WITH the downfall of Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister of Israel to be replaced by Naftali Bennett who’s a former settler colonialist leader, nothing’s changed and it’s more of the same for the Palestinians.

For Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, Netanyahu’s ousting closes one of the “worst periods” in the Israeli-Palestinian relations but the new government “is just as bad as the last” (The Guardian, June 14, 2021). The other response of Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh was to condemn the announcement in support of the illegal settlements. Israel should take serious note of his statement that, “The new government has no future if it does not take into consideration the future of the Palestinian people and their legitimate rights”.

In the Knesset on Sunday where the vote to end Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration took place, Naftali Bennett had spoken of his intention to “strengthen the settlements throughout the ‘Land of Israel’ (sic)” (Jerusalem Post, June 14, 2021). Such incorrigible arrogance and obduracy disregard the fact that Israel’s future security on a sustainable basis is dependent on a viable Palestinian State and not the other around as is customarily conceived.

Of course, this means that what applies to the West Bank equally applies to the Gaza Strip under Hamas.

It’s clear to the international community that the one stumbling-block to the two-state solution is Israel.

But before we can even move on to pressing with the two-state solution, it’s critical that Israel must (be compelled to) first engage with Hamas. Especially now that the Zionist State has become even more extreme, overtly and openly that’s to say.

That’s the first point and it’s because of the inherent danger of both sides hardening their position – due to the intransigence and intractable adherence to an outdated vision of the one side in the incumbent stage and on whom the responsibility (as aggressor and advantaged party) to initiate rests.

Such a situation will be aggravated in the case of the far-right Naftali Bennett as leading the new administration. Here’s a Prime Minister that’s doggedly intent on what would be tantamount to a de facto annexation of the West Bank with the expansion of the illegal settlements, come what may.

Now both West Bank and Gaza constitutes an indivisible united State of Palestine (Dawlat Filastin) – with Hamas obviously having a vested interest and stake in the former. It’s arguable that although the security dynamics in Gaza doesn’t really affect the West Bank, the reverse is true.
Hamas would surely want to exploit and leverage of the upsurge in violent resistance in the West Bank and wouldn’t want to be left out – in the name of solidarity and its self-proclaimed reputation as the defender and liberator of Al-Aqsa. So, whilst there is no coordination, there would be copy-cat responses and/or follow-ups.

Therefore, without engagement that ought to lead to some form of mutual understanding and restraint, the situation can only deteriorate to the point of “no return” i.e., beyond control (EMIR Research article, “Liberating Al-Aqsa”, June 9, 2021).

And it can’t be strongly emphasised enough that Israel’s the one that has to bear the unintended consequences even if only fully realised in the longer-term.

The kind of unabashed and heightened rhetoric coming from the likes of Naftali Bennett will not only harden position in Gaza but also encouraged more intifadas in the West Bank leading to the kind of tit-for-tat violence that’s ironically more deadly than the one emanating from Hamas. From 2015-2016, resistance took the form of waves of knife and car ramming attacks.

Again, like suicide bombings which virtually stopped in 2008, these uncoordinated or “lone wolf” attacks don’t represent an integral and systematic aspect of the military strategy and tactics of either the Palestinian Authority (PA) which lacks the political will and military muscle to mount any kind of war in the future, let alone a set-piece (outright confrontation) type of warfare, against Israel or even Hamas.

Following on from this, the second reason is that if there’s no engagement resulting in a truce or some permanent cease-fire, Israel will always be vulnerable to infiltration and penetration by Hamas operatives and commandos, especially via the complex and network of tunnels and underground facilities.

The role played by Hamas is critical in tying down the Zionist IDF in the southern theatre – if there’s to be a military solution – whilst simultaneously securing a buffer zone in the event of a bold but risky move to mobilise and commit a substantial portion of Hamas’ defence force outside of Gaza. This would also have the effect of minimising air strikes within Gaza as a result of the buffer zone (which would include Israeli civilian areas).

In an op-ed for the Middle East Monitor (“Israel's new government starts work with a heavy agenda”, June 15, 2021), Dr Adnan Abu Amer (Head of the Political Science Department at the University of the Ummah, Gaza) urges that in “order to move forward [Israel] needs to make some reassessments … in terms of the policy towards Gaza. The security situation needs to be reset … [m]oreover, there is the issue of the missing persons and soldiers detained by Hamas”.

The third and final reason why Israel must engage with Hamas is because this will improve its standing in the wider Muslim world and, by extension, the international community.

Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset after the historic vote that, “The Abraham Accords enabled us to get out of the equation of land for peace to peace for peace, and we did not give up a span”. The logic – like the argument on “strategic depth” – is simply spurious.

For one, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has never been a security threat to Israel. The same applies to Bahrain and the Sudan.

Morocco, despite the less than token participation in the Yom Kippur War (1973), has always maintained cordial ties with Israel. In fact, it was alleged that the late King Hassan II had invited Mossad and Shin Bet to spy on other Arab leaders and military officials during an Arab League Summit in 1965. This was partly instrumental in giving the Zionist State advance knowledge in the lead-up to the 1967 War (“Mossad listened in on Arab states' preparations for Six-Day War”, Ynet News, October 15, 2016).

Basically, the Abraham Accords is of limited value to Israel’s good-will in the Arab world which to state the obvious is so much bigger than the four countries plus Saudi Arabia and Chad (Muslim-majority) and, by extension, the Muslim world.

It’s just a short-term and myopic vision that offers transient relief and satisfaction but completely ignores the elephant in the room – of long-held and widespread dissatisfaction, grievance and anger in the Muslim world considered as a whole.

Which is that the vast majority of the Muslim world remains implacably opposed to Israel on grounds of its occupation and illegal settlements and refusal to allow for the creation of a viable State of Palestine (Dawlat Filastin) co-existing side-by-side. Therefore, the Abraham Accords rings hollow.

In other words, Israel needs to go beyond than “singing to the choir” and convince the rest of the Muslim world which, it has to be reminded, have a non-negotiable stake in East Jerusalem (under occupation) wherein are situated the third holiest sites in Islam, i.e., the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

The Abraham Accords will never provide the substantive legitimacy – moral and political - that’s needed to allow Israel to break free from the cycle of violence and mayhem. And the voice of international condemnation and opprobrium/censure of the Zionist State of Israel remains irrevocably enshrined in law.

Should Naftali Bennett – and Alternate Prime Minister (on a rotational basis) Yair Lapid who’s supposed to be a moderate/centrist but for the sake of holding the coalition together – choose to ignore all of this, they should be prepared to go down in history as the leaders who committed the coup the grace, i.e., made the final blow, in squandering away whatever’s left of Israel’s legitimacy. 

Jason Loh Seong Wei is Head of Social, Law & Human Rights at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focussed on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

** The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.