The MED This Week newsletter provides expert analysis and informed insights on the most significant developments in the MENA region, bringing together unique opinions on the topic and reliable foresight on future scenarios. Today, we focus on the recent Israeli-Hamas “mutual and unconditional” ceasefire, signed amid international pressure to stop the fierce fighting that caused widespread destruction in Gaza and halted much of Israel’s daily life in less than two weeks.
After 11 days of fighting, Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire brokered by Egypt and the UN on May 21st. Both Hamas and Israel claimed victory in the escalation, which caused the death of 12 people in Israel and 232 Palestinians, mainly in Gaza. Despite the positive early signs, the ceasefire remains fragile, while the precarious situation on the ground could lead to another crisis shortly. On the domestic fronts, the escalation has culminated in a complex political scenario, with Israel struggling to form a new government and Palestinians dealing with the recent postponement of the elections. Against this backdrop, the escalation revealed the growing frustration among the Arab citizens of Israel, as well as their increasing commitment to the Palestinian cause. At the same time, it has brought to light the different levels of engagement (and the resulting fault lines) among the international community’s commitment to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Experts from the ISPI MED network react to the consequences of the recent escalation of violence between between Israel and Hamas.
Bibi benefitted from the recent escalation, but will it last?
“The violence, not so much in Gaza, but rather in Israel has divided the Israeli opposition, which just two weeks ago was on the verge of finally form a “government of change” under the joint leadership of Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett: both Bennett and MK Mansour Abbas (leader of the United Arab List) decided to step back from those negotiations after the clashes in Lod, Acre, Ramle, Haifa, Umm al-Fahm, and across the Negev.
For now, it looks like Benjamin Netanyahu is closer to what he wants, namely his fifth re-election. Nonetheless, his tactic of constantly recurring to election rounds one after another, together with his strategy of dividing different subgroups in Israeli society, may not deliver results in the long term.”
Anna Maria Bagaini, Research Fellow, University of Nottingham
The escalation enhanced Hamas’ role inside and outside Gaza’s borders
“The latest escalation between the Israeli Army and Gaza factions, led by Hamas, has had longer consequences this time around as compared to the previous three wars. The 2008-2009 war lasted three weeks, the following one in 2012 continued for one week, while in 2014 the confrontations lasted 51 days. Compared to previous cases, during the recent May 2021 escalation the military option did not appear to bring stability and peace to the region. Despite the Israeli siege on Gaza since 2007, Hamas has developed and extended its military capabilities. While the previous wars were confined to Gaza, this time around the recent escalation was linked to Jerusalem, which promoted Hamas as the defender of Palestinians everywhere. Furthermore, it triggered support to Hamas in the Westbank, the diaspora, and within the Palestinian residents in Israel itself. Finally, Hamas imposed itself as a key player at the regional level, leading countries such as Jordan, Syria, and Egypt to attempt to create dialogues and potential cooperation with Hamas. As such, the May escalation had an impact beyond the border of Gaza.”
Omar Shaban, Director, PalThink For Strategic Studies
This time, the real challenge comes from within Israel itself
“For the first time in nearly two decades, Arab Israelis are mass protesting from Acre in the north to Lod, Ramla and Rahat in the south, with tension spreading to over 23 towns and cities. Some Israelis worry that the clashes between Jewish and Arab citizens will cause irreparable harm to the social fabric or could even trigger a civil war. Different subcultures within Israel are fighting each other, creating a fracturing of political lines. While most of the world's attention has been focused on the war between Hamas in Gaza and the IDF, with the tremendous (and disproportionate) cost of civilian lives, the real societal and political shift is happening within Israel.”
Gaja Pellegrini Bettoli, Independent Journalist
A political solution without shortcuts
“As the EU’s Josep Borrell noted, there needs to be a movement towards a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is right. But there are no shortcuts. Pushing to revive a failed peace process without addressing its flaws and without regard for the entrenched structures of inequality that undermine Palestinian rights is not a recipe for success. The EU must focus on creating the foundations needed for credible negotiations. This means challenging Israel’s preference for open-ended occupation and pushing for Palestinian elections to reverse a dysfunctional and authoritarian political system. More fundamentally, the EU must invest in a new rights-based strategy that puts ending the occupation and equal rights front and centre of peace-building efforts.”
Hugh Lovatt, Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)
The Egyptian mediation: a diplomatic victory for Al-Sisi
“The recent escalation has allowed Egypt to further deepen its regional influence and strengthen its international standing. By brokering the deal, Egypt scored a fundamental diplomatic victory: the success of the Egyptian mediation could help Cairo burnish its credentials with Biden’s US on top of giving it regional prestige vis-à-vis its rivals. This includes Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, especially considering the embarrassed hesitation of many Arab countries, particularly those who signed the Abraham Accords and normalized diplomatic relations with Israel. At this stage, Sisi is bound to benefit from the Egyptian line of action: first, it has turned the country into a necessary actor at both the regional and international levels; second, it is likely to strengthen popular support, during a delicate phase for the regime both socially and economically.”
Alessia Melcangi, Associate Research Fellow, ISPI; Assistant Professor, Sapienza University of Rome, and Non-resident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council