Gaza fails to capture world's attention

By Eran Etzion | Scholar - The Middle East Institute | May 8, 2018
Gaza fails to capture world's attention

In recent weeks, mass demonstrations in Gaza, near the Israel-Gaza fence, have resulted in large numbers of casualties, reportedly 44 dead and several thousand wounded.

As is always the case in the Israeli-Palestinian context, their two respective narratives collide. Israel claims that these are orchestrated attacks, forming a new breed of mass terrorism which if allowed to succeed will be catastrophic. The vision of tens or even hundreds of thousands of Palestinians storming through the fence and unto an Israeli kibbutz—some of which are located practically on that very fence—has tormented Israeli minds for decades. Therefore, argues the IDF, we cannot afford to take any risks.

The Palestinians portray a picture of massive desperation and despair. Gaza has been locked for more than a decade, and has recently approached unprecedented levels of economic and social hardships, bordering on a full-fledged humanitarian crisis. Hamas’ role in orchestrating the events is minimal, they claim, and these are peaceful, legal civic demonstrations executed on Palestinian territory. Israel has therefore no right to obstruct them, let alone fire at them.

Both sides are veterans of multiple types of friction, and are completely aware of the fact that though people are being killed and wounded on the ground, the real battle is waged in the global media and social networks.

Hamas is determined to refocus media attention on the humanitarian plight in Gaza, much of it caused by its own failures. Israel wishes to maintain the next-to-zero level of global attention to Gaza and its inhabitants, and hush any criticism of the siege policies it has been exercising.

So far, after an initial spike in media interest, it appears that the world’s eyes are unable to keep their focus on Gaza. Between North Korea, the U.S.-China trade war, and the looming Israel-Iran showdown in Syria, Gaza is once again cast aside. Indeed, even more than Gaza, the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which was always thought of as eternally important, became a second- or even third-tier issue on the global agenda.

The international arena in the Trump-Putin-Xi era seems to defer to the strong-arming actors. Thus, in Syria, after seven years of civil war, Russia and Iran have won. In Palestine, after 70 years of conflict, Israel has won. Those two victories might very well turn out in the longer run to be pyrrhic, but for now they provide a clear frame for the media and all external actors.

The next curve might be the introduction of President Trump’s peace plan. No credible information has been offered with respect to its content, but based on their meetings with Trump’s envoys, messieurs Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman, the Palestinian leadership decided to halt any further contact with the administration, labeling it as one-sided and unsuitable to play the traditional mediator’s role. This might turn out to be a grave mistake, judging by recent reports concerning the , Emirati and Egyptian positions. For the first time in the history of the conflict, the PLO might find itself out of sync with positions of key Arab states.

Abbas might be standing at the same kind of crossroads that his patron Arafat came to know back in 2002, where the Bush administration launched the “Road Map for Peace” with a view to replacing the veteran PLO leader with a more “westernized” version. As the old saying goes—“in the Middle East, if you are not on the guest list, you are on the menu.” It may very well be that a coalition of American, Israeli and Arab leaders have decided to shape the post-Abbas era with a fresh combination of a regional peace platform and a different Palestinian leadership.  

Abbas is cornered not only by the U.S., Israel and his Arab allies. He has also lost most of his domestic support, within his party and amongst the constituency. He is at a multiple dead end, with no good options and hardly any support. At the age of 82 and reportedly in poor health, he is a living testimony of the dire Palestinian condition.

The succession battles are already raging, but unlike any previous changing of the guards, this time Hamas will be part and parcel of the scene. The post-Abbas era, if it is to be non-chaotic, will need to include a total overhaul of the PLO, with Fatah conceding ground to Hamas. Otherwise, expect further atomization and shrinkage of the Palestinian cause on the world stage.      

Photo credit: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images