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Desire for revenge renders any short-term mechanism of peace-making in Gaza unrealistic


Charles Villa-Vicencio is professor emeritus at the University of Cape Town and a former visiting professor in conflict resolution at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. He was Research Director for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The intense suffering in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank has the capacity to spill over into religious hatred in the West. More ominous is the possibility of a holy war between fundamentalist Islam, dogmatic Zionism, and right-wing fundamentalist Christianity.

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.” President JF Kennedy’s words resonate through the ages. We witnessed this in the anti-apartheid conflict, from which we were saved through a political settlement that saw Nelson Mandela elected as South Africa’s first democratic president. The escalation of violence in Israel-Palestine is not likely to end in a similar way.     

The brutal Hamas terror attack on Israel is unprecedented, while the definitive response of Israel was to be expected. Unable to resist the temptation of an eye for an eye, violence is met with violence, leaving the fundamental cause of the conflict unaddressed.

Caught between demands for revenge by Israeli citizens and demands by advocates of human rights to protect civilians in Gaza raises an insurmountable problem for the Netanyahu government. Without restraint in dealing with non-combatants, which includes people opposed to Hamas, the support that exists for Israel in the West could turn into widespread condemnation.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Gaza Strip — history of densely populated enclave is critical to understanding current conflict

Tony Judt, the author of Postwar and several other publications, suggests that the State of Israel faces three unattractive choices in the conflict with Palestine.

One: Israel can dismantle its Jewish settlements and return to its pre-1967 borders, which will perpetuate the question of the status of second-class Arab citizens in the Jewish State.

Two: Israel can pay the price of formally annexing the occupied territories in the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and Gaza, which will make the Arab population a demographic majority within an extended Israel.

Three: Israel can maintain military control of the occupied territories and face the hard reality of Palestinian resistance, settler insurrection and ultra-Orthodox Jewish revolts.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine conflict could dangerously amplify local political tensions

Evidence further suggests that politically aware young Israelis in Israel, the United States and Europe, are increasingly reluctant to pay the price accepted by earlier generations of settlers. The Oslo Accords signed in 1993 and 1995 are, at the same time, being seen as both politically and economically unviable as political tensions intensify in the region.

The desire for revenge that prevails in the wake of the Hamas attack renders a viable mechanism of peace-making in Israel-Palestine quite unrealistic. New and old scores are waiting to be settled. This requires governance in Israel that extends beyond the limited powers allocated to the newly formed unity government, as well as civic education and social engineering that favours peaceful coexistence in the interregnum between conflict and the pursuit of a new future.

Israel and the United States are rallying forces against Hamas and its allies, while the Palestinian Authority and grassroots Palestinians have, to date, shown restraint in their response to the actions of the Israeli state.

The cleavages in the Middle East, Levant and Asia are, at the same time, intensifying as the United States supports rapprochement between Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and several other Arab states, who share a concern to ensure a stable Israel as a basis for extending trade and mutual prosperity.

Those countries that carry the scars of colonialism and repression in their identities, (which, inter alia, include South Africa and sectors of Ireland) on the other hand support the Palestinian cause. The net outcome is a context that lends itself to the horror of further conflict and dirty wars.

The intense suffering in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank has the capacity to spill over into religious hatred in the West. More ominous is the possibility of holy war between fundamentalist Islam, dogmatic Zionism, and right-wing fundamentalist Christianity, as reflected in the massing of Shiite Muslim Hezbollah (“Party of God”) troops on the Lebanese border that threatens to open a second front to the Israeli war.

Peaceful resistance, fuelled by intensified repression, is the womb of violent revolution that violence cannot suppress. Even if the central structures of Hamas are dismantled and its leaders eliminated, Hamas and similar movements will revive themselves and probably be augmented by additional movements, in pursuit of ends first identified 75 years ago.

Sadly, without a new global leadership, including that of Israel and Palestine, the barometer of realism bends away from peaceful coexistence towards intensified unrest and violence in the Middle East for the foreseeable future. DM


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  • David Bristow says:

    First, please note I am of no fixed religious or spiritual leaning, nor a clear supporter of one or the other side in the Middle East. However, in place of your word “revenge” I might have used the term counter-attack. I think it was the former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir who best summed up the situation: there cannot be peace (between them) until the Palestinians (Hamas) love for their own children exceeds their hatred for that of Jewish children. Or something close.

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      Are you not assuming that Golda Meir was the most ‘wise/profound’ person in Israel … for uttering those sentiments/ideas ? Very ‘catchy’ … I must admit !

  • Robin Smaill says:

    Israeli as the most educated and developed component of the conflict needs to be the one to seriously consider the future. It needs to ask Hamas for a cease fire date and two days after a successful cease fire a hundred Palestine women would be invited to meet with a hundred Israeli women. Their task would be to negotiate the release of the hostages and a way forward. Women are less controlled by egos and they genuinely want what is best for their children. Political ideologies and racial hatred are impossible barriers for men to circumvent in this conflict. Women just have bigger hearts. There is no other solution but to negotiate so they should get on with it and end the violence from which nobody gains.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The reality of racism in Israel and their total disregard of the international community in the United Nations is because of the United States of America. We have had for many years Israel building settlements on Palestinian land to undermine any form of peaceful resolution of the conflict. Israel has for years been waging a war against the Palestinians who have responded unfortunately the way they have done against Israeli aggression that takes many forms from criminal murder of children, arrest of children, Apartheid forced removals and the demolition of Palestinian home, refusal of Palestinians to return to their land whilst allowing racist Jews from all over Eastern Europe to return. The Americans have consciously decided to turn a blind eye for decades to the criminality of the Israel against the Palestinians. They are calling for deescalation whilst sending military assets to the area and weapons to Israel to arm the strong Israel military against a people with no military to speak of. The very so called democratic Israel has made it clear that it is not going to cooperate with the international community in investigation of its crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes with the support of the US. In addition the US is arming Israel to kill the Palestinians and to destroy infrastructure. Those who arm Palestinians, must not listen to the mealy mouthed Americans who are liars including the war criminal Biden.

  • John Parkes says:

    “Scars of colonialism”? A glimpse of the land around the Rafah border area shows successful cultivation on the Israeli side, a testament to what they have achieved, with hard work, in the few short years they have been on that land. One wonders how many Palestinians may have benefitted with work and help if it weren’t for Hamas’s warring factions. Just look how industrious Israel has been since settling after the Second World War compared to hundreds of years previously. While I don’t condone the bombing I have no idea what the answer is.

    • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

      If there was any true political goodwill to accommodate a Jewish state (Israel), there would be so much global aid to develop the Sinai Peninsula (or any other area in the neighbourhood) for a Palestinian state – they would eventually be able to turn off the taps.

      • Kanu Sukha says:

        Why don’t you explain what the shortcoming’s in Cunningham’s views are … instead of the cynicism … and the predictable response of your pal Ben ? Oh … I forgot there isn’t enough ‘space’ for a considered response … apologies.

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