After 6 months of tragedy in Gaza, is there any hope of an end in sight?

After 6 months of tragedy in Gaza, is there any hope of an end in sight?

After 6 months of tragedy in Gaza, is there any hope of an end in sight?
Palestinians carry belongings as people fleeing conflict leave their homes, in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza. (AFP)
Short Url

Eid Al-Fitr was a very sad occasion in Gaza this year, during which people mainly celebrated the fact that they had managed to survive the bloodiest war this tiny enclave has ever experienced — and it is no stranger to conflict and the deaths and devastation that come with it.
It is six months since the latest war began. Six months ago, I did not think we would reach this tragic landmark. Although the intensity of the fighting has lessened recently, still there is no end to it in sight, and the fear of regional escalation continues to loom.
At best, the indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas that are taking place in Cairo might yield a temporary ceasefire and the release of 40 hostages in exchange for Palestinian detainees held in Israeli prisons. But following the assassination this week of three of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s children and several of his grandchildren, the possibility of such a deal is an even more remote possibility.
To say “at best” is not to belittle the importance of securing any cessation of hostilities during this devastating war, or the release of even some of the hostages; after all, it is the Gazan people and those from Israel taken captive by Hamas who are paying the price for the iniquitous decisions taken by their respective leaderships.
This has always been the case throughout history: Those who are least to blame are those who suffer the most.
Whatever the leadership of Hamas hoped to achieve through the brutal and inexcusable manner of their Oct. 7 attacks remains a mystery.
Yet for all the understandable shock and trauma that Israel suffered on that fateful day, and the anger that followed and continues to linger, the response by the Israeli government was nothing short of a deadly lapse of judgment that cannot be justified, morally or ethically, and has been politically disastrous for the country.
No one expected that Israel would not respond to the attacks by Hamas and go after the organization with great force, as the “casus belli,” or the provocation for war, was clear.
However, instead of thinking strategically about an aftermath in which peace negotiations with the Palestinians were still possible, relationships with friends and allies were undamaged, regional stability was not jeopardized, and they had ensured that by the end of this extremely difficult episode the country would be more secure, politically ascendant and hold the moral high ground, but instead of all this a red mist descended on the entire country.
The anger and outrage among the people was understandable. But for those at the helm of government, and especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it was not only anger and a thirst for vengeance that took over, there were also personal considerations about attempting to redeem themselves after a colossal failure to defend their people from being murdered or taken hostage, and recognition that only by continuing the war would they stand a chance of remaining in power.
For some in the government, the primordial response of revenge coalesced with the political-ideological motivation of imposing a “new order” in Gaza, including building Jewish settlements there. 

There is only one way out of these dire straits and it is for alternative leaders to emerge who recognize that without peace and reconciliation, death and misery will continue to reign supreme.

Yossi Mekelberg

The devastating consequences to Gaza and its people are clear for all to see. Tens of thousands of people of all ages, most of them innocent civilians with no ties to militancy, have been killed. Many more are either already suffering from starvation or on the verge of it. Meanwhile, Israel is nowhere close to achieving its stated war objectives of “destroying Hamas” and bringing the hostages home, let alone bringing them home alive.
Netanyahu continues to maintain that victory is within reach but given his credibility deficit there is hardly anyone, at home or abroad, who believes a word he utters.
From the very beginning there was a complete misunderstanding of the consequences of a war between a state, especially one that defines itself as a liberal democracy, and a movement that is defined by armed resistance and an extremist ideology, with little consideration of, or sense of obligation to, international conventions, the rules of war or international humanitarian law.
Moreover, Israeli authorities fell into the trap set by Hamas. They overreacted, handing other forces in the region an opportunity to join the war against them and to radicalize the population in Gaza, particularly the young. They lost the initial sympathy and worldwide support they had enjoyed. They walked into this trap with their eyes wide open.
Israel has lost support even among its closest friends and allies. It stands accused in the International Court of Justice of genocide. Some countries have already imposed on it arms-supply bans. Relations with the US, its main ally and backer, are at an all-time low. And Israeli society is deeply polarized.
Not only is there no victory in sight but Israelis in the northern and southern parts of the country have had to evacuate their homes for security reasons during the past six months. Hamas does not seem ready to lay down its arms, and the hostages continue to languish in captivity.
And yet still there is hardly any reflection on the damage caused by Israel in conflating the culprits of Oct. 7 with the entire population of Gaza, either by treating them as collateral damage in the war against Hamas or, even worse, by judging them deserving of collective punishment.
A limited military operation, in terms of time and scope, with the required patience to target those behind the Oct. 7 attacks, one that avoided hurting the rest of the population in Gaza, would have enabled a more successful response, built trust with the local population for the day after the war, prevented the deterioration of regional security, and kept allies on side instead of alienating them.
Among the less rational members of Israel’s war Cabinet, there is a rejection of the notion that international support is crucial and that it depends upon adhering to standards of behavior in line with international humanitarian law. As a result, that support has evaporated, which has played right into the hands of Hamas but also provoked Iran and its proxies.
As a result, Hamas is emboldened as it attempts to drive a harder bargain during the indirect negotiations with Israel, while Tehran, sensing Israel’s weakening position among its traditional allies, might yet retaliate with excessive force to the killing of Iranian military commander Mohammed Reza Zahedi in Damascus this month.
After six months of war, with no end in sight, it is apparent that the damaging consequences of the conflict, the psychological as much as the material, will take many years to repair. Relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians have reached rock bottom and will not, cannot, return to their prewar, so-called status-quo.
There is only one way out of these dire straits and it is for alternative leaders to emerge who recognize that without peace and reconciliation, death and misery will continue to reign supreme.

Yossi Mekelberg is a professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the Middle East and North Africa Program at international affairs think tank Chatham House.
X: @YMekelberg

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view