There will be no independent, sovereign Palestine

Governments across the world may be backing the two-state formula, but it is as good as dead

Updated - April 06, 2024 10:30 am IST

Published - April 06, 2024 12:08 am IST

In the town of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

In the town of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. | Photo Credit: AP

In today’s Middle East, one thing is certain and another, highly probable. The certainty is that there will be no independent, sovereign Palestinian state, ‘living side by side with Israel’, as the cliché goes. Before October 7, 2023, there was some possibility of a Palestinian state emerging at some time, even with several caveats. Many rounds of negotiations took place between the two sides to work out a detailed road map of how the two-state solution would look. In January, 2001, in Taba, they came close to reaching an agreement.

Hamas versus the Palestinian Authority

Post October 7, governments around the world have resurrected the two-state formula and are repeating it parrot-like. However, the formula is as good as dead. As of today, there is hardly anyone in Israel supporting a Palestinian state. Their reasoning is logical from their point of view. Hamas today is more popular in the West Bank than it ever was. This means that if and when the war ends on whatever terms, elections will have to be held in the Palestinian territories to elect a government. Even before October 7, Hamas had a good following among West Bank Palestinians. Now, support for Hamas has grown many fold. No Israeli is prepared to countenance that eventuality.

What about the Palestinian Authority based in Ramalla? It is a much more moderate group and has in fact been cooperating or collaborating with Israel. The Palestinian Authority is thoroughly discredited among Israelis and Palestinians as being corrupt and ineffective. In even a reasonably open election, Hamas is sure to emerge as the party with a majority. Only if Hamas is totally and effectively eradicated would Israelis be willing to consider the possibility of a Palestinian state. And, the eradication of Hamas is just not going to happen.

This means that the war will go on. Rafah will be razed in the process of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) destroying the remaining four battalions of Hamas militia. Even respectable revisionist Israeli scholars and historians support the invasion of Rafah.

But what about the 80 or 90 Israeli hostages that Hamas still holds? On this, the Israeli public seems divided. Nearly an equal number give priority to the return of hostages just as there are those who consider the eradication of Hamas to be of higher priority. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assures his people that he will secure both these objectives and affirms his determination to proceed with the attack on Rafah, despite a public warning by Israel’s strongest supporter, United States President Joe Biden.

The danger of wider conflict

The probability is of the Gaza war escalating into a wider, regional conflict. Mr. Biden is very concerned about this possibility and his Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken, has been travelling in the region to prevent such an escalation and to secure some sort of a cease-fire. The much-delayed United Nations Security Council resolution of an immediate ceasefire, adopted on March 25, and made possible because of American abstention and supported by all the other 14 members, does not amount to much. It demands a pause in fighting only until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Thereafter, the resolution, in effect, expresses the hope that the ceasefire will be extended and become lasting and comprehensive. Mr. Biden was forced to take this step out of domestic political considerations. Domestic politics everywhere increasingly guides and determines foreign policy.

Hamas does not seem to care about the huge loss of innocent lives and the destruction of infrastructure and housing. It might either underestimate Mr. Netanyahu’s determination to proceed with the Rafah operation or to agree to its terms for a ceasefire such as the permanent withdrawal of Israeli forces and so on. Hamas is banking on the continued support of the international community for a quick and lasting ceasefire. For his part, Mr. Netanyahu will not stop the war until he accomplishes his objectives.

Already, Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon have been going at one another for some time now, causing casualties on both sides. Hezbollah has thousands of rockets and missiles aimed at Israel. It might see the Gaza war as an ideal opportunity to launch a more deadly attack on Israel in support of Hamas.

Wars make strange bedfellows. Here, a staunchly Shia movement is supporting an equally staunch Sunni group! Tens of thousands of Israeli citizens have been evacuated from northern Israel. Given Israel’s deadly attacks on Syrian territory including on the Iranian embassy, Syria and Iran will surely retaliate, leading to another strong response by Israel. If that were to happen, there would be tremendous pressure on Egypt to join the fray. Egypt is under pressure to permit the people from Rafah to enter Egyptian territory when the IDF invades there. That, combined with the pressure of other Arab states, might make it difficult or even impossible for Egypt to stay out. Iran has missiles with a range that is long enough to hit Israel. All these actors might feel that such a ‘golden’ opportunity to eradicate Israel might not come again.

If this were to happen, the U.S. will go to Israel’s help with whatever it might take. If this happens, can Russia be far behind?

Such a frightening scenario should scare everyone, everywhere. It might appear far-fetched at present, but we would be disregarding its probability at our own peril.

Chinmaya R. Gharekhan served as India’s Ambassador to the United Nations and as India’s Special Envoy to the Middle East, 2005-09

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