The Israel-Palestine Conflict: Examining Its Disruptive Impact on Diplomacy in the Middle East

Anil Trigunayat

There is a line up of visitors to the region with their own agendas. Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz are racing to support Israel but with a subtle caveat as the UNSG cries hoarse for opening up of humanitarian corridors and access of medical and humanitarian supplies to the besieged Gaza residents. While the casualties and crisis is deepening by the minute and humanitarian conscience is provoking introspection and perhaps hardening of attitudes and resolve on both sides, rationality is mostly a casualty, observes Amb. Anil Trigunayat, a former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta, and a West Asia expert.

In these past two weeks, one has only witnessed disruptive diplomacy in action which is polarised, unifocal, subjective and myopic. Most of the regional and international actors and powers were only concerned with the current and day-to-day situation followed by immediate knee jerk reactions and statements clearly exposing themselves in the bargain.

Some countries wanted to show their continued and unstinted support to a country or the cause. Terror attacks against Israeli civilians shook the conscience of the conscious world and raised the support levels especially by the West led by the US in favour of their permanent ally in Israel. No sane person will doubt that but perhaps they did not factor the public outcry, international reactions when the expendable Palestinian population was being pulverised by Israeli fire power killing and injuring thousands of civilians in Gaza. 

There is a line up of visitors to the region with their own agendas. Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz are racing to support Israel but with a subtle caveat as United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) Antonio Guterres cries hoarse for opening up of humanitarian corridors and access of medical and humanitarian supplies to the besieged Gaza residents.

The casualties and crisis is deepening by the minute and humanitarian conscience is provoking introspection and perhaps hardening of attitudes and resolve on both sides. Amidst crisis, rationality is mostly a casualty. A beleaguered Benjamin Nethanyahu (Bibi) is facing his disenchanted home constituency with his handling of the hostages held by Hamas and ever so angry Arab foes and friends alike. Hitherto achieved rapprochement with the Arab countries through Abraham Accords ++ is being subjected to closer scrutiny and calls for scrapping them by the Arab street.

UAE, which has developed closest relations with the Jewish state in the region, along with Russia, had to take up a stand against the atrocities and for the immediate ceasefire at the UN Security Council while representing the Arab seat. They will become louder if the ground invasion happens and Palestinian casualties rise. Israel’s efforts to destroy Hamas may land up emboldening them if indiscriminate and disproportionate force is used by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDFs). Hamas’s key objective to demonise Israel and hold back further rapprochement will be achieved while ordinary Palestinians will suffer even more. 

It will also extract its pound of flesh while releasing the prisoners with the intervention of Qatar, Turkey and Egypt. While the Russia-UAE draft resolution was defeated, the Brazilian one for some pause in hostilities and opening of humanitarian corridors for Gaza are still in the wings. Most leaders agree for a ceasefire and access to humanitarian assistance and hoping against hope that Bibi will not violate humanitarian and international law. 

In the case of  Washington and Biden, given their own domestic politics, presidential elections and compulsions as well as  their own history of bombing Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, dictated the US reaction and immediate provision for moral, material and military support to Netanyahu was understandable.

But they soon realised that an extendable rope given to Bibi could easily snap embarrassing them. They were also uncomfortable with ground invasion of Gaza and possible occupation of the territory once again which Israel eventually will find it difficult to hold for good. The US Secretary Antony Blinken’s shuttle diplomacy in the region would have conveyed to him the thin rope he is walking on. It behoves Biden and Blinken to work on cooling down the tempers and escalation and find a way beyond.

Apparently, Biden will have tough questions for Bibi but in public on his arrival he seems to have fully endorsed the position and stand taken by Bibi including ground invasion of Gaza while expressing sympathies with the people of Gaza. He also has agreed with Israeli stand that the missile that killed 500 people in a hospital strike was launched by third party which is unlikely to ameliorate the situation or assuage the feelings of the Arab street as it gave a clean chit to Netanyahu. 

Arab leaders, OIC and Arab league are speaking in one voice. Iran is also indulging in its diplomatic and strategic outreach as it sees an opportunity to belittle Netanyahu through Hamas and Hezbollah from Lebanon. President Biden‘s visit has been marred by cancellation of a Quartet meet in Amman with Jordanian King Abdullah II, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi of Egypt. Biden had to make do with phone calls.

It is difficult to say what he (Biden) might extract from them even as both Jordan and Egypt depend a great deal on US assistance. But Jordanian King is also the custodian of the third holiest mosque Al Aqsa in Jerusalem whose sanctity has often been violated by ultra-rightists in Israel deepening the anger of the Muslims around the world and making the King’s position even more delicate.

The missile attack on the Gaza hospital also provoked a statement from the Indian Prime Minister who had rightly condemned earlier (October 7) the Hamas terror attacks on the Israeli civilians and expressed solidarity with Israel. Indian spokesman later reiterated India’s principled and standing position on the Palestinian issue urging for the two state solution and resumption of direct negotiations for a viable state of Palestine.

India on Israel-Palestine Conflict

On the hospital attack, PM Modi tweeted; “Deeply shocked at the tragic loss of lives at the Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza. Our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims, and prayers for speedy recovery of those injured, and that Civilian casualties in the ongoing conflict are a matter of serious and continuing concern. Those involved should be held responsible.”

A genuine diplomatic effort is needed from acceptable and credible interlocutors to ease the Gaza crisis and help find a way forward rather than a subjective, presumptive and disruptive diplomacy.

The article was first published in CNBC TV18 as Israel Palestine Conflict | Why it is a disruptive diplomacy in the West Asian context on October 20, 2023.

Acknowledgement

The author, Amb. Anil Trigunayat, is a former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta, and currently heads the West Asia Experts Group at Vivekananda International Foundation. Views expressed are personal.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

Read more by the authors: Trigs on Track- Diplomacy Unwound-AUKUS – The QUAD and the Malabar.

This article was posted by Mansi Garg , a researcher at IMPRI.