The status quo of the occupation has reached a new level of violence and destruction, but there is no political power in sight that can impose a change on the ground.
1. Israel paid more than it expected for a bit less than it wanted. Israel’s strategic goal in this war was to maintain the status quo on the Palestinian issue. Prime Minister Netanyahu outlined this notion from the first days of the war, when he presented his ceasefire formula: if Hamas stops shooting, we stop shooting. Israel got most of what it wanted, but at a greater price than expected, in terms of Israeli casualties, the disruption to everyday life in Israel, and further erosion of Israel’s position in the world due to the destruction inflicted on Gaza.
Maintaining control over the Palestinians, or keeping the Palestinians under control (i.e. the status quo) is the common denominator of the Israeli system. The political debate is about the best way to achieve this goal. Some would grant the Palestinians a semi-state, or an enhanced proxy regime; most Israelis would like to keep things as they are, and a minority wants to annex the occupied territories – these are the same voices that called for the IDF to retake Gaza.
But no major political power is willing to either give the Palestinians full civilian, political and human rights as individuals under Israeli sovereignty, or completely retreat and disconnect from the Palestinian territories and grant them full independence, regardless of the consequences.
Israelis may have given Netanyahu a B-minus on this war, but they never questioned the war itself; mainly because the belief in the status quo doesn’t come from the leadership but from the public. I might be wrong, but I don’t think the war was a ground-shifting event that will change Israeli thinking in the way that the First Intifada led to Oslo, and the Second Intifada led to the disengagement. The needle may have moved, but not enough.
2. A new act in the Israeli political drama begins. There will be a lot of excitement now about the political fallout of this war, and especially around the fate of the third Netanyahu government. This government is the weakest Netanyahu had led, and it is even weaker after the war, mainly for reasons that have to do with the economy. Israel continues its slow slide toward recession, and the war will make it impossible for Finance Minister Yair Lapid to make good on his promises to the Middle Class and not raise taxes. Lapid might be tempted to leave the government, and Netanyahu might be tempted to get Naftali Bennett out and try to resume talks with the Palestinians. It’s also unclear where Lieberman is heading. Early elections are not in anybody’s interest but Bennett’s, but we might end up with them anyway.
But all this political drama – which is kind of common with Israeli politics – shouldn’t be confused for a battle of ideas. As I said, there is no path for a coalition that would offer the minimum a credible Palestinian leadership could accept. The two-state solution seems even more remote after this war, and the one-state solution is not getting any closer. The only difference is that more people are now aware of the ugliness of “the status-quo solution.”
3. Hamas’ second war of independence: In order to maintain the status quo, Israel concluded early on that it needed Hamas weakened but not destroyed. The reason is twofold: (a) Ironically, Hamas is seen as the only entity that can prevent chaos in Gaza and secure peace for Israel; and (b) Hamas is a political power that balances Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. Israel needs Fatah and Hamas to cancel each other out.
Here, too, I think that Israel pretty much got what it needed, but at a greater cost than it expected. Egypt and the Saudis might try to get more rewards for Abbas as a payment for their support for Israel during the war – Abbas’ alleged meeting with Netanyahu could be seen as a step in this direction.
Still, Hamas also came out with something from this war, especially with regards to recognition as a stakeholder in the new Middle East. This was Hamas’ second War of Independence. The first one was the aftermath of Oslo and the Second Intifada, which demonstrated its power in internal Palestinian politics and ended with a general election victory. Protective Edge won Hamas international recognition; some Palestinians I’ve spoken to are convinced that if the PLO held general elections tomorrow, Khaled Mashal could end up as chairman (which pretty much guarantees that general elections will not be held). After this war, any sensible person knows that Hamas will need to be part of whatever political arrangement is formed; it’s less clear what Gaza and its people got. Time will tell.
4. War as a system of governance: More than a year ago, we at +972 Magazine ran an interview with the director of a film dealing with Israel’s military exports. The headline of the piece was ‘Wars on Gaza have become part of Israel’s system of governance,’ and when you read it now, after Gaza’s third war in six years, it’s even more chilling.
The Palestinians in the occupied territories have been held under an oppressive military regime – a dictatorship that is run by a democracy – for almost half a century. The levels of violence this regime needs to exert in order to support itself have become frightening. Israel might claim that it didn’t want this war (or the previous one, or the one before it), but this much is true for every oppressive regime out there: Every one of them would rather maintain their power and control without resorting to the use of force, and every one of them ends up using more and more power as the resistance to that control grows.
This is a one-way street, so the next “escalation” is likely to be even more brutal than the one which produced, for example, the following images, showing an entire neighborhood wiped out in an hour:
There is a favorite line by Liberal Zionists about how Israel needs to solve the Palestinians issue, or else it risks various forms of corruption. Gaza showed how deep we have already delved into the “or else” era, and it seems that the first to get corrupted were the Liberal Zionists themselves, most of whom chose to support and even glorify this war.
5. The challenge for the Palestinians is unity. Abbas’ diplomatic channel is hollow without popular support, while Hamas demonstrated its shortcomings in translating (limited) military achievements into political ones – which is why, after all, one goes to war. The war itself could have happened because of Palestinian division and because Hamas and Fatah made separate political calculations. A united, accountable political system is a necessary step for effectively challenging the system of occupation, or for the reconciliation with Jewish-Israelis that could follow.
6. Did Israel really replace U.S. support with an Egyptian-Saudi alliance? This is a line you hear in Israel pretty often these days, but I am not so sure. The U.S. supplied the IDF with artillery shells when it ran out, and handed it the Iron Dome anti-rocket system that helped most of the country maintain normal life throughout the war. Most important, the U.S. still provides the diplomatic cover for Israeli policies, despite all the reservations it might have regarding it. An American hand at the Security Council is what separates Israel and its occupation from the kind of consequences other oppressive regimes get at their most violent moments; Washington might be less ambitious in its Middle Eastern diplomacy lately, but in Israel/Palestine it is still the enabler of the status quo.