Could the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza be Palestine’s ‘black swan’ moment?

Analysis Could the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza be Palestine’s ‘black swan’ moment?
A child carrying a tray of food walks among the ruins of the West Bank city of Kalkilya in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War. (Getty Images)
Short Url
Updated 15 November 2023
Follow

Could the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza be Palestine’s ‘black swan’ moment?

Could the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza be Palestine’s ‘black swan’ moment?
  • Buried in the rubble of the world’s longest-running conflict may be clues as to how the Gaza war might end
  • Israeli scholar Ahron Bregman believes the war may yet reset the dial, ushering in a two-state solution

LONDON: As the missiles and bombs continue to rain down on Gaza, reducing entire neighborhoods to wastelands and pushing the death toll to ever more obscene heights, buried in the rubble of the bloody history of the world’s longest-running war may be found clues as to how the current conflict might end and the impact it might have on the political landscape of the Middle East.

That, at least, is the view of UK-based Israeli historian and political scientist Dr. Ahron Bregman.

The author of half a dozen books about Israel’s seemingly never-ending wars, he believes there is a chance that in this latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian saga something significant might be stirring — a “black swan” moment, a metaphor used by political theorists and financial analysts alike to describe a rare, unexpected and unpredictable event that has dramatic, unforeseen consequences.




Smoke billows during the Israeli military bombardment of the northern Gaza Strip on November 14, 2023. (AFP)

Israel has been at war for 75 years, ever since David Ben-Gurion, the Polish-born head of the World Zionist Organization, declared the foundation of the state on May 14, 1948, the day the British mandate for Palestine came to an end.

For its own political reasons, Britain had championed the foundation of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine since 1917, when its government issued the Balfour Declaration, pledging its support for “a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.”

But the first voices warning of the inevitable consequences of “dumping down an alien population upon an Arab country,” as one member of the British House of Lords put it in 1920, were raised in Britain.

The harm this would do, said Lord Sydenham in a debate on the Palestine Mandate in the House of Lords on June 21, 1922, “may never be remedied … what we have done is, by concessions, not to the Jewish people but to a Zionist extreme section, to start a running sore in the East, and no one can tell how far that sore will extend.”

To date, it has extended for three-quarters of a century.

The list of conflicts that have flowed from what Lord Sydenham described as “a gross injustice … opposed to the sentiments and wishes of the great majority of the people of Palestine,” is a long one.




Israelis in Nitzan take shelter in a large concrete pipe after a rocket launch from the Gaza Strip on November 15, 2012. (Getty Images)

The opening act in the long-running tragedy still being played out today was the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, preceded by a civil war between the Arab and Jewish communities and triggered by the outrage in the Arab world at the UN Partition Plan for Palestine.

Adopted by the UN General Assembly on Nov. 29, 1947, this allocated 56 percent of the land to the Jews, even though at that stage there were still twice as many Arabs in Palestine.

Despite attempts by commentators, governments and even some of the players to frame the Palestinian conflagration as a battle between competing religious ideologies, the central theme of all the subsequent conflicts has remained consistent: land.




Egyptian tanks and artillery advancing on the front during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. (AFP)

As Bregman wrote in his 2010 book “Israel’s Wars — A History Since 1947,” “when viewed from a historical perspective, these separate, short wars can be seen as one continuous conflict where territory ­— first the land of Palestine and then lands seized by Israel in subsequent wars — is the main, though not exclusive, trigger to repeating conflagrations.

“The balance sheet, after more than 60 years of Israeli-Arab conflict, indicates that on the battlefield there has been no clear victor — neither Arab nor Israeli.”

And yet, he believes, despite the untrammeled horror of the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, and Israel’s uncompromising and increasingly widely condemned military response, the current conflict may yet prove to have reset the dial, paving the way, finally, to a two-state solution.

At first glance, this seems counterintuitive. Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied that Israel is planning to reoccupy Gaza, vacated by his predecessor Ariel Sharon almost 20 years ago, this is precisely what hawks in his government have called for.

“There are extreme people in the government who wish for a return to rebuilding the Jewish settlements in Gaza that Ariel Sharon evacuated in 2005,” said Bregman.

But this, he believes, will not be how this current conflict ends.




Rescuers search victims among the rubble of the destroyed buildings Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, on March 1948 at the beginning of the first Jewish-Arab conflict. (AFP)

“Sharon understood that you can’t have 8,000 settlers living among 1.8 million, at the time, hostile people and you can’t now have settlers living among 2.2 million Palestinians, who will be even more hostile after the destruction we are now seeing.

“Besides, any return to the Gaza Strip by Israel would be opposed by the entire international community, mainly the United States, on which Israel is now very dependent.”

For many, the scenes of Palestinians fleeing their homes in Gaza have awoken painful memories of the Nakba, the forceful displacement of more than half the Palestinian population before and during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

The fury of the Israeli response to the events of Oct. 7 has also conjured up memories of the 1967 Six-Day War, by the end of which Israel had seized the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, vastly expanding its territory at the expense of hundreds of thousands of displaced Arabs.

But Bregman, a senior teaching fellow in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London who has written extensively about the Arab-Israeli conflict, looks to another episode in that long saga for a clue to how events might now play out.




Israeli tanks advancing through difficult hilly terrain on June 10, 1967 in the Golan heights. (AFP)

Fifty years ago, in October 1973, a surprise attack was unleashed on Israel by a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt, motivated by a desire to recover the land seized by Israel in 1967.

The Ramadan War, or Yom Kippur War, ended in victory for an Israel heavily backed by American arms, but it set in motion a chain of events that changed the political and territorial landscape.

“Before the 1973 war, Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat offered the Israelis a peace proposal: Withdraw in the Sinai, not completely, but by 35 km, and we will embark on a peace process,” said Bregman.

The proposal was rejected by Golda Meir, the Israeli prime minister, and Sadat went to war.

“And then something very interesting happened. After the war, the withdrawal sought by Sadat was exactly what happened. In 1974, the Israelis withdrew in the Sinai, exactly 35 kilometers.”




A building destroyed by an Israeli bombing in Damascus on October 10, 1973 during the 1973 Arab–Israeli War. (AFP)

This in turn led to the Camp David Accords in 1978 and the signing the following year of the historic peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, which became the first Arab state to officially recognize Israel and won back the entire Sinai Peninsula.

The treaty, which earned Sadat and Menachem Begin, then Israel’s prime minister, the Nobel Peace Prize, was widely condemned in the Arab world at the time as a betrayal of the Palestinians and led to Sadat’s assassination in 1981.

“But after the 1973 war, the Israelis were willing to do things they weren’t prepared to do before, because of the war,” said Bregman.

“This was a black swan ­— and maybe what we are seeing now will be a black swan as well, which could change everything.”




Egyptian President Anwar Al-Sadat (L) and Israeli Premier Menachem Begin (R), seated between US President Jimmy Carter, sign the historic peace treaty between Israel and Egypt on March 26, 1979. (AFP)

Bregman, who has lived in the UK since 1989, returns regularly to Israel to visit family and is intimately familiar with the country’s military, political and intelligence landscape.

He served in the Israel Defense Forces for six years, taking part as a major in the 1982 Lebanon War, later worked as a parliamentary aide in the Knesset and wrote “The Spy Who Fell to Earth,” the 2016 bestselling book about espionage between Egypt and Israel, later made into a Netflix documentary.

“Do not misunderstand me,” he said. “What happened on Oct. 7 was barbaric, on par with Daesh at the highest point on the scale of evil.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

“But if you look at it from a purely military point of view, it was a very successful operation for Hamas. They surprised the Israelis big time. Now, I imagine many Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are angry with them because of the destruction. But in the long term, this will be regarded as a major event in the mythology and history of the Palestinian people — a major event after years of humiliation and Israeli victories.”

The current phase of the conflict, he believes, will end soon, “in a few days, or weeks, because the Americans will stop the Israelis” — Biden will fear losing his election if they continue. But it is in what could happen next that the beating of the wings of the black swan can be heard.




Israeli troops take position in the southern city of Beersheba following an unprecedented attack by Hamas fighters on October 7, 2023. (AFP)

There are several possible outcomes, of which Netanyahu’s declared intention to destroy Hamas completely is one — and, in Bregman’s view, impossible: “Hamas is as much of an idea as it is a group of people.”

But, he says, “if you want to kill an idea, you must put forward a better one, and a better idea for the Palestinians would be — ‘Here, you are going to have your state.’”

Under current circumstances, that seems an extraordinary prospect. But that, said Bregman, is precisely the nature of a “black swan” scenario.

“It’s not nice to say, but the Israelis got a bloody nose and that brings me back to 1973. It was the bloody nose of 1973 that shook up the Israelis and made the Sinai 1 and Sinai 2 agreements happen.”

He speculates that, under US pressure, Israel could facilitate the return of the Palestinian National Authority to Gaza, where it lost control to Hamas in 2006. In this scenario, the aging Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestine president, would be replaced.

“Israel could, for example, do something brave and release from prison Marwan Barghouti,” Bregman said, referring to the Palestinian leader sentenced to life imprisonment in 2002, but who is seen as a potential unifying candidate.




A Palestinian man sits on the debris of collapsed structures destroyed in the Israeli bombardment of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 10, 2023. (AFP)

Under Barghouti, or someone like him, said Bregman, “you could have the Palestinian Authority ruling the two areas again. Of course, the right in Israel would be very reluctant, because Netanyahu’s entire policy has been ‘divide and rule’ — it was he who wanted to keep Hamas in power and made them powerful.”

But one effect of the Oct. 7 attack, he believes, is going to be a seismic shock that could shake Israel’s political landscape to its foundations.

“After this phase is over, after the return to civilian life of the Israeli army reservists, there are going to be massive demonstrations in Israel, far bigger than anything we’ve seen before,” he said.

“There is so much suppressed anger in Israel right now. I can feel it. The Israelis keep it inside them for now because there’s a war going on, but it will be released.”

That anger has been generated by the failure of the military response to the Hamas attack, the perceived mishandling of the hostage crisis by the government, and the increasing long-term unease over the provocations of the settler movement and repeated incursions into the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound by Jewish religious extremists, supported by right-wing ministers including Itamar Ben-Givr, the national security minister.

It was these provocations that were cited by Hamas leader Mohammed Deif as the trigger for the current conflict. On Oct. 11 a Hamas source told Reuters that planning for the attack had begun in May 2021, provoked “by scenes and footage of Israel storming Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan, beating worshippers, attacking them, dragging elderly and young men out of the mosque.”

The demonstrations in Israel, said Bregman, “will be massive, and it will be interesting to see whether Netanyahu will survive, but the current cabinet doesn’t represent the real Israel and the extremists who were allowed into government will probably have to go,” in turn paving the way for a more pragmatic Israeli government and, ultimately, the possibility of a single Palestinian authority responsible once again for both Gaza and the West Bank.

“Then, all of a sudden, you have the basis of a two-state solution, and in my view, this is the end game to which the Americans are now trying to push the Israelis.”




Israeli security forces use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators blocking the entrance of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem on July 24, 2023, amid a months-long wave of protests against the government’s planned judicial overhaul. (AFP/File)

Bregman concedes that such a historic outcome is not certain but, he believes, would be more palatable to many in Israel than the alternative options, which range from strengthening and deepening the “ring of steel” around Gaza to imposing a West Bank Area B situation, in which Hamas is allowed to continue running civil society but Israel controls security.

Certainly, said Palestinian-American historian Rashid Khalidi, author of “The Iron Cage" and The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine,” a continuation of the status quo cannot be contemplated. 

“If Israel and the US end this war they are collectively waging as they have every previous one — 1982, 2006, 2008-09, 2014, etc. — allowing for no possible political solution involving Palestinian national rights and an end to occupation and settlement … it will be sowing the seeds of another inevitable war,” he said.

On Aug. 11, 1919, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, the enthusiastic supporter of Zionism whose declaration of 1917 paved the way for generations of misery, wrote a shocking memo that underscored the British Empire’s contempt for the Arabs of Palestine.

Zionism, he wrote, “be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”

Perhaps now, after almost a century of pain and suffering, the Hamas assault on Israel might prove to be the impetus for Israel and the world finally to recognize that the age-long traditions, present needs, and future hopes of the Arabs of Palestine are of equal importance to those of the Jewish people.

 


DP World, Evyap Group merge Turkish operations to form major international logistics hub

DP World, Evyap Group merge Turkish operations to form major international logistics hub
Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

DP World, Evyap Group merge Turkish operations to form major international logistics hub

DP World, Evyap Group merge Turkish operations to form major international logistics hub
  • Merger capitalizes on the strengths of two major ports on the Marmara Sea

DUBAI: Emirati logistics firm DP World and Evyap Group, a Turkiye-based consumer conglomerate, have merged their Turkish operations to form a new international logistics hub, Emirates News Agency reported.

The newly formed entity, DP World Evyap, sees DP World assume a 58 percent stake in Evyapport and Evyap Group secure a 42 percent share of DP World Yarımca.

It capitalizes on the strengths of two major ports on the Marmara Sea, enhancing Turkiye’s pivotal role in global trade. The key maritime gateways will be rebranded as DP World Evyap Yarımca and DP World Evyap Korfez.

DP World Evyap will help meet the region’s growing demand for sophisticated logistics, increase Turkiye’s export and import volumes, open up new sectors, and strengthen the country’s growing status as a major hub in global supply chains.

The merger will result in a total of 2,088 meters of berthing space and the ability to accommodate more than one ultra-large container vessel at the same time at both terminals. The total annual container handling capacity will also exceed 2 million TEUs, as the integrated operation expands to include project and heavy-lift cargo services.

Furthermore, DP World Evyap will benefit from advanced road and rail connections, as well as faster turnaround times, with a team of over 900 logistics experts geared to optimizing cargo journeys.

“DP World’s vision is to lead global trade to a stronger, more efficient and sustainable future. Our strategic partnership with Evyapport advances this strategy in Turkiye, one of our most important markets. We’re delighted to bring enhanced end-to-end solutions to our customers and the many benefits in speed and efficiency of this union,” DP World Group Chairman and CEO Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem said.

Evyap Holding CEO Mehmed Evyap added: “This partnership combines the global expertise of DP World and the local knowledge of Evyapport and strengthens our presence in the port sector as we expand our investments in this field.

“The new company will shorten operation times, increase service diversity and add value to our customers and Turkiye’s trade with efficiencies achieved across the two partnership terminals.”


FAO, Jordan to provide agriculture training to 120 women

FAO, Jordan to provide agriculture training to 120 women
Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

FAO, Jordan to provide agriculture training to 120 women

FAO, Jordan to provide agriculture training to 120 women
  • Agreement will bolster the skills of 120 women in the Jordanian governorates of Balqa, Jerash, and Ajloun

AMMAN: The UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the Jordan River Foundation have signed an agreement to support women in agriculture through vocational and technical training, Jordan News Agency reported on Friday.

JRF provides local communities and refugees with economic opportunities through its Community Empowerment Program, improving standards of living.

The agreement will bolster the skills of 120 women in the Jordanian governorates of Balqa, Jerash, and Ajloun. It will include a technical and vocational training program that will teach project management and financial literacy, in addition to skills in the processing of carob, sumac and honey.

By improving technical and administrative capacities, the agreement aims to empower women to start agricultural initiatives, enhancing their standard of living and raising household earnings.
 


UAE, Seychelles central banks ink MoU to facilitate cross-border transactions

UAE, Seychelles central banks ink MoU to facilitate cross-border transactions
Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

UAE, Seychelles central banks ink MoU to facilitate cross-border transactions

UAE, Seychelles central banks ink MoU to facilitate cross-border transactions
  • First MoU to establish a framework to promote use of local currencies in settling bilateral transactions
  • Second MoU entails collaboration on services of instant payment platforms, electronic switches, messaging systems

DUBAI: The central banks of the UAE and Seychelles signed two memoranda of understanding on Friday to promote the use of local currencies in cross-border financial and commercial transactions, as well as to link payment and messaging systems between the two countries, the Emirates News Agency reported.

The agreements were inked by CBUAE Gov. Khaled Mohammed Balama and CBS Gov. Caroline Abel in Abu Dhabi.

The first MoU aims to establish a framework to promote the use of local currencies in settling bilateral commercial transactions, developing the exchange market, and facilitating bilateral trade and direct investment, remittance settlement, and financial market development.

Under the second MoU, both parties will collaborate and benefit from the services of instant payment platforms, electronic switches, and messaging systems by directly connecting them in accordance with the countries’ regulatory requirements.

This includes connecting the CBUAE’s Instant Payments Platform, which is being developed as part of the Financial Infrastructure Transformation Programme, to the Seychelles’ similar platform to facilitate mutual acceptance of local cards and transaction processing.

Balama said that the signing of the MoU reflects the central bank’s desire to expand its ties with regional and international counterparts in order to strengthen the UAE’s economic and commercial partnerships around the world.

“The use of the two countries’ currencies for cross-border financial and commercial transactions reflects the growing trade, investment, and financial cooperation and contributes to reducing costs and saving time in settling transactions. This helps in developing the foreign exchange market in the UAE dirham and the Seychellois rupee, leading to enhancing trade exchanges, investments, and remittance between the two countries,” he explained.

Abel added: “For small open island economies like Seychelles, the importance of an effective and efficient financial system to facilitate trade cannot be overemphasized. In this regard, the MoUs just signed between our two central banks, guided by the relevant and applicable laws to safeguard the soundness and integrity of our respective financial systems, can assist this endeavor.”

She stated that the agreement to establish the necessary framework for promoting the use of UAE dirhams and Seychelles rupees in cross-border transactions will improve trade relations between stakeholders in both jurisdictions.

“With the Central Bank of Seychelles spearheading efforts to modernize and develop the Seychelles national payment system, in line with the government’s digital economy agenda, the opportunity to collaborate on interlinking our payment and messaging systems will facilitate the processing and settlement of cross-border financial transactions between the two countries,” Abel said.
 


US must restore funding to UN aid agency for Palestinians, rights body warns

US must restore funding to UN aid agency for Palestinians, rights body warns
Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

US must restore funding to UN aid agency for Palestinians, rights body warns

US must restore funding to UN aid agency for Palestinians, rights body warns
  • America, the largest historical donor, is now a ‘shameful outlier’
  • Major aid cutoff in January followed unproven Israeli allegations

LONDON: The US must restore funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, said Human Rights Watch on Friday.

The organization’s appeal also referred to the UK, which, until it was lifted today, had also suspended crucial funding to the largest relief group in Gaza.

In January this year, UNRWA said that 16 countries had suspended donations to the agency.

These included the US, UK, Australia, Austria, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Sweden.

After today, the US is the only country with an active suspension.

The aid cutoff followed Israeli allegations that 19 UNRWA staff, out of the agency’s 3,000 employees, had taken part in the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel.

But an independent review released on April 20, as well as a UN investigation, found no evidence to support the allegations.

UNRWA officials also said that Israeli authorities had failed to provide evidence supporting the claims.

Last week, the US and UK both endorsed a set of UNRWA commitments “recognizing the serious humanitarian, political and security risks that would result from any interruption or suspension of its vital work.”

But despite signing the statement, the US has yet to resume funding to the agency.

Akshaya Kumar, crisis advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The US is now a shameful outlier as most donors have resumed funding UNRWA.

“Cutting off aid was disproportionate to the allegations against UNRWA from the start. Palestinians in Gaza are facing catastrophic food insecurity, massive shortages of medical supplies, and repeated displacement, and there’s no substitute for UNRWA’s networks, experience, and capacity to provide relief.”

UNRWA, which relies on crucial donations from national governments to carry out its work, has warned that it faces a financial crisis as a result of the stalled funding.

Washington has historically served as the largest donor to UNRWA, and contributed one-third of the agency’s budget last year.

But the US Congress has passed a law forbidding any new funding to UNRWA until at least March next year.

In response to the Human Rights Watch appeal, officials from the Joe Biden administration claimed that US funds were diverted from UNRWA to other aid agencies operating in Gaza.

As a result of Israel’s war, 90 percent of Gaza’s population has been displaced, and 96 percent are expected to face crisis or worse levels of food insecurity by September this year.

Despite the agency’s urgent humanitarian work in the enclave, it has faced a sustained campaign by Israel resulting in reputational and physical damage.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in January that “UNRWA’s mission has to end.”

The country’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, said that the agency would “not be part of the day after” in Gaza.

Human Rights Watch has also documented two cases of UNRWA aid workers being struck by Israeli munitions despite having relayed their locations to the army’s personnel.


UN: Talks with Sudan warring parties ‘encouraging’

UN: Talks with Sudan warring parties ‘encouraging’
Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

UN: Talks with Sudan warring parties ‘encouraging’

UN: Talks with Sudan warring parties ‘encouraging’
  • War has raged since April 2023 between the Sudanese regular army under Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces
  • The conflict in Sudan has left tens of thousands dead and displaced more than 10 million people, according to the UN

GENEVA: Talks between a United Nations envoy and delegations from both warring parties in Sudan have proven an encouraging first step, the UN said Friday as the discussions neared a close.
War has raged since April 2023 between the Sudanese regular army under Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s personal envoy for Sudan, Ramtane Lamamra, invited delegations from the army and the RSF for talks in Geneva, focused on humanitarian aid and protecting civilians.
The discussions have been taking place under the so-called proximity format, with Lamamra meeting separately with each delegation at a time, in different rooms.
The two delegations were not scheduled to meet each other.
The discussions began on July 11 and are set to conclude on Friday.
Former Algerian foreign minister Lamamra and his team have held around 20 meetings during the talks.
“The personal envoy is encouraged by the willingness of the delegations to engage with him on critical matters related to the situation in Sudan, on which he seeks the necessary cooperation of the warring parties,” UN spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci told a press briefing in Geneva.
“He now counts on the parties to promptly translate their willingness to engage with him into tangible progress on the ground, both in the implementation of existing agreements and through possible unilateral commitments.
“The discussions held in Geneva have been an encouraging initial step in a longer and complex process. The personal envoy will remain in close contact with the leadership of the two warring parties.”
The two delegations were comprised of senior representatives of the warring parties and included humanitarian, security and military experts.
The conflict in Sudan has left tens of thousands dead and displaced more than 10 million people, according to the UN.
A recent UN-backed report said nearly 26 million people, or slightly more than half of the population, were facing high levels of “acute food insecurity.”
The two sides have been routinely accused of war crimes, including indiscriminately shelling residential areas and targeting civilians.