Regional time bomb ready to explode during Ramadan

Regional time bomb ready to explode during Ramadan

If the war continues well into Ramadan, with Palestinians barred from praying at Al-Aqsa, a regional tinderbox will ignite (AFP)
If the war continues well into Ramadan, with Palestinians barred from praying at Al-Aqsa, a regional tinderbox will ignite (AFP)
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For the US and its Arab allies, the holy month of Ramadan, which begins in less than a month’s time, is a virtual cutoff date for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to conclude the five-month-old war on Gaza. This has not been stated publicly by the Biden administration, but such a message was delivered to Israel behind closed doors.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the foreign ministers of a number of Arab countries have been discussing plans for the day after in Gaza. These include the launch of a universal political process not only to rehabilitate the devastated Strip, but also to revive the two-state solution and clear the way for the creation of a Palestinian state in return for full normalization between Arab states and Israel.

There is only one major obstacle facing this approach: Netanyahu and his far-right coalition. It now appears that Netanyahu and Co. live in a parallel universe, wholly detached from what the rest of the world is busy discussing and hoping to deliver after more than 100,000 Palestinians have been killed, injured or gone missing in Gaza.

The US and Netanyahu have rarely been on the same page since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and Israel’s declaration of war on Gaza. While the Biden administration stood firmly behind Tel Aviv as it waged the most destructive war on a civilian population in modern times, Netanyahu always made it clear that his agenda for Gaza had nothing to do with what the Biden administration, the Arab world or Israel’s Western allies had in mind for the endgame.

Israel has continued to look the other way as Jewish settlers carry out their terror campaign throughout the West Bank

Osama Al-Sharif

After more than five months of a brutal and disproportionate military response, Netanyahu’s goals have become more evident: he is not only after Hamas, he also wants to destroy Gaza — home to 2.2 million Palestinians, 70 percent of whom are refugees — and turn it into a wasteland.

At the Munich Security Conference, Blinken spoke of opportunities to integrate Israel into the region through normalization deals, while paving the way for the creation of a Palestinian state. However, Netanyahu and his partners voted to reject any unilateral international recognition of a Palestinian state. On Monday, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich threatened to cancel the Oslo Accords and dissolve the Palestinian Authority if such a recognition is made.

In recent weeks, the US, UK and France have joined other Western countries in openly stating that recognizing the state of Palestine was on the table. French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday that recognition of a Palestinian state was “not a taboo” for Paris. In response to such statements, Netanyahu’s office said that “now is not the time to be speaking about gifts for the Palestinian people.”

And when US President Joe Biden and his team said openly that they do not support a ground offensive in Rafah, the last enclave where more than 1.8 million Palestinians have sought refuge, Netanyahu was defiant, claiming that Israel would not be denied a conclusive victory.

To add insult to injury, Netanyahu has rejected any proposal to reach a lengthy truce with Hamas in exchange for a hostage release. Such a deal had involved the Americans, Egypt and Qatar, as well as the Israeli Mossad. He risked breaking up with Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, two key members of his war Cabinet, for deciding on his own the fate of any deal concerning the return of Israeli captives held by Hamas.

And when the Biden White House begged Israel to switch to low-intensity operations in Gaza to decrease civilian casualties — especially after the International Court of Justice’s preliminary ruling last month on South Africa’s case, which found plausible grounds for genocide — Netanyahu ignored all pleas and allowed his army to pummel through Khan Yunis, attacking hospitals, residential buildings, medics, mosques and universities with the same indiscriminate bombing.

So, we come to Ramadan and what that could mean for Gaza, Rafah and the boiling West Bank. Ignoring US requests to rein in West Bank settlers and reduce civilian deaths, Israel has continued to look the other way as Jewish settlers carry out their terror campaign throughout the West Bank. At the same time, the Israeli army has maintained its daily incursions into towns and refugee camps with deadly results.

If the butchery in Gaza continues well into Ramadan, with Palestinians barred from praying at Al-Aqsa, the tinderbox will indeed ignite

Osama Al-Sharif

Now, Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir wants to raise the ante by barring almost all Palestinians in the West Bank from entering East Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque during the holy month. Such a move would inflame the West Bank and, by extension, the region. If the butchery in Gaza continues well into Ramadan, with Rafah becoming the center of military operations and with millions of Palestinians barred from praying at Al-Aqsa, the tinderbox will indeed ignite.

Perhaps that is what Netanyahu and his far-right partners want: to trigger an intifada and cast it as a religious war. Ben-Gvir’s actions and provocations will give fodder to Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, the Houthis and many nonstate actors in the region to claim that Israel is indeed waging a religious war.

Netanyahu’s objectives are aligned with those of firebrand, ultrareligious and ultranationalist Jews who aim to hijack the narrative and derail all efforts to generate a political process following the Gaza debacle. And, yes, he wants to prolong the war, which is hurting Israel as well, for his own political survival.

But despite such a harrowing scenario of what could take place in the coming few weeks, the US appears to be completely detached from reality. Yes, the US president is frustrated with Netanyahu, but his administration is incapable, or unwilling, of applying pressure on him for domestic reasons. Biden is unlikely to stop the runaway Netanyahu train. And no Israeli politician is mustering the courage to stand up to him during a time of war.

Ramadan in the Occupied Territories has always been a tense period, even in relatively quieter times. Now, it is a ticking time bomb set to explode as a result of the Rafah situation and the extreme measures taken against Palestinians in the West Bank.

All attempts to lure or pressure Netanyahu will fail unless the US takes decisive action against the current Israeli government. If not, the extremists will prevail and will create precedents in East Jerusalem and at Al-Aqsa. They will push hard with their scheme to terrorize West Bankers and strangle them economically to push for a slow transfer, or what Ben-Gvir calls “voluntary migration.” In Gaza, the situation is even worse. A ground offensive in Rafah will result in bloodshed and force hapless Palestinians to breach the border with Egypt seeking safety.

All the Israeli talk about facilitating the movement of millions of Palestinians to the north of Gaza is a farce. Netanyahu’s goal of repeating the Nakba is going as planned. This will be his lethal legacy and, so far, nothing is stopping him.

  • Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. X: @plato010
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