Netanyahu and Hamas both won, Israelis and Palestinians lost

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. And I thought I'd talk a little bit today about the latest in Israel, Palestine. It's obviously been driving headlines all week. And of course, on social media, there's no topic that we all get along and agree with each other more than Israel, Palestine. It's an easy one to take on. Yeah, I know I'm completely full of crap on that. But I thought I would give you some sense of what I think is actually happening where we're going. So first point, massive fight, big conflict between Hamas in Gaza and the Israeli defense forces. Not only that, but also more violence and a lot of violence breaking out between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews. Extremists on both sides taking to the streets and fairly indiscriminate violence, in this case, worst since 2014.


Having said all of that, not a lot of international response, and there are a few reasons for that. One is that this is a much lower priority for President Biden, Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East, broadly. Let's keep in mind that when Biden was vice-president, Secretary of State then, John Kerry, spent his first almost two years prioritizing trying to come to a peace deal between Israel and Palestine. Well, today he's in cabinet again, John Kerry. He's focused on climate. No one's making a top priority out of Israel, Palestine. President Trump gave some focus to the issue, but the big win wasn't about that. It was actually the Abraham Accords, which normalize diplomatic relations between Israel and a number of countries in the region, Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco. Having said all of that, the relationship today between the United States and Israel is still very strong. By far America's most important ally in the region is Israel. That was true under Trump. That is true under Biden.

The Palestinians, a little more sympathy from the Biden Administration, certainly than you would have seen in the Trump Administration, but not exactly a priority. And then Congress as well. You've got people like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, I mean, a very small number of outliers on this issue that strongly condemn Israeli actions and support the Palestinians. They get a lot of attention. They are outliers. Overwhelmingly in Congress, just like among Democrat and Republican administrations, you see strong, strong support for Israel, America's top ally in the region. And does not feel like trying to come to resolution on Israel, Palestine is a significant priority. This is the same government wants to end the fighting by 9/11 in Afghanistan, that's trying to get back into the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal, so that they can pay less attention to that.

The focus is China. The focus is the quad. The focus is Asia. It is not Israel, Palestine. But also, the fact that the Gulf States are now engaged in much, much closer relations with the Israelis, even those that didn't sign the Abraham Accords, are engaging informally with the Israelis. The Arab street cares about the Palestinians, but the governments in the region really do not. And so, as a consequence, you're certainly going to see a whole bunch of statements that say, we want everyone to calm down. We oppose what the Israelis are doing. But Israel is in a much better geopolitical position today than they have been at any point in the last 10, 20, 30 years. They know that. So there's not a lot of pushback internationally, not a lot of consequence that makes the Israelis feel like they have to come to a ceasefire. They have to bring this conflict to an end, or else.

At home, you also have a number of reasons why both sides have wanted to escalate. In the case of Israel, no government. They were right about to put together a new government. This is Naftali Bennett, leading the anti-Netanyahu opposition, it would have been an incredibly narrow coalition majority. They would have needed to be in coalition with an Israeli Arab party. And they almost were there. They were within certainly days, maybe even hours when the violence broke out of getting an agreement and having a new prime minister. Netanyahu would be out of power. And not only that, he faces these massive corruption cases, could have ended up in jail or in exile. Instead, now that Netanyahu and others in Israel have escalated following the initial Hamas rocket strikes from Gaza into mainland Israel, you have that coalition talk falling apart.

You've got a fifth Israeli election coming up. And Netanyahu, still prime minister. So he's happy. Hamas also had reasons to escalate. They were incredibly angry that the first Palestinian wide elections that were going to be held in a decade suddenly got postponed, postponed by the head of the Palestinian authority, ostensibly, because they weren't sure how they were going to actually get ballots done in East Jerusalem. The Israeli government hadn't provided specificity around that. But the reality was they postponed them because they knew that they were going to lose, lose to Hamas. Hamas was angry. This created a greater sense of patriotism among Palestinian saying, how dare we not get our vote. And not only that, but also how dare the Israelis engage in all sorts of significant escalation around demonstrations that were going on in Jerusalem led to hundreds of people injured.

That was not Netanyahu's move. That was a very inexperienced police chief who allowed that escalation to occur, and then created the political opening for Hamas to send rockets, not just across the border, but all through the country. Israelis hunkering down in their bomb shelters, even the airport in Tel Aviv ceasing operations while the rockets are firing. So as a consequence, politically, both Netanyahu and Hamas got what they wanted in the narrow sense. The Israeli and the Palestinian people, of course, both set back with lots of violence, civilians getting killed. Now, how do we think about all of this? What do we take away from it? Because of course, most everyone in the United States is condemning Hamas, and that's very easy to do. It's a terrorist organization. They target civilians. They use civilians as human shields. The United Nations has plenty of reports documenting that.

And their charter doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist. So it's really hard to live in a functional democracy and not condemn Hamas. But you can't stop with condemning Hamas. That's not the end of the story. Because when a majority of Palestinians in Gaza, and frankly, today, a majority of Palestinians period, increasingly support Hamas, an organization that stands for all of the things I just said, a militant organization that engages in the kind of indiscriminate violence they do, you have to ask yourself why? Who's responsible for that? And the responsibility for that is this massive economic asymmetry. I mean, Israel, as you probably known, has had one of the widest, fastest, most effective vaccine rollouts in the entire world. Palestinians not benefiting from that at all. Economically Israel is by far the most functional, transparent democracy with great rule of law across the entire Middle East, as long as you're not talking about the Palestinians in the occupied territories.

And particularly when you talk about Gaza, where you've got 50% unemployment and hunger, and you've got no educational opportunities and no ability to get out of there, well, these are people that increasingly feel like they have no future, no options. And that's why you've seen in the past years, even individual Palestinians throwing themselves at the border wall, highly defended with Israeli defense forces with orders to shoot and use lethal force for those trying to breach the border. You've got people, some of them even unarmed, completely unarmed throwing themselves at this wall. Why would they do that? And the answer is not just radicalism, it's radicalism born of desperation. And that's an enormously important thing to recognize, that until you resolve the issue of the Palestinians, until you're able to get some level of economic opportunity and equity, you're going to see incredibly large numbers of desperate Palestinians turning towards more radicalism.

Now, does that justify terrorism? And the answer in my view is absolutely not, hence willingness to condemn Hamas unreservedly, but not willingness to do so and stopping there. You remember, I'm more than happy to condemn President Trump. When he won election I thought, and I still think, completely unfit for office for so many reasons. But I didn't stop by condemning Trump. I said, wait a second. So when you have a legitimate election for the presidency of the United States and someone like Trump wins, you have to ask yourself why? What could it be? Was it racism? Sure. Some of Trump's core supporters were motivated primarily by racism. That does not define a majority of Trump supporters, in my view. I think you have to look at the fact that the United States has the greatest economic inequality of all of the G7 countries.

You have to look at the radicalizing and extremist role that social media plays in creating and fostering disinformation and tribalism in the United States. You have to look at the role that fairly widespread immigration into the U.S. has played while a lot of Americans feel like you haven't taken care of them. You have to focus in the failed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on the back of the poorest segment of the U.S. You have to talk about all of those things. And unless you fix them, you are going to continue to see massive amounts of extremist, antiestablishment sentiment grow and drive more American elections than they do in Canada, or New Zealand, or Australia, or Germany, or any of the advanced industrial democracies. So when we're talking about Israel and Palestine, and by the way, the suffering that Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, presently are dealing with is so much dramatically greater than that of Americans, disenfranchised Americans can possibly imagine.

And even Palestinians in the West Bank are facing, given the levels of illegal settlement that have increasingly occurred, and given the difficulty they have in getting to their place of work, and transiting and engaging in normal commerce, this is creating much greater anger, and it has to get resolved. By the way, I'm not saying something that, it's not as if every Israeli Jew disagrees with this perspective at all. It's incredibly frustrating issue that many in Israel, and the United States and Europe have for decades recognized and tried to resolve. But we failed. And we failed in part because unwillingness of the Israelis to compromise and concede enough. In part unwillingness of the Palestinians to compromise and concede. And kleptocracy in the Palestinian authority and incompetence on part of their government.

But now, not only do you have those issues, and greater asymmetry, and economic and military power between Israel and the Palestinians, but you also have an issue that increasingly most around the world don't care very much about. And that bodes very badly for the Palestinians and bodes very badly for the future of warfare between Israeli Jews and Arabs inside Israel, and also between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the occupied territory. I'm sure everyone's going to agree with all this topic, and I look forward to seeing all of your support in the comments. And thanks very much, have a great weekend. Don't avoid so many people. You can take your mask off in the U.S. We're doing that. Be good.

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