No easy answers in Mideast

To the Journal editor:

This battle between Israelis and Palestinians is both new and old.

The hostility, violence, and tragic losses in Gaza are likely to continue and worsen over many months, meaning that the Israel-Hamas war will be with us through the rest of 2023 and, likely, some of 2024. If hostilities spread to the Gulf, this conflict will have the potential to severely impact international markets with particularly devastating effects on struggling economies and populations around the globe. While it is difficult to “put feelings aside and only think rationally and logically depending on facts juxtaposed to feelings”, it is precisely what I am asking all of us to do irrespective of who happened to be your favorite side. This will never be solved emotionally.

Israel’s desire to wholly eliminate Hamas is understandable and the Israelis are not alone in wanting that. Egyptians have not forgotten that Hamas and the Muslim Brothers are one and the same. However, analysts seriously doubt whether it’s actually possible to accomplish such a goal. It would require a brutal ground war even more fraught and complicated than the effort to drive ISIS out of its holdouts in Iraq and Syria. We should pay serious attention to what our military leaders who led these campaigns have been saying. True, although chased from their so-called “caliphate,” their ideology has hardly been expunged and ISIS offshoots continue to proliferate in various parts of the world. Is this a different issue? Frankly, I think not. The cost of fighting a lethal ideology shall always be both necessary and staggering. Fighting lethal ideology is not new to humanity. In fact, I sadly wonder if it will ever become unnecessary.

Now, even if Hamas is crushed and deprived of its ability to threaten Israel with the horrific violence it unleashed on Oct. 7, it won’t address the context from which Hamas emerged and has since operated. That includes, as U.N. Secretary General AntOnio Guterres observed at the Security Council, more than five decades of Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories, the predations of an Israeli settlement project emboldened by the far-right government of Netanyahu, and the collapse of any political process to reckon with the absence of a Palestinian state or Palestinian political rights within Israel. If neither one state nor two states is a viable solution. What is if I may ask?

Today, Hamas is one of the last living embodiments of the Muslim Brotherhood. For both Sisi and his Gulf patrons, Israel’s threat to destroy Hamas can only be welcomed. Even as demonstrators have flooded the streets and squares of many capitals in the Arab world, including Cairo, to protest Israel’s gathering offensive. So far, Arab governments have offered only muted responses to Israel’s declaration of war in/on Gaza. This is not accidental. It certainly is deliberate.

For Egypt’s Sisi, as a president of an economically struggling country, he would not be blamed if he were to request financial assistance coming in several forms. However, Egypt cannot become another country where Palestinian refugees can become permanent residents. This is in part a matter of principle. As the examples of Jordan and Lebanon (both home to large Palestinian refugee populations) illustrate, Palestinian refugees never get to go home. The world, not only the Arab world, should realize that. It is not exactly ancient history how Lebanese basically lost their country after it became populated by Palestinian refugees. Jordan’s king is also painfully aware of the “meaning” of having refugee camps literally “occupying” his country. Yes, my friends, it is complicated.


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