
And we have seen more than our stomachs can take. So, the question arises: What will the day after look like? The war on Gaza has tested the 30-plus-year-old “new world order” that George H.W. Bush announced following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Back then, the US emerged as the world’s sole superpower and it promised something different from the years of the Cold War.
But under its rule, the world has suffered. The US launched two wars against Arab Muslim countries — mostly under false pretenses. It killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and made the Middle East less secure and more polarized. Its policies unleashed sectarian and ethnic wars, emboldened extremists and left the region deeply scarred and divided. Its legacy in the region can only be described as toxic.
The region and the world cannot continue with business as usual following the war on Gaza and its egregious outcome
The miasma of despair has hounded the Palestinians for decades. The US allowed Netanyahu to pursue his destructive scheme of killing the last remaining hope: the two-state solution. The impunity given to Netanyahu has become a curse not only for the Palestinians but for Israelis as well.
The region and the world cannot continue with business as usual following the war on Gaza and its egregious outcome. The West says that, once the war is over, it will push for a two-state solution and a state for the Palestinians. This is a false and vacuous mea culpa and those who say this are either disingenuous or naive, or both. The Israeli political clique is vehemently and ideologically against such a proposal. The two-state option is long gone.
The rules-based order — the one preached by the West for so long — is in dire trouble. How can the West talk about human rights and international law when calls for impartial investigations into what Israel has done in Gaza are not being heeded? Will the US and its allies allow the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants against Israelis and others who are suspected of committing war crimes or have supported and facilitated such crimes, whether politically or materially?
Will the Western world allow the testimonies of tens of thousands of Gazans to be heard in an international tribunal? Will a bereaved Palestinian child, who lost his or her entire family in Israeli raids, be allowed to testify in the US Congress?
The answer is probably, and in most cases emphatically, no. And thus the current multipolar world order will cease to exist.
A multipolar world is needed to salvage an impotent UN and the entire post-Second World War legal and humanitarian infrastructure. This means the Global South must have a say in how the world is run. It also means that Russia and China must become active participants in the new world order. But most importantly, it means that countries in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkiye and Iran, will have to contribute to the safety and stability of the region.
It is sad that both China and Russia have contented themselves with paying lip service to the Palestinian ordeal when they could have done much more. We are yet to see Russian and Chinese relief convoys being sent to help Gazans. Both countries are missing a rare opportunity to confront the Western pro-Israel narrative and the West’s bias in favor of Israel by supporting Arab and Muslim positions, as stated at Saturday’s summit in Riyadh, as well as appealing to millions in the West who are anti-war and anti-genocide.
The war on Gaza has become a rallying call against everything that is unjust; from globalism to the corrupt and Zionist-dominated Western political elite. Such popular momentum should not be ignored or sidelined. It should evolve into a mass call for a new world order, in which the law and culpability are implemented for all.
The alternative looks frightening: a world where no one adheres to the law because of the Israeli precedent and long-time impunity. Such a scenario must never be allowed to happen.
- Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator in Amman. X: @plato010