Opinion

And now what?

It turns out that those of us who support Ukraine against Russia are the same people who support Israel against Hamas, with the difference that we ask Russia to withdraw from the illegally occupied Ukrainian territories, while we do not ask Israel to withdraw from the Palestinian territories it has illegally occupied since 1967. Or we do not ask it with the same force. This incongruity has not gone unnoticed by a large part of the world's population, which speaks of double standards and hypocrisy on the part of the West. There we have a serious problem because, as UN Secretary General António Guterres has rightly said, the unacceptable and terrible terrorist attack by Hamas on 7 October, which caused so many innocent victims, did not take place in a vacuum but in a context marked by many decades of "suffocating occupation". Guterres has pointed to the elephant in the room that many in Israel and the West do not want to see because it is so difficult to solve.

Since Hamas launched its terrorist attacks on the 7th, the civilian death toll - almost half of them children - has been rising with every passing hour in the battered Gaza Strip, a rattrap from which there is no escape and nowhere to go. Some would like to believe that things might improve from now on and recall that Kissinger's diplomacy after the 1973 war led to the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt, culminating in President Sadat's historic visit to Jerusalem. The price Israel paid then was the return of the Sinai desert but now - and this is the big difference - Israel believes it has nothing to negotiate even though in reality it has - if it wanted to - the entire occupied West Bank. The problem is that Sinai was virtually uninhabited and in the West Bank there are 700,000 Israeli settlers in 279 settlements that no government in Israel has any intention of dismantling as it is unable to bear the very high cost of forcing them to do so and welcome them on its own territory. In fact the current government not only does not want to do so but supports the continued growth in the number of settlements and settlers, I suppose in the secret hope of one day annexing the West Bank as it has already done with the Golan Heights or East Jerusalem.

That is the problem. Israel has become accustomed to its military superiority and the uncritical support of the United States to seize other people's land and thus aggravate the problem that caused its creation in 1948 and its expansion after the wars of 1949, 1967 and 1973. And it does not want them back. Now, after the unjustifiable terrorist attack by Hamas, the Palestinians risk losing even more territory, that of Gaza, if the wishes of the more radical ministers in Netanyahu's government, who would like to keep the Strip and send the Gazans to live in the Sinai desert, are carried out. This is an idea that circulates among extremist sectors in Israel, the same ones that - incredibly enough - have even suggested flattening it with a nuclear bomb (Netanyahu fired the one who proposed it).

The reality is that Israel now has one or more very hot potatoes on its hands, starting with its immediate top priority of how to rescue the two hundred innocent hostages held by Hamas, another crime against humanity, along with how to prevent the ongoing humanitarian disaster that its invasion has created in Gaza - and which is what Hamas wanted to happen - from widening even further. And then it has to decide what to do with Gaza: occupying it again, as they did between 1967 and 2005, would force them to administer a territory populated by people who will hate them after what is happening. Biden advises against it. Ideally, the Strip would be handed over to the Palestinian Authority (PA), but there are at least three problems with this: hatred between Hamas and Fatah, the difficulty of the PA reaching Gaza under Israeli troop guard, and the fact that Netanyahu himself has rejected it because he intends to maintain military and security control there to prevent further terrorist attacks in the future. Another possibility would be to place the territory under UN administration, which would require a Security Council resolution and the dispatch of a military peacekeeping force, and it is not certain that all permanent members of the Council would agree and not veto the idea because some might find it convenient to keep the Americans bogged down in the Middle East and paying less attention to other problems. Israel does not trust the UN either. This leaves the traditional proposals: the Jordanian-Palestinian confederation (along the lines of the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991), or the idea of two states - Israel and Palestine - with recognised borders and living side by side with international guarantees. Neither is easy, the first because Jordan does not want it, as the Bedouins would become dominated by the Palestinians (who are not attracted by the idea either), and the Palestinian state because it requires the dismantling of settlements whose inhabitants Israel neither wants nor is likely to be able to welcome on its territory. Other formulas that have never been made explicit but are circulating, such as taking the Palestinians to the Sinai desert, are neither wanted by them, nor by Egypt, nor by the international community.

Thus, Israel faces many problems at once, and one must wish it much wisdom to solve them well: not only exterminating Hamas, a difficult enough task without causing a humanitarian disaster in Gaza that would present it to the world as a heartless avenger, which is exactly what Hamas wants, but also rescuing the hostages, avoiding an extension of the current conflict, and deciding what to do with Gaza's territory. And in the longer term, what to do also with the five million Palestinians - 3 in the West Bank and 2 in Gaza - who are settlers, and I am not talking about the two million who have Israeli citizenship or the 7 million who are descended from those expelled at the time of the Nakba - catastrophe - of 1948. That is the big question. Too many problems at the same time. If the answer were simple, it might already be solved. But it is not.

So the risk is that this crisis will come to a false end like the previous ones and Israelis will regain their sense of security and the conviction that they can go on living as they have been doing, "mowing the grass" from time to time and ignoring the Palestinians the rest of the time. This would be a grave mistake because after what has happened and as Tayllerand said, with bayonets you can do anything... except sit on them. It is said that if you have 10 terrorists and you kill 2 you have... 20. Because the barbarity that Hamas has done and the price that the Palestinians are already paying - which are not the same thing - will inflame the imagination of many young people in the West Bank and Gaza itself who will have nothing to lose because they have nothing. Israel's security demands justice for the Palestinians, and now more than ever because since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, invading and occupying other people's land is seen in a worse light...It would be a mistake not to confront these problems once and for all and kick the can down the road again. As difficult and painful as that may be. And we should all try to help in the task.

Jorge Dezcallar
Ambassador of Spain