Desturction in Al-Karama neighborhod in Gaza. Anadolu news agency
Desturction in Al-Karama neighborhod in Gaza. Anadolu news agency

The seeds of the ongoing horrendous hostilities in Israel and Gaza were planted by Israel long ago when it encouraged the growth of the extremist Islamic Hamas to counteract the secular, moderate, and popular Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its main constituent “Fatah” formed by Yasser Arafat.

Following the Oslo Accord of September 1993, the militant PLO had metamorphosed into a peaceful agitator for Palestinian rights.

As per the Accord, the PLO recognized Israel and both Israel and the PLO agreed to set up an autonomous Palestinian Authority (PA).

The PA became responsible for civil administration in some rural areas, as well as security in the major cities of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In August 2005, Israel began disengaging from the Gaza Strip, ceding full internal control of the Strip to the PA but retaining control of its borders, except for the Egyptian border.

In the elections to the PA held in 2006, the more radical Hamas was victorious and Ismail Haniyeh was sworn in as Prime Minister. However, the Hamas-led government was not favoured by United States, Russia, United Nations, and European Union (called the Quartet). They made foreign assistance conditional on the Hamas government’s commitment to non-violence, recognition of the State of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements.

Hamas rejected these demands. Foreign assistance was suspended and Israel imposed economic sanctions.

But Hamas was unbowed. In December 2006, Ismail Haniyeh, Prime Minister of the PA, declared: “We will never recognize the usurper Zionist government and will continue our jihad-like movement until the liberation of Jerusalem.”

In an attempt to resolve the impasse, the Hamas-led government together with Fatah Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, agreed to form a unity government. The unity government was formed on 18 March 2007 under Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh comprising members of Hamas, Fatah, other parties and independents.

However, war broke out between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza, which resulted in Gaza going under the control of Hamas in 2007. The Palestinian Authority Chairman Abbas dismissed the unity government and appointed Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister.

But this government had control over only over the West Bank. Gaza functioned under Hamas de facto.

While the world supported Fatah-led PA, Israel felt that it was playing a double game, fighting the Hamas on the political front, and trying to whip a popular insurrection or intifada against Israel.

Israel then set into motion the policy of divide and rule. It began to cultivate Hamas, encouraging it to pursue Islamic radicalism to counter the popular secular appeal of the Fatah.

Hamas was previously called Mujama al-Islamiya that went as a welfare organization working in Gaza when it was occupied by Israel as a result of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. It became militant later, at one stage with clandestine Israeli help.

Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Segev, who was the Israeli military governor in Gaza in the early 1980s, told the New York Times that he had helped finance the Palestinian Islamist movement as a “counterweight” to the secularists and leftists of the PLO and the Fatah (see article by  Mehdi Hasan and Dina Sayedahmed in Intercept of February 2018).

Brig. Segev said that the Israeli government gave him a budget and the military government gave it to the mosques

The relationship between Israel and Hamas was so evident that Yasser Arafat had no hesitation in describing Hamas as “a creature of Israel.”

Medhi Hasan and Dina Syedahmed further point out that Anver Cohen, a former Israeli Religious Affairs official, told Wall Street Journal in 2009 that Hamas was “Israel’s creation.”

Israel appears to have started working on Hamas in the 1980s itself. In the mid-1980s, Cohen had written an official report to his superiors warning them not to play divide-and-rule in the Occupied Territories by backing Islamists against secularists.

“I suggest focusing our efforts on finding ways to break up this monster before this reality jumps in our face,” Cohen had said.

It is suspected that it was thanks to Israel’s generous financial help, that Hamas decimated Fatah in Gaza and became that region’s de facto rulers.

But the consequence of the decimation of the PLO and the Fatah did not bring any cheer to Israel. Hamas was to turn its guns against its benefactor, Israel.

Israel started attacking Hamas using all its military might and blockading Gaza. Between 2009 and 2014 Israel had killed more than 2,500 Palestinian civilians in Gaza. On its part, Hamas killed far more Israeli civilians than any secular Palestinian militant group, reports said.

“When I look back at the chain of events, I think we made a mistake,” David Hacham, a former Arab affairs expert in the Israeli military who was based in Gaza in the 1980s,is quoted as saying. “But at the time, nobody thought about the possible results.”

With Hamas baring its claws so menacingly now, and Israel declaring an all-out “war” on Hamas and the civilians of Gaza, peace is not on the cards, even if the guns go silent in a few days.

The future of the 2020 Abraham Accords ( a peace and cooperation deal between Israel, UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan facilitated by the US) is at stake. They may not have any legs to stand on if the conflict continues interminably.

Although the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the UAE may have very good reasons to stick to the peace deal with Israel given their ties with the US and expectations from the US, their populations may not approve of a cosy relationship with Israeli after the savage collective punishment it inflicted on the population in Gaza.

With Israel determined to crush Hamas no matter what it takes to do so, and with the US promising all help, Arab opinion in general will not sanction any rapprochement with Israel. And Hamas will feel vindicated and energised.

Peace can be restored only if the injustices heaped on the Palestinians for decades by Israel, backed to the hilt by the US and the Western powers, is stopped.

However, war cannot go on indefinitely. As early as possible Israel and Hamas must realise that, as in other armed conflicts these days, the losers will only be they, and the only gainers will be the suppliers of arms (the United States and the Western powers).

Efforts will be made by Israel, the US and its allies to garner support in the world by coercing their dependants into joining their side. Countries which need the West’s support to counter their geopolitical rivals will fall in line willingly, thus turning the West Asian conflict into a larger one.

If West Asia becomes a security nightmare, all plans for boosting economic and communication links with the region will go awry. And if the war extends to the oil-producing West Asian countries, a global economic squeeze will follow, further impeding recovery from the pandemic.

The tragedy is that in the emerging world, there is no nation or leader to take up the role of an intermediary and bridge the growing chasm between Israel and Hamas, as is the case with Russia and Ukraine.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that this is not the era of war. But having taken the side of Israel immediately and unequivocally, he has lost a chance to mediate, and in the process, stake a claim to the leadership of the Global South.