Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Palestinian question can no longer be avoided
NISHIKAWA Megumi / Journalist

December 12, 2023
The Israeli forces are pushing ahead with the operation to destroy Hamas, despite the large number of casualties and the strong condemnation by the international community. The biggest challenge facing the international community after this settles down is 'to bring about a real solution to the Palestinian question'.

When Israeli forces launched a cross-border assault on Gaza, the concern was that pro-Iranian Shia organizations in the area would intensify their attacks on Israel in response to the clashes between Israeli forces and Hamas, eventually leading to a direct clash between Israel and Iran.

Indeed, the Shia organizations Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen fired missiles at Israel, although many were shot down en route. Shia organizations in Syria and Iraq have also carried out drone strikes and other attacks against the US forces stationed in both countries, wounding a number of US military personnel.

Overall, however, there is no indication at this point that Israel's offensive against Hamas is expanding into the surrounding areas. One reason for the restraint is the deterrence of the US military presence.

The US has deployed a strike group, centered on two aircraft carriers, off the coast of Israel to keep a watchful eye. In response to the attacks on the US forces in these countries, in late October, US President Biden revealed that he had directly warned the Ayatollah that if Tehran continues to “move against” U.S. forces in the Middle East, “we will respond.” Since then, the attacks from Shia organizations have decreased.

Another reason why the conflict is so far limited attacks is probably not unconnected with the restoration of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In March this year, Iran emerged from its long-standing isolation in the Middle East region by agreeing to normalize diplomatic relations through Chinese mediation.

If pro-Iranian organizations in various parts of the region intensified their attacks on Israel, it would raise the alarm of Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries and spoil the revival of diplomatic relations. It is easy to imagine Iran urging Shia organizations to curb their attacks against Israel and US forces.

At the moment, the positive side of the conflict not spreading to the surrounding areas is significant. This is because if the conflict had spread, attention would have shifted to the Israeli vs Iranian Shia conflict and the Palestinian issue would have become blurred.

The humanitarian issue of the Palestinian population in Gaza has become a major focus of the Israeli forces' campaign to destroy Hamas. However, once the Israeli military operation is over and the humanitarian problems of the Palestinian population show signs of settlement, the 'Palestinian problem' will undoubtedly emerge center stage. This is an issue that the international community can no longer afford to avoid.

The Oslo Accords of the early 1990s sought a two-state Israeli-Palestinian coexistence solution. However, the Palestinian issue was subsequently brushed aside and the international community's interest in the issue declined, due to the war on terror triggered by the terrorist attacks in the US (2001) and the Arab Spring (2011), a movement calling for democracy in the Arab world.

The Netanyahu government in Israel has also eviscerated the two-state solution, by massive Israeli settlements on land that was supposed to be a Palestinian state.

The US-brokered 2020 Abrahamic Accords also led to Israel successively normalizing diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. It also continued to negotiate the normalization of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, its most coveted target of the move.

There was ostensibly no strong opposition from the Palestinian side to these moves, which left the Palestinian issue behind. The U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan even stated that under the Biden administration's watch, "the Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades", but the Hamas cross-border attack on Israel a few days later showed the international community once again that there can be no stability in the Middle East without a solution to the Palestinian problem.

After the Israeli military operation comes to a stop, the political and social scene in Israel and the surrounding Arab states should change dramatically. Within Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu's responsibility will be severely called into question for his failure to prevent Hamas' cross-border attacks. It is also inevitable that a serious debate will ensue on what would constitute security for Israel.

In Arab countries, where intense popular anger at Israel's military action is surging, people will push their governments to get serious about resolving the Palestinian issue. In the countries that entered into diplomatic relations with Israel under the Abrahamic Accords, there are growing calls for the Accords to be scrapped. The Arab states, conscious of how the Arab Spring transpired, fear that popular anger will be directed at them.

Hamas cadres will also be forced to flee abroad or go underground, and will lose control over Gaza. There is said to be resentment among Gaza's citizens towards Hamas for having brought about today's situation. The Palestinian Authority itself, which was Hamas' rival, is by no means feeling at ease. An internal push against the leadership, including the ageing President Abbas, seems inevitable.

A shift in the political and social phases in these countries and regions could be an opportunity for change. I hope that a situation will emerge in which the Palestinian question can be brought to a genuine solution based on 'two-state coexistence'.

Megumi Nishikawa is a contributing editor of Mainichi Shimbun
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵 / ジャーナリスト

2023年 12月 12日

















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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Palestinian question can no longer be avoided