While many commentators are raising their proverbial arms in the air and decrying the intractability of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the current violence may have exposed a path to an end game – for better or for worse – between the two sides.
As familiar as the eternal and depressing rocket exchange between Hamas and the IDF is, causing predictable and well-trodden consequences and damage, it seems that this this time the confrontation feels different in scope.
At face value, justifiable grievances against continuing Palestinian evictions in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem are once again hijacked by Hamas, looking to not only score points against its perennial enemy but also against the Fatah Party, the main party in the PLO, lead by Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.
While on the other side, the situation is partly being exploited by the ultimate political operator – namely Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli Prime Minister was on his last political legs before the outbreak of violence and seemed to be about to abdicate, albeit kicking and screaming, his proverbial throne.
Only seven days ago, it seemed likely that Netanyahu would fall to a coalition of opposition parties lead by the journalist-turned-centrist politician Yair Lapid, that would – for the first time in Israel’s history – include Arab-Israeli parties.
And then the sectarian violence in Israeli cities flared making this politically impossible and strengthening Netanyahu’s hand once again.
It seems every time and at every turn that either Israel or the Palestinians set themselves on a better path, they are plunged right back into darkness.
Along with the dangerous explosion of intra-Israeli sectarian violence that sets this clash apart from previous ones, is the growing and vocal opposition among progressives and liberals in advanced western countries.
Sure, there has always been vocal opposition on the left against Israel. But it was mostly tamed by the link – both perceived and real – between the Palestinian cause and that of global terrorism in organisations such as one of the instigators of the current violence, Hamas. Increasingly though, that link, once used by Israel to occupy the moral high ground has become increasingly tenous the longer Israel seeks to maintain the status quo.
Israel has a right to exist. That goes without saying.
An ethnic group that has been so systemically persecuted for two millennia, culminating in the most terrible and horrific genocide not 80 years ago, has a very strong right to self-determination. Had it been my ethnic group, I would fight for what many Israelis struggle for and believe in today.
But by sustaining current policies – that of evictions in contested areas between the two ethnic groups and ultimately the long-term suppression of a Palestinian state, will put Israel on a path that may finally put them to the wrong side of history.
That is because in the coming decade or so, the Middle East will become increasingly irrelevant in geopolitical terms, especially as many western economies undertake the seismic shift away from fossil fuels.
It will become harder to justify support for Israel in the West in terms of self-interest, and in particular in the one country where it truly matters, the United States.
Even with all its lobbying prowess in AIPAC, (the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee), the staunchly pro-Israeli lobby will slowly find less and less willing support over the coming decades. Support that will increasingly be tied to the fervent evangelical wing of the Republican Party and their bizarre religious beliefs about Israel.
The argument justifying support for a small, plucky democratic nation in a sea of authoritarian rule will also become increasingly moot the longer that Israel is held hostage by its own system of proportional representation that concedes too much power to self-serving interest groups, especially to those on the right.
This erosion of the democratic principle was super-charged during the Trump presidency.
By tying the Israeli cause to Trumpism and gleefully exploiting and glorifying the relationship, Benjamin Netanyahu undermined the “defence of democracy” argument and ultimately set in stone the new-found confidence and loud protestations of the progressives in American politics and their perennial distaste for the Jewish state.
And if this wing of the party were to get the upper hand in the culture wars in America, then the country’s support – along with the US$3.4 billion that Israel receives in mostly military aid, may be re-visited sooner than is comfortable.
It is also essential to ask in simple and brutal geopolitical terms, why should the West provide continuing cover for some of Israel’s more questionable actions?
Unquestionably, the pivot in the next decade will be towards Asia, and towards NATO and Eastern Europe, and potentially explosive confrontations there.
Kicking the proverbial can down the road has been the policy of Israel for decades now, pretty much since the assassination of then Prime Minister Yishak Rabin in 1995 by a right-wing extremist and the death of any meaningful peace process between the two ethnic groups.
But a day of reckoning may not be far off.
A day when Israel finds itself on its own and faced with a wall of indifference in the West and especially America – too weak or preoccupied with more pressing geopolitical matters, to get involved in a conflict that no longer of any real consequences for them.
Seeking a new path may be preferential now from a position of power and strength, before it may be forced upon them later when Israel’s negotiating hand might be squeezed tighter than has ever been before.