Wars are divisive. The polarisation of public opinions in the wake of brutal massacre of the Israelis by Hamas militias on 7 October 2023 and the subsequent retaliatory bombing on Gaza Strip by Israeli defense forces proves this once again. As humanitarian crisis deepens in the Gaza plains, a global public discourse is shaping up over who is right and who is wrong. The traditional allies of Israel like the United States, Britain, France and Germany have sided with Israel and are advocating Israel’s right to self-defence. These countries have remained mum about the murder over 10,000 innocent civilians, mostly women and children, in the Israeli bombings and the forcible eviction of more two million Palestinian from their homes in Gaza.
Two divergent perspectives have emerged in defense of their own historical, cultural and geopolitical narratives. There is a pro-Palestinian camp, led by Iran which is calling the entire Arab world to rally together in support of Palestinians in its effort to establish free and independent state. Non-state armed groups like Hezbollah and ISIS are already joining hands with Hamas to fight against Israel for the independence and self- determination of Palestinians, considerably limiting space for a nuanced dialogue.
The polarisation of opinion is not limited to state actors. It has reached a broad spectrum of global civil society also. Streets of American and European cities are being flooded by hundreds of thousands of people pressuring their governments to have empathy towards the Palestinians over the gruesome bombing of cities in Gaza Strip with catastrophic consequences for the innocent civilians living there.
In view of these unexpectedly massive demonstrations, many countries which initially backed Israel’s right to self-defence, appear to be recalibrating their reactions. Secretary of State of the US Antony Blinken was recently recorded to have said that far too many Palestinians had been killed. Far too many had suffered during the last weeks. Even President Biden has gone on record for cautioning Israeli leadership not to ‘be consumed by the rage’ reminding them that even US had made mistakes in its response to 9/11 event.
Against its traditional policy of supporting Palestinian cause, India also initially condemned the Hamas attack on Israel as a terrorist act. But recent media reports showed that there is strong public sympathy in India for the Palestinians on the issues of their forcible displacement, occupation of their holy sites and partition of their territories. Massive demonstrations were organised in various cities in India where the protestors demanded that the Indian government revert back to its policy of standing on the side of the Palestinian people against Israel.
The backlash of Israel-Palestine conflict was visible in South Africa also. Recently, Julius Malema, President of far-left EFF party, spoke strongly against Israel for its brutal bombing of the Gaza region. He even threatened to close Israeli Embassy in Africa. “There will be no Israeli embassy in South Africa until human rights are respected,” he was quoted as saying. The United Kingdom, too, was not free from backlash against its stand on Israel-Hamas conflict. Tens of thousands of people staged a demonstration in Central London supporting the cause of Palestinians, giving a strong message to their government against its pro-Israeli policy.
The involvement of multiple actors and complex alliances has given Israel-Palestinian conflict a difficult twist. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians espouse conflicting narratives about their history. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently said, “It is under the Arab conquest that the Jews lost their homeland. The Arabs were the colonials and the Israelis were the natives”. On the other side of the fence, Palestinians maintain that the Israelis had conquered and colonised their holy land and were still subjugating them.
The Israel- Palestinian conflict intersects with broader regional geo-politics. It cannot be addressed with the use of overwhelming force. The October 7 attack of Hamas proved that despite possessing Iron Dome air defence system, most sophisticated automatic weapons and state -of -the-art munitions, Israel is as vulnerable as it was in 1948. The Israeli- Palestinian war is taking place at a time when the Russian-Ukraine conflict is threatening to spill over, triggering a global conflict. There are power blocks which are eager to open new war fronts to engage their adversaries in different battle fronts. Smaller countries are always at risk of being held as pawns in the strategic chessboard of global or regional conflict.
Changing power structures
The global geo-political balance is fast changing and old power structures are in the process of restructuring. In the new context, the ripple effects of conflicts and wars are likely to go beyond national borders, forcing nations to get entangled in wars which do not serve their national interests. Israel-Palestinian conflict has remained one of the most complex diplomatic challenges in the politics of West Asia. It has triggered several wars between Israel and Arab nations, invited superpower interference and has interrupted economic progress of the whole region. The Israelis have lived under a constant fear of terrorist attack from the Palestinians and the Palestinians are living under siege for decades.
Finding safe existence for one race in the extermination of another is neither pragmatic nor does it conform with the principle of ‘live and let live’. This attitude is only a recipe for perpetual hostility assuring mutual destruction in the long run. At present it is necessary to move towards a broad consensus in favour of creating two independent states for both the Israelis and the Palestinians within well-defined borders, establishing authority of Israel over Temple Mount and those of the Palestinian over Al-Aqsa, which they consider indispensible for them. If the international community pressures the conflicting sides to accept this modality, it will provide them a space where mutual existence, mutual collaboration and shared prosperity is possible.
(Dr. Bharadwaj is former ambassador, and former Chairperson of Gorkhapatra Corporation.)