Middle East Briefing N°30, 24 March 2011
Will the next Middle East conflagration involve Israelis and Palestinians? After the serious escalation of the past week in which eight Gazans, including children, were killed in a single day, and the 23 March 2011 bombing in Jerusalem, that took the life of one and wounded dozens, there is real reason to worry. The sharp deterioration on this front is not directly related, nor is it in any way similar to the events that have engulfed the Middle East and North Africa. But the overall context of instability and uncertainty undoubtedly has made a volatile situation even more so. Israelis’ anxiety is rising and with it the fear that outside parties might seek to provoke hostilities to divert attention from domestic problems and shift the focus back to Israel. Hamas has been emboldened by regional events and is therefore less likely to back down from a challenge. The combination, as recent days have shown, has proven combustible.
In this context, the priority is to achieve an effective ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, without which the situation soon could spin out of control. True, periodic escalations have become part of what passes for normal in Gaza and adjacent Israeli territory. But the current round of violence has the makings of something more and far worse. As in the weeks preceding Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli attack on Gaza that commenced in December 2008, neither Hamas nor Israel seems intent on provoking an intensified or extended conflict. But the combination of civilian casualties, regional events and continued paralysis of Palestinian politics has created the conditions for a rapid deterioration toward the kind of clash to which neither side aspires, for which both have carefully prepared and from which they will not retreat quickly.
Gaza City/Jerusalem/Brussels, 24 March 2011
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