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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 26, New Delhi, June 12, 2021

The Palestine-Israel Conflict: The Politics of Cunning and the Politics of Showmanship | Nag and Bandyopadhyay

Saturday 12 June 2021


by Dr. Gouri Sankar Nag, Dr. Manas Mukul Bandyopadhyay *

Humra Quraishi writes in a very recent letter in the Mainstream that ‘last few days in Mid-May 2021 have left us shaken on seeing shots of death and destruction in Palestine. Very painful scenes indeed of children dying, bleeding, crying, and screaming in pain, with injuries and deep wounds all over their forms. Even the alive don’t really look alive in the midst of the massive bombardments by Israel’. At once the civilized mind becomes rebellious and extremely outrageous as to see this ghastly attack by Israel on Palestine. Is it another round of tyranny inflicted on the Palestinians at a terrible time of health emergency and economic crisis? If so, as Quraishi suspects, where is Uncle Sam? Where is the United Nations? Is peace a figure of speech of International Conferences only? Dark clouds of premonition hang as a Damocles sword.

Since its independence, Israel has repeatedly been involved in conflicts not only with Palestine, but also with other West Asian States. The Israel-Palestine issue is one of the world’s most enduring hostilities, with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (Israel disengaged itself from the Gaza Strip in 2005). Various attempts have been made to resolve the conflict, but incidentally those attempts ended in failure. There is a historical context to the ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis. Without understanding its complex nature, one cannot gain a thorough knowledge of the politics of cunning and the politics of showmanship. At present, tensions are often high between Israel and Palestine living in East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank. Gaza is ruled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has fought Israel many times. The threatened eviction of some Palestinian families in East Jerusalem has also fanned and spawned rising anger.

In fact, the factors which led to the conflict in this region broadly fall into two categories viz. internal and external. In the internal sphere the core factor was the conflict between the Zionists and the Arabs as to the possession of the same territory. To the Zionists it was the question of Israel, while to the Arabs it was the question of Palestine. In view of the conflicting and irreconcilable claims the clash between the two was inevitable. Some scholars have tried to project this clash as a clash between the theocratic politics and indigenous nations. The Jews are representing the concept of racial and religious unity and the Arabs representing the secular and nationalistic concept. It may be noted here that all the Arabs do not belong to a single religion, even though majority of them are followers of Islam. There is a sizable number of Christians as well as Jews among them. The term Arab, therefore, carries a cultural, political and to some extent a regional connotation in which religion does not play any part. The Arabs made it clear that their quarrel was against Zionism which rested on religious and racial bigotry and not the Jews since the Jews have always lived happily in the Arab lands.

So it is a testimony to the fact that the Palestine issue cannot be couched in narrow cultural terms and that trust deficit has been deliberately created to serve some deeper extraneous interest. This is even testified when Israel signed a peace deal in August 2020 with a major Muslim Arab nation, the UAE. It gave a perplexing twist to the situation because it signaled that issue of Palestinian Muslims was no longer coming in way of normalizing ties with Israel. Basically UAE and some other countries have been reported to move forward towards signing similar peace agreements with the state of Israel and in doing so, they have de-hyphenated Israel-Palestine issue. Saudi Arabia was also working to normalize relations with Israel. The purpose is to deter common threat Iran and fall in line with America’s pro-Israel Middle East Peace Plan. In doing so, Israel was emboldened and its recent ruthless attack on Palestinian land exhibits its recklessness once again. We wonder how slyly the idea of the implementation of two-state solution could be thrown into the air or as if it will never be implemented because if implemented then the two-state solution, at the current situation, might lead to the creation of two nuclear rivals in a contiguous landscape—Israel and Palestine, both of which would start looking eye to eye that would be even more unacceptable to adapt. As Hamas cannot be trusted, and Hezbollah’s nexus cannot be ruled out, so under any pretext the innocent Palestinians should be targeted and punished to the utter disregard of human rights and explicitly to sabotage the idea of two-state solution. Thus the ballgame is clear. The US will not easily intervene. Rather its powerful arms lobby will keep favouring supply of deadly weapons to Israel to strengthen its hands disproportionately and for indiscriminate bombardment even when there is no declaration of war—that is essentially the “politics of showmanship” which is a compulsion for Israel and its godfather America.

On the other hand, if there is a deeper layer into the knot, that is perhaps the role of Iran and China because any regional military conflict could in a reverse way benefit these two potential anti-American allies. Since Covid outbreak last year China’s image started to diminish and its credibility loss might impel it to shove the regional balance so that it could make virtue out of necessity. Although it has not done it, but there lies a possibility of China sending its envoy for peace mediation. Iran on the other hand, is already seething under domestic unrest due to umpteen causes of which its obstinate pursuit of nuclear programme, that is militarization followed by America’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign could have a devastating impact on its economy. In addition, what is important to note is that in these adverse circumstances Iran is not only going for Presidential election but its supreme religious leader Ayatollah Khamenei has already exhorted that the ideal president would be a ‘revolutionary jihadi’ with ideological commitment to its Islamic worldview and who would be equally committed to resist western hegemony. So Iran is not going to budge but its internal religious and political forces might set the ground to push the national leadership towards “long drawn political contestation” not only internally but also externally. As such the situation of Palestine might complicate and aggravate as it falls within Iran’s regional theatre of activism. It is also clear from a recent take of Dr. Deepika Saraswat of ICWA that since February 2020 Parliamentary election Iran is witnessing rising power by the hardliners and conservatives and its clergy is supporting these candidates. According to Dr. Saraswat, “The hardliners’ approach to the nuclear issue is driven by brinkmanship rather than flexibility and compromise and whipping up of popular support for their nationalist-revolutionary narrative that western hegemonic pressure does not work on Iran.” So there is every possibility that under the garb of such rhetoric, the ‘politics of cunning’ is being played by Iran and China vis-à-vis Israel and America.

* (Authors: Dr Gouri Sankar Nag, Professor and Head, Department of Political Science and Coordinator of the Centre of South Asian Studies, Sidho-Kanho-Birsha University, Purulia


Dr Manas Mukul Bandyopadhyay, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Hooghly Mohsin College, Chinsurah, West Bengal)

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