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Home > 2023 > Israeli-Hamas war: Need for a wider understanding | P.S Jayaramu

Mainstream, VOL 61 No 43-44 October 21 & 28, 2023

Israeli-Hamas war: Need for a wider understanding | P.S Jayaramu

Saturday 21 October 2023


19th October, 2023

Quite understandably, global attention continues to be single-mindedly focussed on the inhuman killing of spectators in a music concert in Gaza by the Hamas group recently. Nearly 1400 Israeli nationals were killed and thousands injured in the Hamas attack, leading to a strong military response by Israel.

Condemnable as Hamas’s violent actions were, the issue needs to be understood from a wider international and regional perspective that characterises the larger Arab-Israeali conflict, surrounding the Palestinian issue, spearheaded by the Palestine Liberation Organisation ( PLO) historically and the Palestine Liberation Authority in recent decades. In this context, it is useful to recall that many leading scholars, including some Americans, have held the view for a considerable length of time that Hamas was nurtured by the successive Israeli governments themselves in order to ‘deligitimise’ the PLA leadership. That its own ‘creature’ has grown to a level where it could mount heavy rocket attacks on it was construed by the Israeli government as an attack on its national security, describing it as its 9/11, deserving strongest military action. Israel has resorted to full-scale air strikes on Gaza. According to some Western reports themselves, nearly 6,000 rockets have been launched by the Israeli forces on the Gaza territory. The Netanyahu Government has vowed to carry out a full-scale invasion of Hamas to destroy it once and for all.

While the US President Biden has thrown his weight in support of the Israeli Government, as wisely pointed out by Prof. Richard Haass, is it worthwhile to indulge in a full-scale war on Hamas, as it is “as much a network, a movement, an ideology, and an organisation”? Richard Haass, further argues that “while the leadership of Hamas can be killed, the entity or something like it will survive”. Very pragmatic observation indeed.

It is worth noting that the rise of militant Hamas is contrasted by the weakening of the Palestine Liberation Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. That has emboldened Hamas leadership to virtually take over the leadership of the struggle for a full-fledged independent nation. In the immediate context, reacting to the events surrounding October 7th, the PLA President “denounced the killing of civilians, prisoners and detainees on both sides”. It is also noteworthy that many of the conservative Political regimes in the Middle East too are not so comfortable with the present leadership of Hamas. The complex situation in the region leads to legitimate doubts about the eventual realisation of an independent Palestinian State.

International reactions :

Let me return to the ongoing conflict situation and the reactions of the international community to it. Predictably, the European Union and the US have rallied around Israel solidly not only through declaratory statements but also with a strong military support to the hilt. President Biden’s visit to Israel demonstrates that.

Biden’s total support to Israel is also guided partly by his desire to keep the Jewish lobby happy given the fact that he will be facing the Presidential election in 2024. During his visit to Israel, Biden stood by the Israeli stand about the bomb explosion on a hospital in Gaza which is reported to have killed nearly 500 Palestinians, including children and women. Quite understandably, questions have been raised in the region as to why would Hamas carry out an explosion to kill its own Palestinian nationals. The incident has enraged the Middle Eastern regimes to such an extent that Jordon cancelled a meeting of some of the regional leaders with President Biden to thaw the situation. So much so, that Biden had to hurriedly conclude his visit to Israel.

Support to Israel apart, the American leadership is holding the Iranian leadership and the Hezbollah group for supporting Hamas with weapons/missiles and ideological support. On its part, Iran has warned Israel that there would be regional escalation if the Israeli ‘aggression does not stop’. The Egyptian President has described the Israeli responses as going beyond self-defense. The Chinese leadership has asked Israel to “cease its punishment of the people of Gaza”. The UN Secretary-General too has described the Israeli revenge killings as an act of collective punishment of the Palestinian people, calling for restraint and a return to normalcy to facilitate humanitarian aid to the victims on both sides.

A few words about the planned ground invasion by Israel on Gaza to execute its goal of decimating Hamas. While it has ordered the civilians numbering more than a million people to move out of Gaza, the lingering hostage crisis, where many foreign nationals have been held as captives by Hamas leaders, has perhaps, led to caution on the part of the Israeli leadership.

Indian response :

It is the Indian response to the events which have not been in keeping with an aspirational great power. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quick to denounce Hamas’s actions and pledged total support to Israel in its fight against terrorism. That was followed by a telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Modi and Israeli President Netanyahu. The Ministry of External Affairs took nearly a week to issue a statement in support of the Palestinian cause to indulge in some kind of damage control. The strategic silence of the External Affairs Minister Jaishankar, who is otherwise quick to comment on every other issue and used to sermonising West ( rightly too) about its double standards while reacting to regional and international developments, is indeed disappointing. Maybe, he wanted to issue a more nuanced statement but had to resort to silence as the Prime Minister was quick to tweet his total support to Isreal. But, interestingly, Modi seems to have been cautious about his reaction to the explosion in the Gaza hospital. He has expressed his shock stating that those responsible for it must be punished.

The opposition Congress Party too has done no better than taking a one-sided position of expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people by remaining silent on the killing of innocent Israeli civilians by the Hamas group at the music concert. It is an open secret that the responses of the ruling BJP Government and the Opposition Parties are characterised by vote bank considerations given the already announced assembly elections and the 2024 Lok Sabha Polls. It is still not late in the day for the Modi Government to resurrect India’s image and its longstanding policy towards the Palestinian cause by coming up with a balanced view urging the two sides to refrain from the use of force in favour of normalcy and peace. We can say three cheers to Indian diplomacy only if it sincerely renews its commitment to the establishment of an independent Palestine, co-existing with Israel.

(The writer is former Professor of Political Science at Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR.)

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