The possibility of horrific violence taking place in Gaza and in Israel was clearly foreseeable at the time of the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. The alienation of the Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank that has provoked such violence was preventable—that is, if the US, Europeans, Russians, and Arab states had strengthened their promised efforts to press Israel and the Palestinians into peace negotiations—involving conflict prevention, security building measures, and international peacekeeping under UN auspices after the 2003 Iraq war.
This is what I had argued in my talk, “The Future of Transatlantic Relations,” at a Forum du Futur conference held at the French Senate (June 21, 2005)—and that took place before the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. I then published a more detailed argument later in an article published in French in October 2005.
In my address to the Forum du Futur, I argued the need for closer transatlantic relations and the need to bring Russia into a closer strategic economic partnership with the US, NATO, and Europeans (in part by helping to develop the isolated Kaliningrad enclave)—plus the need to keep the Arab-Israel peace process alive. Now, however, having failed to draw Russia into a new system of European security, the US and Europe are engaged in a proxy war with Russia over Ukraine, while Israel and Hamas are at war as well.
My argument in 2005 was that the deployment of international peacekeepers in Gaza, under the leadership of the Quartet powers of the US, EU, Russia, and UN, could have proved to be an effective stabilizing force. Such a force would seek to prevent Al Qaeda and other militant groups from infiltrating the region while also protecting the Palestinians from Israeli raids—but only as long as such a peacekeeping force possessed the support of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Such a force would need to work with all Palestinian factions—although it would more strongly back Fatah, as the lesser of bad options. The other factions could have included Hamas and other militant groups—but only if the latter agreed to lay down their weapons, much like the Irish Republican Army had promised to lay down their guns in resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland after the Good Friday Accords of 1998. In retrospect, providing stronger international diplomatic backing to Fatah for a two-state solution in 2005 might have prevented Hamas from taking over Gaza in 2006-07.
Such an international peacekeeping force could have been made up of troops acceptable to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority and, if implemented, could have helped to foster an overall framework for a general Israel-Palestinian peace settlement, including the West Bank. The Quartet could have worked to coordinate diplomacy among Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other states as well—in implementing the 2002 Saudi/Arab peace plan.
Evidently, despite the fact that the European Union had been considering such an option at the time, in 2005, no such peacekeeping force was ever deployed in Gaza. This meant that the promises made by British Prime Minister Tony Blair that the Quartet powers would eventually engage in diplomacy to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq war were subsequently seen as a means to lure the Arab states into supporting that ill-conceived and costly military intervention that has destabilized the entire Middle East.
On the one hand, the high costs and difficulties already confronted by international peacekeeping—or really peacemaking—in Afghanistan, plus the high costs of the futile US-led military intervention in Iraq, significantly reduced chances for the Quartet to engage in full-fledged diplomacy to help resolve Israel-Palestinian conflict, contrary to Tony Blair’s promises. On the other hand, Ariel Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza effectively doomed the peace process and divided the Palestinians—in large part because Israel itself encouraged the rise of Hamas to counter Fatah.
Unfortunately, an international peace initiative was simply not given adequate consideration in 2005—despite the fact that it represented an alternative option to both Sharon’s hasty withdrawal and to Netanyahu’s determination to sustain Israel’s military occupation of Gaza. Now, much as I feared at the time, the region has erupted into extreme violence—with Hamas more violently attacking Israel than ever before with new forms of asymmetrical warfare.
Hamas was purportedly able to surprise—or perhaps fool—the Israeli leadership despite all of the latter’s tremendous human and artificial intelligence capabilities. Another possibility is that Israel was, in fact, warned at least ten to three days before the Hamas attacks on Israel by Egypt(denied by Netanyahu):. Yet instead of acting, Netanyahu’s government opted to suffer the initial blow from Hamas on October 7, 2023—much like Franklin D. Roosevelt did at Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1945—so as to politically justify a massive military reprisal that has been intended to eliminate Hamas altogether or at least try to destroy its military capabilities. Concurrently, under attack as a wartime president, Netanyahu has sought to rally and unify Israeli domestic support for his failing leadership and his extremist coalition government that has sought to undermine the legal power of Israel’s courts—the foundation of Israeli democracy.
Israel furthermore appears to be using massive force in the hope that its blockade of food supplies, electricity and water (plus incapacitation of hospitals) will somehow help “liberate” the Palestinians in the words of French writer Bernard-Henri Levy by pressing the general Palestinian population to turn against the repressive Hamas dictatorship.
Yet without international mediation, and without a viable future peace plan, the Palestinian population and its leadership (whoever the Palestinians will seek as leaders in the future) will have no country to trust after the massive Israeli bombing campaign and possible ground offensive on Gaza. The effort to “obliterate Hamas terrorist capabilities” in the words of the Israeli ambassador to the UN, appears to be aimed more at collective punishment of the Palestinians, and forcing them into exile in a new Nakba,, than for the “liberation” of Palestinians from the Hamas tyranny.
Without providing tangible hope for a sustainable peace settlement once Israel eventually halts its attack on the Palestinians that is going way beyond defense purposes---and that could soon be fought in highly destructive forms of asymmetrical warfare in the urban centers and underground tunnels of Gaza---Israel’s efforts to “eliminate” Hamas will only provoke the rise of new revanchist Palestinian groups who see the US and Europeans as intentionally backing Israeli war crimes.
In addition to the killing of many civilians on both sides caught in the crossfire, the danger is that this renewed Israel-Palestinian conflict will make the proposed peace deals between the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, and between the US, Israel, and Iran over the latter’s nuclear enrichment, nearly impossible to achieve. Such conflict will once again inflame many of the Arab/Islamic populations throughout the wider Middle East, despite the efforts of some of their governments to try to calm enraged popular opinion if possible (with the significant exceptions of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen and Algeria)—resulting in renewed acts of global terrorism.
Moreover, whether Israeli intelligence knew about the Hamas attacks or not, or whether Israel was fooled into thinking that Hamas would strike elsewhere, Netanyahu’s revengeful militarist reaction could potentially not only draw Hezbollah into the strife to open up a second front with its considerable military capabilities—but it could also widen the war to the West Bank and possibly Syria and Iran, the major supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah—potentially embroiling the entire region.
A wider conflict could take place if Israel does move its land forces into Gaza, at the same time that Israel continues its efforts to draw the U.S. into military strikes against Iranian nuclear enrichment and missile capabilities. Already, the Biden administration has moved the USS Eisenhower carrier strike group, in addition to its most advanced aircraft carrier strike group, the Gerald R. Ford, into the region as a symbolic show of defense support for Israel and for Biden to gain domestic American support versus his Republican rivals.
And finally, on a global scale, the conflict will be manipulated, and possibly secretly supported, by Moscow (as claimed by Kyiv)—in the effort to draw US strategic attention away from Ukraine and other regions—as both Russia and China extend their influence into Eurasia, the wider Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere. And will China more strongly back Iran and the Palestinians? The conflict could intensify the growing social, political, and alliance polarization in a situation in the wider Middle East that appears to represent a mix of the 19th century Crimean War and the Balkans conflicts before World War I.
Given the failure to engage in conflict prevention by deploying international peacekeepers in 2005, I am now arguing that states, such as Qatar and Turkey, for example, can help mediate between Hamas and the Israel to release hostages and then achieve a cease fire. President Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken have sought to prevent the war from expanding. Yet while that they have urged the Israelis to permit a humanitarian corridor reach the Palestinians in the south of Gaza, this may not stop an Israeli invasion of the north.
If it really wants peace, the US needs to restrain Israel, while it seeks to negotiate behind the scenes to prevent Iran from backing an alliance between Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, along with other Iran-backed groups operating in Iraq, Yemen & Syria. Such peace negotiations could take place, however, only once, and if, Israel realizes that it will ultimately need to negotiate, with the help of both major and regional powers (including the US, the EU, and China) to re-formulate an overall peace settlement with the Palestinians, involving Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Such a peace settlement could possibly include a mixed international and Arab peacekeeping force made up of countries acceptable to both sides, with the political and financial backing of the Arab Gulf states for Palestinian reconstruction and for the establishment of a confederal version of the two-state solution, under a general UN mandate.
Such an international peace initiative will prove crucial to prevent a permanent conflict that will continue to destabilize much of the wider Middle East—if not much of the world. As horrific as the Hamas attacks on Israel are, there is no purely military solution!
My views in 2005
Below are the fundamental points of what I said in my speech, “The Future of Transatlantic Relations,” at a Forum du Futur conference held at the French Senate (June 21, 2005). This also represents the general basis of my conclusion in my original article in English, The Gaza Withdrawal: Toward Israeli-Palestinian Reconciliation or Third Intifada? (October 2005).
Finding a way to mediate the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians would represent a significant step in helping to put an end to one of the major issues that helps to inflame the pan-Islamic movement. While the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and US support for Israel are not the only focus of pan-Islamic propaganda (other pan-Islamic causes include US intervention in Iraq as well as the situation in Kashmir, Chechnya, Saudi Arabia, and Chinese-controlled Xinjiang province), the Palestinian issue represents one of the most significant and burning issues that continue to plague American and European relations with the Arab and Islamic worlds, and that helps to turn more "moderate" Arab and Islamic opinion against the US and Europeans.
Progress in implementing an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement would consequently represent a major diplomatic step toward winding down the "global war on terrorism." It thus appears crucial that the US and Europe work more diligently and effectively toward a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the Quartet process, involving the US, EU, Russia, and the UN.
The Quartet, along with the international community, need to pressure Israel to make a clear commitment to the largely moribund Road Map to Peace and to discuss the question of Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, and other issues more openly so as to prevent the possibility of a "third intifada," which could further radicalize international Arab and Islamist views.
The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza has, ironically, however, put the international community in a quandary as to whether the deployment of international peacekeepers in Gaza, and perhaps ultimately in the West Bank, would prove positive and beneficial. Or, on the contrary, would international peacekeepers create even more tensions and conflict, hence exacerbate tensions within Palestinian factions and with Israel as well? At the same time, with the growing difficulties facing the US with respect to insurgence and "peacekeeping" in Iraq and Afghanistan, are the US and other states really prepared to engage in such a force?
In my view, an international US-EU-Russian peacekeeping force that possesses the support of both Israel and the present Palestinian Authority could be a positive stabilizing force and could serve as a buffer so that acts of vengeance on both sides will not escalate out of control. Yet to be politically and militarily effective, such a peacekeeping force, which can possess a joint NATO-EU command, must be able to work with all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, but only assuming the latter agrees to put down its weaponry.
The deployment of international peacekeepers could only take place as part of an overall framework for a general Israel-Palestinian peace settlement, including the West Bank and Jerusalem, and would help support close Israeli-Palestinian cooperation with respect to trade issues, workforce, water rights, the return of refugees, and joint rule in Jerusalem.
Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority could jointly determine the nature, number, and nationality of these peacekeepers. These troops could include American, European, Russian, or other peacekeepers from Arab or Islamic states, such as Turkey, or even from Central Asian states. NATO, the European Union, and Russia could then provide overlapping security guarantees to help guarantee Israel's security, as well as that of a newly independent Palestine, vis-à-vis many of their highly unstable and volatile neighbors, including Syria and Iran.
The deployment of international peacekeepers made up of NATO, EU, and Russian peacekeepers, along with Partnership for Peace countries acceptable to both Israelis and Palestinians under a UN mandate, can play a triple role:
- Multinational peacekeeping forces can help put an end to acts of terrorism and counter-terrorism, protecting Palestinians from Israeli air strikes and raids while working to disarm Palestinian militias.
- Multinational peacekeeping forces can work to eliminate one of the major conflicts that exacerbates pan-Islamic propaganda of "war on terrorism".
- Multinational peacekeepers can better protect both Israel and a newly independent Palestine from the potential threats caused by the proliferation of WMD—if this crucial issue cannot be resolved diplomatically with Iran and other states.
If the US is to ever regain a real sense of world "leadership" that the first-term Bush administration neo-conservatives so bragged about, then it will have to take real leadership in trying to forge an Israeli-Palestinian settlement—as a major multilateral and diplomatic step toward winding down what will still prove to be a very long-term "war on terrorism."
Back to the present
That is a digested version of what I wrote in 2005. It is now 2023. In the aftermath of the Hamas attacks on Israel, and the violent Israeli reprisal against Hamas in Gaza in October 2023, it is time for the US, in working with the EU, China, Turkey, Qatar (with close ties to both Hamas and Iran), the Arab states and others, plus Iran behind the scenes, to finally take credible steps to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, that could eventually involve the deployment of international and Arab peacekeeping forces, under general UN mandate.
Failure to engage in full-fledged concerted diplomacy could not only inflame the region but much of the world, as this conflict begins to interlink on geostrategic terms with other major conflicts throughout the world.