Article by Charmaine Ko and Leah Koonthamattam

During the past week that marked the end of Ramadan, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict escalated into violent tensions. Although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact start and reason of this recent flare-up, most experts and news outlets report that the conflict escalated on May 8 when the Israeli police blockaded the Al-Aqsa Mosque preventing Palestinians from worship on the last day of Ramadan. Tensions were heightened due to additional confrontations between Israeli police and Palestinians protesting evictions in Jerusalem. The day ended with 200 Palestinians and 18 Israeli police injured. The conflict dragged on until May 20 when both Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire ending 12 days of bombing on both sides. As of May 17, the Palestinian death toll has risen to 200, including at least 52 children and 31 women, and 1,225 injured. The Israeli death toll is 10. 

To learn more about the reasons and effects of the current escalations, The Paris Globalist spoke with Mr. Taha Siddiqui, a Pakistani journalist-in-exile. He is the co-founder of the DISSIDENT club, an intellectual bar and restaurant in Paris that brings dissidents of the world together. He also teaches journalism and human rights at Sciences Po and continues to report and write for international media, focusing on Europe and South Asia. He tweets @TahaSSiddiqui. 

We also spoke to Dr. Ori Goldberg, a research fellow at International Institute for Counter-Terrorism. His research focuses on the interaction between religious faith and political behavior. He has also served as a research fellow in many famous institutions, including at Yale University, the Mellon Foundation, and the Volkswagen Stiftung. As part of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), he hosted a radio program called Broadcast University. He has served as a senior research fellow at the Dado Center of Interdisciplinary Military Studies (part of the IDF) and is a faculty member of the Israeli National Defense College (IDC). Dr. Goldberg currently teaches at the IDC, Tel Aviv University. 

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict has been ongoing for more than half a century now, why does the encroachment on East Jerusalem seem so much more significant now to the point the UN issued warnings that tensions in the region are on the precipice of a full-blown war? 

“This is originally an Israeli national problem. Out of context, the event wouldn’t have had the effect that it has had. It is a slight escalation of Israeli ‘standard procedure’ to evict Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah,” says Goldberg. The ‘standard procedure’ he cited is the Israeli law that allows Jews with proof of historic ownership over Palestinian territories the right to confiscate and reclaim the land, despite current Palestinian ownership. This law legitimises the forceful removal of Palestinian residents from their homes. This was heavily debated in the Israeli Supreme Court. Rising tensions lead to increasing violence after the confrontation on Eid was further heightened by the attempt to impose this law in Jerusalem. However, Goldberg argues against labelling the conflict an escalation to war, “because war is fought between two sovereign states”. 

“The UN warning is empty rhetoric,” begins Siddiqui, “as it’s a toothless organization that does nothing more than just make noise.” He emphasises that this conflict is between the Israeli government and Hamas, both of whom are winning in their own ways while it is the Palestinians and Israeli citizens that are the losers. The Israeli government and Hamas both want to keep this a low-intensity conflict and benefit from it in their own ways.” He points out Netanyahu’s contentious domestic politics. “[Netanyahu] has to worry about his corruption trial and other quarrels of domestic politics, both of which are now swept under the rug due to this conflict.” Siddiqui also believes Hamas benefits from this conflict by getting more foreign funds and making them the center of Gaza again. 

What does a full-blown war or further escalation of this unprecedented violence mean, in your opinion, for Middle Eastern politics? What will be the political results of this escalation on both sides? 

“A full-blown war and further escalation of violence has very bad implications for Middle Eastern politics,” Goldberg answers. It is bad for non-regional players and their foreign policy agendas in the Middle East. Both Israel and Palestine are increasingly considered ‘wild cards’ and President Biden, the leader of Israel’s staunchest ally, the United States, sees Netanyahu “not as an enemy, but as an unwelcome presence.” 

Given this new escalation, what are your thoughts about the future of the territory? 

Siddiqui believes that the territory will remain a conflict zone for years to come. “More common Palestinians will keep losing their homes at the hands of Israeli settlers. More citizens will die from both sides. More from Palestine than Israel,” he tells TPG.  

Goldberg agrees, adding that the reality of a two-state solution wanted by the Israeli left is no longer viable because it requires commitment not seen on either side.“I hope that a new Israeli government will initiate negotiations with the Palestinian National Authority and probably Hamas to bring a semblance of order for 3-5 years,” he says. He emphasises that Israel is left with a dilemma of democracy. For a single-state solution to be successful, Israel cannot be the Jewish state it is now and must move towards secularism, providing non-Jews equal rights. He expands on the potential for a single state, where Jewish dominance is maintained, but the Palestinian state’s narrative is recognised and included within the national narrative. “If Israel does not bring democratic rights to all, they will create an apartheid state based on religious affiliations,” he warns. 

Referencing to the American embassy move to Jerusalem and the US ambassador to the Security Council’s veto of Israeli condemnation, how has US policy emboldened the Israeli government to escalate conflict now?

“Israel is that child to whom nobody has ever explained boundaries,” Goldberg begins. “Israel keeps dragging the U.S. back into the Middle East even though they want out. The U.S. has made it clear to Israel that they must make their own decisions. The Trump regime radically changed perception of Israel and the conflict, turning it into a partisan issue. By making it a Republican party issue, Netanyahu burnt important bridges in the American Democratic party, which has backfired after President Biden’s election.

Siddiqui disagrees: “American support is complicated. It is not just political or limited to Trump. Americans have always supported Israel.” Siddiqui believes they support Israel because it provides them access right to the heart of the Middle East.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is famous for expanding Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank disrespecting the international regulations surrounding Israeli borders. In your expert opinion, do you believe these aggressive moves are politically motivated by his impending corruption trial and an attempt to reinforce his position as the leader of Israel despite the country’s current political inability to form a majority government? 

There is a conspiracy in Israel, Goldberg explains, that Netanyahu escalated this conflict because he is in personal survival mode due to the corruption charges and inability to gain majority support in the elections. He wants to draw public attention away from Lapid, the opposition leader in the Knesset, and back to himself again in a positive light through defense of the Jewish homeland. 

Siddiqui, too, believes Israeli internal politics has much to do with the violence of the past two weeks. “[Netanyahu’s] position is much more secure now”.

Do you have any advice for third-party global citizens in approaching discussions on this polarising topic? 

“Watch domestic politics in Israel and Hamas controlled zones,” Siddiqui advises. The conflict has a local and geo-political dynamic. Though it is painted as a religious conflict, religion is just a distraction. Study why we are where we are in this conflict. “The Palestinian people were never free; they were occupied by their Arab Muslim neighbors, the British, the Turkish… The land has always been occupied by outsiders. This specific historical context is missing from media coverage today. We must also look at the role of Muslim countries and how they use Palestine as an excuse to rally and radicalize their own Muslim populations at home.” 

Goldberg agrees: “Jews and Muslims are not the point of the conflict.” The conflict has many angles. “I suggest reading the news and learning about the history of the region with a ‘going in and panning out’ mindset: to read the very current news but place that within the history and context of the region as a whole”. Read “an interplay of very very current events [but also read] broad historical narratives” to have a balanced idea. Goldberg also suggests using Twitter for up-to-date reports, watching this John Oliver clip explaining current escalations, and reading this New York Times Opinion article by Thomas Friedman.