Sunday, June 16, 2024
 
 

Stability in the Middle East must involve the whole of the international community

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The pacifist Jeannette Rankin once famously claimed that “you can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake”. As the latest conflict between terrorist groups in Gaza and Israel approaches the two-month mark, many are once again wondering what the long-term solution to this conflict might be.

Given the ongoing military operations, it is likely that the ability of Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza to conduct terror attacks against Israel will be significantly reduced. This is imperative.

The pogrom-like terror attack has deeply rattled any sense of security in Israel and is a watershed in the country’s history. As Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has clarified, the large-scale military operations will continue for at least several more weeks.

As other operations against insurgencies and deeply entrenched extremist movements in recent history have shown, degrading the physical terrorist infrastructure is only the first step that buys time for longer term stabilization operations.

For these, Israel will need the support of the international community.

First, the international community needs to address the malign influence of state actors in strengthening terror groups in Gaza.

Iran is known to be the most important supporter and supplier to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but countries like Qatar have also provided substantial financial resources and played host to Hamas leaders. Iranian arms shipments need to be more effectively tracked and blocked, and pressure must be applied on Qatar to end its terror financing and rescind its protection for the top leaders of this terror group.

Beyond state support the various other income streams of Hamas must be more effectively targeted. This involves not only the identification and disruption of donations by its supporters, including in the US Europe, but also the disruption of Hamas’ investment portfolio. This will require the cooperation of countries such as Turkey, where key Turkish companies, with vocal public support from the country’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have major investments linked to Hamas.

Furthermore, social media platforms and messenger services will have to do much better in preventing Hamas propaganda and misinformation from spreading around the world. The various enquiries that the European Commission has started against a range of global platforms can therefore only be a first step.

A street in Gaza City following intense urban combat between the IDF and Hamas extremists.

For an equitable and permanent peace to truly take hold, there must also be a substantial investment of time, money, and energy into post-conflict reconstruction in Gaza. This will ensure that Hamas cannot take hold again in the Strip. This too Israel cannot manage alone.

The international community must address four key issues in partnership with Israeli and Palestinian stakeholders: peacekeeping, diplomacy, de-radicalization, and building a long-term future for Gazans.

The first requirement inevitably will be peacekeeping. The current assumption, on the part of the Israeli government at least, is that an IDF presence will be required in Gaza for some time after the achievement of its immediate military objectives. This is unavoidable to ensure that extremists in Gaza are not able to immediately begin to reconstruct the terrorist infrastructure.

Security control in Gaza should be handed over to an international coalition of peace-keeping troops as quickly as possible. Here Arab countries will have to be involved. As Israel’s neighbours, it is also in their interest that Gaza will never again be controlled by a terrorist group and proxy of Iran.

Part of this effort will be a concerted and resource-intensive investment in de-radicalization and counter-extremism. After years of indoctrination by Hamas, it will take further decades to undo its deeply imbibed antisemitic and violent ideology.

UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, has been greatly undermined by the Hamas sympathies of many staff members and the extremist content found in its school materials. Therefore, efforts to de-radicalize should be supported by independent experts.

Such de-radicalization will only be sustainable if accompanied by economic and social development. Since Hamas took over in Gaza in 2006, the group has never focused on this. According to its own leaders, economic development was always trumped by the development of its terrorist infrastructure. Therefore, nearly two decades of potential growth were missed. Reconstruction and the creation of economic opportunities will be essential. This also requires fostering a genuine civil society and a space for political expression and representation after over 15 years of Hamas dictatorship. Gazans too must be freed from the clutches of Hamas that has treated their lives as expendable for too long.

While the financial cost for the West will be steep, a reliable peace is also in our own interest. We have seen shocking antisemitism and Islamist extremist language on the streets of Europe over the past weeks and months, and security services are on high alert for an increased risk of terror attacks. The same counter-extremism and de-radicalization programs required in Gaza are also applicable in Europe.

There certainly needs to be a substantial reassessment of prevention and prosecution of extremist thought, and a review of policing. But making a genuine effort to secure a reliable peace in the Middle East is just as vital.

Implementing these measures is a best-case scenario and involves significant investment of time, energy, and resources. It also necessitates a willingness of Israeli and Gazan stakeholders on the ground to engage.

Change will not happen overnight and requires good-faith participation of all those on whom it depends.

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Senior Director of the New York and Brussels-based Counter Extremism Project.

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