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  Opinion   Columnists  05 Mar 2024  K.C. Singh | Gaza bleeds as Israel lacks endgame, hits US politics

K.C. Singh | Gaza bleeds as Israel lacks endgame, hits US politics

The writer is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry. He tweets at @ambkcsingh.
Published : Mar 5, 2024, 12:37 am IST
Updated : Mar 5, 2024, 12:37 am IST

Israel has announced that the next interim ceasefire is acceptable to it, provided of course that Hamas concurs

This picture taken from Rafah shows flares lighting the skies over Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 4, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
 This picture taken from Rafah shows flares lighting the skies over Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 4, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)

With the fatalities in the Gaza Strip crossing 30,000, the world has been emotionally numb to the rising death toll. However, the events in north Gaza on February 29 revived global criticism of not only Israeli excesses but an inert American government. Over 100 people had died and at least 700 were injured, when a food truck convoy got mobbed and Israeli troops opened fire. Many questions arise.

First, with Israeli military operations over in January in north Gaza, why has Israel not installed a post-war administrative structure in a sanitised zone it fully controls? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has mooted a nebulous “plan” encompassing “the administration of civilian affairs and the enforcement of public order” based on “local stakeholders with managerial experience”. But his extreme right-wing alliance partners have been pushing for re-establishing Israeli settlements in Gaza, withdrawn two decades ago.

Prime Minister Netanyahu also conditioned the new Gaza administrators to not be affiliated with “countries or entities that support terrorism”. That sounds like India’s precondition to dialogue with Pakistan. The United States and its Arab friends, on the contrary, are suggesting an experienced Palestinian leader from the West Bank. This has the virtue of being seen as a step towards a united Palestinian state.

After Israel had withdrawn its forces from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank ran Gaza until it was defeated in an election by Hamas.

Israel has, meanwhile, announced that the next interim ceasefire is acceptable to it, provided of course that Hamas concurs. There has been rising concern amongst the left wing of the Democratic Party in the US that President Joe Biden has been over-indulgent with Mr Netanyahu’s Israeli government. The speed with which Americans airdropped food aid over north Gaza indicated the Biden administration’s concern over their plunging approval ratings at home. The New York Times noted the “extreme hunger and desperation” in north Gaza amongst 300,000 Palestinians still braving it out there. But the crisis is unlikely to be ameliorated by aerial drops because if truck convoys are getting mobbed, how will these consignments get equitably distributed?

The question again resurfaces as to why a local law and order machinery, in lieu of the one that Hamas ran, is still absent. One suggestion is to resurrect the police force that the Palestinian Authority had recruited in 2005, which Hamas had dissolved. Another is for Egypt and Jordan providing a joint force for administering portions of Gaza apparently freed from Hamas control. Essentially, none of these schemes will work till there is strategic clarity in Israeli thinking.

Paradoxically, for this clarity, Mr Netanyahu has to ignore the right-wing radicals in his coalition government. But if he does that his government will fall, leading to his exit as Prime Minister. Some sections of the Israeli media are urging less radical elements in the ruling coalition to push for an early election.

A new poll in the United States by Times/Sienna brings bad news for President Joe Biden. Although the American public’s main priorities are immigration and the economy, the negative perception about partiality towards the Israeli government is affecting the overall assessment of the US President. His job handling rating is a poor 47 per cent. When those who voted in 2020 for Joe Biden and Donald Trump were asked if they would do so again, the tally for Mr Trump was 97 per cent, and only 83 per cent for President Biden. In fact, 10 per cent of Mr Biden’s previous voters favoured Mr Trump now. Overall, 40 per cent expres-sed sympathy towards Israel as against 24 per cent for the Palestinians.

The impact on global trade and manufacturing of a protracted Gaza conflict is now self-evident. The first sinking recently of a commercial vessel in the Red Sea by the Houthi rebels underscores the danger to this vital shipping corridor. The missile attacks on Houthis by the US and its allies seem to have had limited impact on attacks on shipping. Indirectly, Egypt is being driven into a worse financial mess due to loss of income from the Suez Canal. The Iranian parliamentary elections have resulted, as expected, in more conservative candidates winning. The low 40 per cent odd voter turnout may be a moral defeat for the Iranian regime but it is unlikely to stem their geopolitical designs.

Therefore, uncertainty prevails due to a political logjam in Israel and a US presidential race between an aging incumbent and a morally deficient and unpredictable challenger. India too is sailing into a highly contentious and polarised parliamentary election.

Whoever takes the oath as India’s next Prime Minister in May or early June would inherit the complexities of these global trends and conflicts. India’s positive growth data enthusiastically marketed by the government would get a reality check in this year’s second half. Growth generated by the government’s capital expenditure on infrastructure has limited salience, as China is now discovering. The Indian farmers’ protests, despite strong action by the police, are persisting as the wedding extravaganza of a billionaire’s child draws the global glitterati. Nothing reflects India’s distorted growth model better.

Can this scenario evolve into a new global order of stability and peace? The first quarter of the 21st century so far offers no assurance. The reasons are multi-fold.

One, the United States is slipping from its role as the global provider of security and repository of liberal democracy. Two, the Sino-Soviet alliance, with Iran and North Korea in tow, have resurrected bipolar contestation, with diminished risk aversion. Three, India is in danger of becoming a majoritarian, even theocratic, state, with implications for its relations with the Islamic world. Four, new technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Quantum Computing and the arms race in space open possibilities of fresh global friction. Five, the Ukraine war has reshaped the rules of post-modern war by demonstrating the utility of cheap drones to counter expensive military weapons and equipment. Six, four decades of Israeli peace-making with Arabs has been shown as flawed due to wrongly assuming that the underlying conflicts and issues had lost currency. Seven, the United Nations has lost its relevance and residual moral authority.

The world is thus at an inflexion point as elections are held in India, the European Union and the United States. The voters can choose those that subscribe to a liberal global order. Alternatively, they may let their domestic worries and prejudices have them back populist-nationalists? The answer will be critical to the world’s future.


Tags: israel palestine conflict, gaza war, benjamin netanyahu