The current armed conflict between Israel and Palestine has stirred a hot debate on the principle of the right to self-defense. The US and European powers offer unconditional support to Israel, asserting its right to self-defense while ignoring Israel’s killing of more than 12,000 civilians. Meanwhile, the Palestinian armed struggle against occupation is labeled terrorism by the Western world at large. Muslim countries, except a few, have adopted an apologetic tone while supporting the Palestinian cause.
The dynamics of Palestinian self-defence are enmeshed in geopolitical complexities, historical agreements like the Oslo Accords, and the power imbalances between the parties involved.
The Greek realist philosopher Thucydides’ observation in the Milean Dialogue “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must” resonates in the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). These agreements legitimized Zionist occupation and criminalized the Palestinian armed resistance. The accords conditioned Israel and PLO to work diplomatically to establish a Palestinian state.
However, it never materialized after the murder of Yasir Arafat and then the Israeli Prime minister. The occupying regime never pursued dialogue with the Palestinians seriously. It made the resistance from Hamas a scapegoat for justifying occupation and its lack of interest in the dialogue. Consequently, Palestinian people increasingly viewed armed resistance as the only viable option and Hamas became more prominent.
Hamas, which rejected the Oslo Accords, never gave up the armed resistance and the right to self-defense. The current war between the occupying regime and the resistance front in Gaza demonstrates that Hamas and its allied groups have become a relatively formidable power in Palestine. Though they cannot be compared to Israel, they have thousands of rockets in their arsenal mostly believed to be delivered by Iran and a large number of trained fighters, an efficient strategy, and regional allies. Hamas has the potential to fight a long war against Israel.
Hamas has once again changed the dynamics of regional politics by challenging the idea that peace could be achieved through the normalization of relations between Israel and regional states without a proper solution to the issue of Palestine.
The suspension of normalization dialogue with Israel by Saudi-Arabia is seen as a success for Hamas. The resistance also shattered the belief that Israel was invincible and unbeatable through its surprise attack. It also turned public opinion in favour of Palestine which is evident from the mass rallies in big cities around the world. However, all these objectives are costing thousands of civilian lives. The continuing war demonstrates Israel’s goal of eliminating Hamas and refusal of Hamas to surrender.
Since power enables actors to achieve rights, the Palestinian resistance, backed by Iran, has demonstrated the power to continue to fight for self-defense against occupation and oppression. It could be difficult for Israel to achieve peace by eliminating or rendering Hamas incapable as in such case another organization will replace it. The armed Palestinian groups through their claim to the right to self-defense and consistent resistance have proved that there can be no peace for the occupying entity without peace for Palestinians.
If the war in Gaza is prolonged it can turn into a destructive regional war. The war can further upset the regional order by pushing the concerned actors to change their positions. The limited fight between Hezbollah and Israel could transform into a full-scale war. Iran’s allies in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen have also conducted limited attacks against US bases and Israel. The USA and Iran could also get dragged into the war if a ceasefire is not reached.
The US is concerned about its hegemonic interests and keeping the trust of its allies. It has blocked all the paths toward peace and has vetoed several UNSC resolutions calling for a ceasefire. Israel and the US attempt to create the narrative that Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people which is to deny the Palestinian’s right to self-defence. Iran, believed to be not involved in the Hamas offensive, is aimed at strengthening its axis of resistance and blocking the normalization of Arab countries with Israel.
The position of Arab countries is uncertain in case of a regional war as they want to be in peace with both Iran and Israel as evidenced by the Abraham Accords and the China-mediated Iran-Saudi deal.
The international community faces a critical juncture in addressing the conflict. Instead of looking at the current war only from the October 7 offense by Hamas, the world must look into the root cause of the issue. Urgent pressure on Israel to stop bombing civilians, establish a permanent ceasefire, and commence dialogue for the resolution of the issue is necessary. The outdated Oslo Accords must be reviewed to create a separate state of Palestine with the undeniable right to self-defense. Qatar and China could be the most effective mediators in resolving the conflict. There is still time for both Israel and Palestinians to avoid further destruction. It is to be learned that wars and conflicts are ultimately solved on the table, as shown by history.