As the Taliban surges across Afghanistan, al-Qaeda is poised for a swift return


Afghan men bury a victim of deadly bombings near a girls’ school in May.
Mariam Zuhaib/AP

Greg Barton, Deakin UniversityThe imminent fall of Afghanistan is more than a national disaster. It is not just that the gains made in the past two decades, at the cost of tens of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, look certain to be reversed as the Taliban advances.

The Taliban’s victory is also al-Qaeda’s victory, and it has global implications.

Even before the US military completes the final steps of its troop withdrawal, the Taliban is surging. It is now reported to control 212 districts — more than half of Afghanistan’s 407 districts. This is triple the territory it controlled on May 1. The Taliban has seized 51 districts since the start of July alone.

The Taliban is currently contesting a further 119 districts, leaving the government with control over just 76, or little more than 20%.

And the government-held territory is surrounded. Almost the entire circular national highway is in the hands of the Taliban, meaning the cities under government control can only safely be reached by air.

Afghanistan has fallen

US President Joe Biden and political leaders in Kabul talk optimistically of a fightback to reverse the surge. But Afghan morale has collapsed along with the fabric of national security.

When the US military quietly snuck out of Bagram Airbase in the early hours of July 2, they did not just turn off the lights, they extinguished what hope that remained.




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The Afghan military is stuck in a Catch-22 situation. Without air support, it cannot maintain logistic supply lines and medivac support for its troops across Afghanistan’s mountainous expanses.

The Afghan air force has just 136 airplanes and helicopters ready for combat missions from a fleet of 167, a drop of 24 aircraft in the previous quarter. It relies on international contractors to keep its aircraft flying. And almost all of the 18,000 US-funded contractors left with the last of the troop flights out of Bagram, leaving most of the Afghan helicopters and C130 transports soon to be grounded.

At the same time, Afghanistan’s scarce reserves of US-trained pilots are at risk of assassination from Taliban death squads, with at least seven gunned down while off base in recent months.

Whether the Taliban swiftly moves to take Kabul now, or remains content with encircling the capital and other cities, it is clear: Afghanistan has fallen.

‘War against the US will be continuing on all fronts’

Biden was dealt a very weak hand by his predecessor. The “peace agreement” between the Taliban and the Trump administration (but not the government of Afghanistan) committed the US to draw down all remaining 13,000 troops by May 2021, along with NATO troops.

It also involved a prisoner swap, with more than 5,000 captured Taliban fighters guaranteed release.

In return, the Taliban “pledged” to prevent its longtime ally, al-Qaeda, from operating out of Afghanistan, and to refrain from attacking international forces before their withdrawal.

The Taliban did refrain from targeting foreign troops, but at the same time stepped up its attacks on Afghan forces and leading civil society figures, with a particular focus on assassinating women and girls, and members of the largely Shia Hazara community.

A man cries over the body of a victim of deadly bombing at the entrance to a girls’ school in the Afghan capital in May.
Mariam Zuhaib/AP

Critics of the “peace process” with the Taliban, including former US generals and security officials, have argued that, with no real checks and balances on the Taliban breaking off its lifelong relationship with al-Qaeda, the deal represented mere window dressing to dignify a US exit.

On February 21 2020, The New York Times published an eloquent opinion piece attributed to Sirajuddin Haqqani as the “deputy leader of the Taliban”. What the Times did not disclose is he is the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of the infamous al-Qaeda-allied Haqqani Network. And that the US has designated Sirajuddin a terrorist and offered US$10 million for information on his whereabouts.

In the piece, Sirajuddin opined:

I am confident that, liberated from foreign domination and interference, we together will find a way to build an Islamic system in which all Afghans have equal rights, where the rights of women that are granted by Islam — from the right to education to the right to work — are protected, and where merit is the basis for equal opportunity.

We are also aware of concerns about the potential of Afghanistan being used by disruptive groups to threaten regional and world security. But these concerns are inflated […]

But as attacks have continued unabated in Afghanistan, few believe the sincerity of Sirajuddin’s words. In fact, the piece was harshly criticised by numerous US officials, one of whom called it “blatant propaganda”.

Then in April of this year, Saleem Mehsud, a CNN reporter in Pakistan, conducted an interview through intermediaries with two al-Qaeda figures. It underscores the close relationship between al-Qaeda and the Taliban — both the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban (TTP):

The Americans are now defeated […] Now the organisation of Pakistani Taliban and their leadership not only moving forward in the light of Sharia but also making better decisions based on past experiences and recent successes have been made possible by the same unity and adherence to Sharia and Wisdom […]

Thanks to Afghans for the protection of comrades-in-arms, many such jihadi fronts have been successfully operating in different parts of the Islamic world for a long time […]

Ominously, the al-Qaeda spokesmen warned:

war against the US will be continuing on all other fronts unless they are expelled from the rest of the Islamic world.

A safe haven for terrorists again

Biden has justified withdrawing from Afghanistan by asserting the US military had accomplished its goal of ousting al-Qaeda from its safe haven in Afghanistan.

But Robert Gates, who served as secretary of defence from 2006–11, confessed in a recent New York Times op-ed:

There is little doubt the United States made strategic mistakes in Afghanistan. We vastly underestimated the challenge of changing an ancient culture and of nation building in a historically highly decentralised country. We never figured out what to do about the Taliban safe haven in Pakistan.

Despite ongoing negotiations, I do not believe the Taliban will settle for a partial victory or for participation in a coalition government. They want total control, and they still maintain ties to al Qaeda […]




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As the US plans its Afghan troop withdrawal, what was it all for?


Gates’s comments echo a UN monitoring team report released in June that claimed al-Qaeda is already present across Afghanistan, especially along the border with Pakistan, and is led by Osama Mahmood under al-Qaeda’s Jabhat-al-Nasr wing:

19 members of the group have been relocated to more remote areas by the Taliban to avoid potential exposure and targeting

al-Qaeda maintains contact with the Taliban but has minimised overt communications with Taliban leadership in an effort to ‘lay low’ and not jeopardise the Taliban’s diplomatic position vis-a-vis the Doha agreement [with the US].

Both al-Qaeda, which is estimated to have 400-600 fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Taliban are playing the long game. Their patience will have tragic implications for the Afghan people. But that is just the beginning of the problem.

Afghanistan was the birthplace of al-Qaeda in 1988. The group gave rise to terrorist networks around the world, including Southeast Asia’s Jemaah Islamiyah, formed in Afghanistan in 1993, and Al Qaeda in Iraq, which morphed into the Islamic State in Iraq in 2006.

A Taliban-controlled Afghanistan — a return of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — will be much larger and prove much more durable than the IS caliphate in Syria and Iraq could ever have been. This will be a powerful inspiration for jihadi terrorists everywhere.

And there will be little to prevent it becoming a safe haven for training and equipping terrorists from around the world.The Conversation

Greg Barton, Chair in Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australians fear China-US military conflict but want to stay neutral: Lowy 2021 Poll


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraChina’s aggressive stands and the sharp deterioration of the bilateral relationship are flowing through strongly to produce record negativity by Australians towards our biggest trading partner.

The Lowy Institute’s annual poll for the first time finds most Australians (52%) see “a military conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan” as a critical threat. This is 17 points up on just a year before.

More than half (56%) think Australia-China relations pose a critical threat.

The poll, “Understanding Australian attitudes to the world”, was done in the second half of March with a sample of 2222. The report is authored by Natasha Kassam. The results on climate and COVID have already been published.




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China-Australia relations have plummeted in recent years, with obstacles currently in place against a range of Australian exports, frequent denunciations of Australia by China, and its government’s continued refusal to return Australian ministers’ calls.

Since the poll was taken, the bilateral relationship has worsened; Scott Morrison at the G7 emphasised the challenge China presented and rallied support for resisting its economic coercion.

Trust in China has continued “its steep decline” according to the poll, reaching a new low. Only 16% of Australians trust China to act responsibly in the world, a 7-point decline from last year. As recently as 2018, 52% trusted China.


Lowy Institute

Just 10% of Australians have confidence in China’s president Xi Jinping to “do the right thing regarding world affairs”. This has halved since 2020 (22%) and fallen 33 points since 2018.

While people were critical of China on almost everything they were asked about in the poll, a majority do not want Australia dragged into a military conflict between China and the United States – 57% say Australia should remain neutral in such a conflict, well above the 41% who believe Australia should support the US.

There is a big age difference on this question: only 21% of those aged 18-29 say Australia should support the US in a conflict, but 58% of those over 60 believe it should.

In one small sign of optimism about China, 72% say it is possible for Australia to have good relations with both the US and China – although this is 15 points lower than in 2013.

China has fallen to the bottom of the Lowy Institute’s “feelings thermometer”, with a 7-point drop to 32 degrees – a 26 degree decline from 2018. This compares, for instance, with the rating of India (56 degrees), Indonesia (55 degrees), and the US (62 degrees),

Asked whether China is more of an economic partner to Australia or a security threat, more than six in ten (63%) see China as “more of a security threat” – a 22-point rise from last year. In contrast, only a third (34%) say China is “more of an economic partner to Australia”. This is 21 points lower than last year.


Lowy Institute

Some 56% believe China is more to blame than Australia for the bilateral tensions, although 38% attribute blame equally.

Having an increasingly negative influence on views of China are its investment in Australia (79%), its environmental policies (79%), its system of government (92%) and its military activity in the region (93%).


Lowy Institute

“Even in relation to China’s strong economic growth story, Australian attitudes have shifted significantly in recent years’, the Lowy report says.

“In 2021, less than half the population (47%) say China’s economic growth has a positive influence on their view of China, a steep 28-point fall since 2016”

The replacement of US president Donald Trump by Joe Biden has been wholeheartedly welcomed by Australians, the poll shows.

Some 69% have confidence in Biden to do the right thing regarding world affairs, 39 points higher than Australians’ confidence in Trump last year. More than six in ten (61%) now trust the US, 10 points higher than last year, but 22 points lower than reached in Barack Obama’s presidency.

There is strong support for the importance of the US alliance (78%), steady since last year) and confidence America would come to Australia’s defence if it were under threat (75%).

Commenting on the poll results, Kassam said “Australia’s China story has changed dramatically since 2018, from one of economic opportunity to concerns about foreign interference and human rights.

“Views of China are to some extent inseparable from the crackdown in Hong Kong, the detention of Uighurs, the disappearance of Australian citizens in China…” she said.

“A year of targeted economic coercion has clearly left its mark on the Australian public, and in a remarkable shift, now even China’s economic growth is seen as a negative. It would also appear that the uptick in China’s military incursions in the Taiwan Strait has not gone unnoticed by the Australian public, though the majority would still prefer to avoid a conflict between the superpowers.”




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Chinese-Australians have a sense of dual ‘belonging’: Lowy poll


China ‘dogged by insecurity’, says outgoing secretary of foreign affair department

China, despite being a great power, was still “dogged by insecurity as much as driven by ambition,” the outgoing secretary of the foreign affairs department, Frances Adamson, said on Wednesday.

In an address before leaving the department later this week, Adamson – a former ambassador to Beijing – said China “has a deeply defensive mindset, perceiving external threats even as it pushes its interests over those of others”.

“It is too ready to suspect ‘containment’ instead of judging issues on their individual merits,” she told the National Press Club.

“And I always find it useful to remind myself when faced with strident official representations that the pressure exerted outwards on other countries must also be felt within, at an individual level, by those subject to that system.

“Insecurity and power can be a volatile combination, more so if inadvertently mishandled. We need to understand what we are dealing with.”

Lamenting the shrinking number of Western journalists in China, Adamson also said less access and less dialogue meant less understanding.

“This siege mentality – this unwillingness to countenance scrutiny and genuine discussion of differences – serves nobody’s interests.

“It means, among other things, that China is undergoing a steep loss of influence in Australia and many other countries.” This was confirmed, she said, by the Lowy poll showing Australians’ trust in China down to record lows.

“What we tell the Chinese government is that we are not interested in promoting containment or regime change.

“We want to understand and respond carefully – for shared advantage. Not to feed its insecurity or proceed down a spiral of miscalculation.

“Nor do we see the world through a simplistic lens of zero-sum competition.

“What we are interested in, and will continue to strive for, is a peaceful, secure region underpinned by a commitment to the rules that have served all of us – China included.”

Adamson said China might hope for Australia to have a fundamental rethink of policy but such hopes would be in denial of the impact of China’s behaviour on Australia, and the broad bipartisanship of its most fundamental policy settings.

“So we approach China with confidence, realism, and an open mind.

“National resilience and internal cohesion are important when dealing with China – but that doesn’t mean we should demand uniformity of viewpoint,” she said.

“Debate about our approach is a strength, not a weakness. Indeed, in an era when political and social freedoms are being rolled back in many parts of the world, a healthy open debate is one of the hallmarks of a liberal system.

“And the best policy always comes from contestability. This is as true of the China challenge as it is of economic or social policy.”

Adamson has been appointed governor of South Australia.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Many questions, few answers, as conflict deepens between Israelis and Palestinians


Tony Walker, La Trobe UniversityWhat’s next in the latest Middle East convulsion? Will a ceasefire between the Hamas militant group in Gaza and Israel be brokered by Arab mediators in coordination with western powers, or will the situation continue to deteriorate?

Are we witnessing the beginning of an intensifying conflict in which Israelis find themselves enveloped in a bloody confrontation with Palestinians across the occupied territories and, more threateningly, inside Israel itself?

Will Israel become enmeshed in widespread communal unrest on its own territory in Arab towns and villages?

In short, are we witnessing the early stages of a third intifada, in which casualties mount on both sides until the participants exhaust themselves?

We’ve seen all this before – in 1987 and 2000. Then, as now, violence spread from territories occupied in the 1967 war into Israel itself.

There are no simple answers to these questions as the crisis enters its second week, with casualties mounting.

In part, the next stage depends on the level of violence Israel is prepared to inflict on Hamas. It is also conditional on Hamas’s tolerance of Israeli airstrikes and artillery fire.




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With diplomacy all but abandoned, Israel and the Palestinians are teetering on another war


It will also rely on the extent to which Israel feels its interests continue to be served by courting widespread international opprobrium for its offensive against Hamas, as the militant group’s leadership is embedded in a densely packed civilian population in Gaza.

This is far from a cost-free exercise for Israel, despite the bravado from its leadership, embroiled in a lingering internal crisis over the country’s inability to elect majority government.

Political paralysis is not the least of Israel’s problems.

As always, the issue is not whether Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket attacks on its own territory. The question is whether its response is disproportionate, and whether its chronic failure to propagate a genuine peace process is fuelling Palestinian resentment.

Palestinians inspect the remains of their houses in Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip.
AAP/AP/Khalil Hamra

The short answer is “yes”, whatever legitimate criticisms might be made of a feckless Palestinian leadership divided between its two wings: the Fatah mainstream in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza.

Israel’s continued provocative construction of settlements in the West Bank, and the daily humiliations it inflicts on a disenfranchised Palestinian population in Arab East Jerusalem, contribute to enormous frustration and anger among people living under occupation.

If nothing else, the latest upsurge of violence between Israelis and Palestinians should persuade the international community that occupation and subjugation of one population by another is a dead-end street.

Further complicating things for the Israeli leadership are the circumstances that led to the latest conflagration. This has lessened international sympathy for the extreme measures Israel is using, aiming to bomb the Hamas leadership into submission.

Israeli authorities’ attempts to evict Palestinian families in East Jerusalem from homes they had occupied for 70 years, accompanied by highly provocative demonstrations by extremist Jewish settlers chanting “death to Arabs”, has contributed to a sharp deterioration in relations.




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This was followed by a heavy-handed Israeli police response to Palestinian demonstrations in and around Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest shrine. In turn, this prompted Hamas rocket strikes into Israel itself from Gaza.

A protest against Israeli airstrikes outside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.
AAP/AP/Mahmoud Illean

The International Crisis Group has identified the issue that should be most concerning to Israel and its supporters:

This occasion is the first since the September 2000 intifada where Palestinians have responded simultaneously and on such a massive scale throughout much of the combined territory of Israel-Palestine to the cumulative impact of military occupation, repression, dispossession and systemic discrimination.

In a global propaganda war over Israel’s continued occupation of five million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the issue of who started this latest convulsion is relevant.

So, too, are questions surrounding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempts to cling to power as a corruption trial wends its way through the Israeli court system.

Collateral damage to Israel’s reputation is an unavoidable consequence of the use of a heavy bombardment against Hamas targets in one of the world’s most densely populated areas.

There are two million Palestinians in Gaza, a narrow strip of land between Israeli territory and the Mediterranean Sea. Many are living in refugee camps their families have occupied since they fled Israel in 1948, in what Palestinians refer to as the nakba, or catastrophe.

The deaths of an extended Palestinian family at the weekend whose three-storey home was demolished by an Israeli airstrike is a grating reminder of fallout from the use of weapons of war in civilian areas.

This is the reality of a population held hostage to an unresolved – and possibly unresolvable – conflict involving Palestinians living under occupation.

So far, international reaction has been muted. The United States and its allies have gone through the motions in condemning the violence.

US President Joe Biden, in a phone call with Netanyahu, seemed to endorse Israel’s heavy hand. Biden’s conciliatory tone has drawn widespread criticism in view of the shocking images emanating from Gaza. These include live footage of a building housing foreign media being destroyed by an Israeli airstrike.

US President Joe Biden has so far appeared to endorse Israel’s heavy hand.
AAP/EPA/Tasos Katopodis

Belatedy, the US has sent an envoy to the region.

In Australia, politicians from both sides have called for a de-escalation.

Regionally, Arab states have expressed their support for the Palestinian cause, but remarks by their leaders have been restrained.

However, circumstances leading to the outbreak of violence, notably Israeli policing of demonstrations in places sacred to Muslims, have left Arab leaderships no choice but to condemn Israel’s actions.

A hitherto limp US response reflects the Biden administration’s hope that the Israel-Palestine issue would not be allowed to intrude on Washington’s wider Middle East foreign policy efforts. Biden is trying to entice Iran back to the negotiating table to re-energise the nuclear peace deal ripped up by former President Donald Trump.

Part of this strategy has been to calm Israel’s concerns about renewed US efforts to re-engage Iran. Those efforts have been complicated by the violence of recent days.

Washington has been reminded, if that was necessary, that the toxic Palestinian issue could not simply be shoved aside, however much the US and its moderate Arab allies would like it to go away. This was always an unrealistic expectation.




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Israeli violence against Palestinians in retaliation for rocket attacks on its territory is an embarrassment for Arab states that had established diplomatic relations with Israel under pressure from the Trump administration.

The so-called Abraham Accords, involving an exchange of ambassadors between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, is at risk of being discredited in the eyes of the Arab world by the latest conflagration.

Other Arab states that established diplomatic relations with Israel, brokered by Trump officials, include Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. Sporadic demonstrations in support of the Palestinians have occurred in the latter two countries.

Finally, this latest conflict between Israelis and Palestinians exposes the failure of various parties to advance a peace agreement based on a two-state solution.

That prospect appears further away than ever, and may even be dead given Israel’s declared intention to annex territory in the West Bank. Such action would end any possibility of compromise based on land swaps to accommodate Israeli settlements in areas contiguous with Israel itself.

These are bleak moments for those who might have believed at the time of the Oslo Declaration in 1993, and subsequent establishment of relations between Israel and the leadership of the Palestinian national movement, that peace might be possible at last.

We are now a very long way indeed from Oslo.




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Twenty-five years after the Oslo Accords, the prospect of peace in the Middle East remains bleak


The Conversation


Tony Walker, Vice-chancellor’s fellow, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

With diplomacy all but abandoned, Israel and the Palestinians are teetering on another war


Anthony Billingsley, UNSWThe latest violence between Israeli and Palestinian forces should come as no surprise. The issue of Palestinian statehood has been off the international agenda since US President Barack Obama effectively washed his hands of the issue. The Trump administration then focused on Israel’s relations with other Arab states at the expense of the Palestinians.

However, the tensions underlying the current violence have been building for some time and have the potential to become particularly serious.

In East Jerusalem, Israeli settlers have been trying to seize control of Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a historic part of the city. They have resorted to the Israeli Supreme Court, which usually supports the government and settler line in matters relating to the occupied Palestinian territories. The court’s judgement was expected this week, but was deferred.

Palestinians have also been complaining about draconian restrictions imposed on worshippers during Ramadan at the Haram al-Sharif, the area including the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock (which is known to Jews as the Temple Mount).

Moreover, the end of Ramadan coincided with Jerusalem Day, a celebration of Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and with al-Nakba on May 15, the Palestinian day of mourning to mark the Arabs’ loss in the 1948 war.

These factors have given the unrest added ferocity.




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Israel-Palestinian violence: why East Jerusalem has become a flashpoint in a decades-old conflict


Possible war with Gaza, or civil war

Following Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, which were won by Hamas, violence between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza has been a regular occurrence.

There were major outbreaks in 2008 and 2014 when Israeli forces entered the area, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Palestinians.

There are worrying signs now that another Israeli incursion is being prepared — and another war will follow.

As the fighting has intensified, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has expressed concern war crimes are being committed. Israel has been accused of resorting to disproportionate force in Gaza, and both sides have been criticised for causing civilian deaths.

A particularly worrying aspect of these clashes is that intense fighting has also broken out between Israeli Palestinians and Jews in a number of Israeli cities and towns.

While Israeli Palestinians (who are citizens of Israel) have always been concerned about the fate of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, they have tended to be left alone, and inter-communal violence has been largely avoided.

But harmony between the two groups is fragile, and this outbreak could have serious implications. Israel’s president is warning of a civil war.

A burning car in the Israeli city of Lod.
Clashes between Jews and Israeli Arabs have spread across the country this week.
Heidi levine/AP

Why diplomacy has failed

A major problem is there is no means of bringing about a negotiated solution to the decades-long, seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Obama attempted to initiate negotiations by appointing former Senator George Mitchell as his special envoy to the Middle East. The administration’s focus was on Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, but it was unable to make any progress with either the Israelis or the Palestinians.

Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, developed a plan that effectively bypassed the Palestinians and focused on Israel’s relations with Arab Gulf states. This was rejected by the Palestinians.

Trump's peace plan was dismissed by the Palestinians.
Trump’s peace plan was dismissed by the Palestinians as heavily favouring Israel.
Alex Brandon/AP

The international community has been equally ineffective in trying to reduce tensions in recent weeks. Russia has called for a reconvening of the Quartet, a body formed under former US President George W. Bush’s administration that brought together the US, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union to promote an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

China, meanwhile, has urged the UN Security Council to take action to de-escalate tensions — a move that was blocked by Israel’s ally, the US.

The one party that might have the capacity to bring about a ceasefire and promote negotiations is the US. However, beyond issuing the usual platitudes of concern, President Joe Biden has defended Israel’s response to Palestinian rocket attacks.

Biden is focused largely on domestic issues and does not need the distraction of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, a highly divisive issue in American politics. Moreover, Hamas is listed as a terrorist organisation in the US, making it difficult for Biden to apply greater pressure on Israel.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, has done nothing to moderate tensions in recent weeks and his language on Gaza has become increasingly defiant. The conflict could be politically expedient for the beleaguered leader — it may help him regain the prime ministership after he was unable to form a government following recent elections.




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Israel elections: Netanyahu may hold on to power, but political paralysis will remain


Yair Lapid, the opposition leader who was asked by the president to try to form a government last week, has had to suspend coalition negotiations while the fighting continues. His main hope is frustration with Netanyahu will encourage his negotiating partners to continue their talks to try to oust him from power.

The Palestinian side is no better placed to enter negotiations. President Mahmoud Abbas ceased engagement with Israel as a result of what he described as Israel’s refusal to negotiate and the Trump peace plan, which was widely seen as anti-Palestinian.

Abbas had called for Palestinian legislative elections in late May and presidential elections in July, but both have been postponed indefinitely. Though he hasn’t said it outright, his concern (as well as those of Israel and the US) is his party’s rival, Hamas, would easily win.

Abbas’s decision has infuriated Palestinians and added to the tensions in the East Jerusalem and Gaza over recent weeks.

Hamas militants protesting against Abbas.
Hamas militants in Gaza protesting last month against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas decision to postpone Palestinian elections.
Adel Hana/AP

Abbas’s hand is further weakened by the lack of support from other Arab governments, such as the UAE and Egypt. The result is Abbas is an isolated, impotent figure with few friends and waning support among the people he is supposed to represent.

Where to from here?

The relationship between Israelis and Palestinians is filled with suspicion and hate built up over decades. Both sides believe their cause is just.

While Israel’s survival is not at issue here, its future could be seriously influenced by the way its leaders handle crises like this. The departure of Netanyahu could be a positive step, but will not be decisive. The two sides need the international community to help them end the fighting and find a way out of the impasse they find themselves in.

This crisis represents an early major challenge for the Biden administration, but one the new US president will likely be reluctant to take on.




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Protests by Palestinian citizens in Israel signal growing sense of a common struggle


The Conversation


Anthony Billingsley, Senior Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.