Some day the Gaza war will end

May 18, 2024
Jerusalem, Israel - January 15, 2017: The chamber of deputies in the Israeli Parliament is arranged with desks in a semi-circle, and a computer screen for each member.

In the movie Apocalypse Now, Robert Duval’s character, Colonel Bill Kilgore, reflectively observes that, despite the smell of victory, ‘Someday this war’s gonna end’. So too, the war in Gaza is going to end. The only questions are how and when.

Despite growing external pressure, the current Israeli cabinet is only inclined to end the war on its own terms, including the functional annihilation of Hamas and rejection of the idea of a future Palestinian state. Hamas is an idea as well as an organisation so will likely survive, despite efforts to end it so, in that sense, this phase of the war might end but the underlying conflict will continue.

That would change, however, if the current Israeli government was changed. The coalition under Benyamin Netanyahu is hostage to its most hard line members, the Minister for National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, and Minister for Finance, Bezalel Smotrich, who have threatened to bring down the government if it does not retain its hard line on Hamas.

Based on surveys, most Israelis do not think the current coalition government will last its full term, until October 2026. Assuming Netanyahu can keep Ben-Gvir and Smotrich inside the tent until then, polling shows the current coalition government would then be defeated. A new government may be more amenable to a permanent solution to the Palestinian issue.

In the interim there may be a ceasefire, but ceasefires are, and are intended to be, temporary, to allow humanitarian aid, collection and burial of dead and, sometimes, negotiations. A ‘permanent ceasefire’ assumes the resolution of key issues which drive the conflict.

To produce a resolution, both sides need to be in a position where any value in continuing to fight is exceeded by its cost. Hamas may be starting to move towards this position. The current Israeli government, however, appears prepared to absorb the financial, reputational and humanitarian costs of continuing the war.

Critically, too, both sides need to sideline ‘spoilers’ who would undermine a negotiated settlement. This means individuals like Ben-Gvir and especially Smotrich must be removed from the negotiation equation.

It is possible that even a future Israeli government will not find resolution with Hamas as it stands. However, a reformed Hamas as a political party under a different name and with modified goals could be an acceptable negotiating partner.

Assuming a change of both the Israeli government and Hamas, the options for a permanent resolution include a two-state solution based on the creation of an independent (and peaceful) Palestine next to Israel. This is favoured by the Australian and US government and most members states of the UN.

The key practical sticking point to a two-state solution is the settlement of around 700,000 Israelis in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem. Uprooting around eight per cent of Israel’s population may be an insurmountable hurdle for a peace settlement.

This then opens up the possibility of the entire territory, ‘from the river to the sea’, becoming one inclusive, democratic state with full rights for all its citizens. The key sticking point to this outcome is Israel’s ‘right of return’ for non-Israeli Jews, which privileges them in a way that excludes people of Palestinian descent who have, often for generations, lived outside the territory.

An alternative to an inclusive, democratic and equal state is something similar to that which has existed, functionally one state but premised on separation. This implies an apartheid state, which Palestinians would be unlikely to agree to and which would sow the seeds future conflict.

The final option, not negotiated but one which is supported by some Israeli nationalist extremists, is the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank. Not only would Israel’s neighbours refuse to take Palestinians in such circumstances, but it could permanently damage Israel’s international standing.

Each of the options have all but insurmountable problems. But a two-state solution involving major compromises on both sides, or a single inclusive, democratic and equal state are the only two that have any chance of permanently ending the conflict after the current Israeli government ends.

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