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West Asian Quagmire US Diplomacy In Israel Palestine Conflict

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West Asian Quagmire: US Diplomacy and the Israel Palestine Conflict

Anil Trigunayat

The fourth Israel-Hamas war continues apace since October 7, when an emboldened and perhaps desperate Hamas launched a surprise ‘terrorist’ attack’ on unsuspecting Israeli civilians and the complacent military and police posts alike, killing over 1400 innocent civilians knowing too well the might, the resolve and the firepower of the Israeli establishment.

It was an unprecedented attack, said to be the first of its kind after the holocaust. But in this Hamas calculation to force retract the Arab world from further normalising ties with the Jewish state without any progress on the receding Palestinian issue, they seem to have forgotten what kind of a retribution they were imposing on their own hapless people. No wonder the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) are on an all out mission to destroy Hamas in which more than seven times of Palestinians have already lost their lives.

Innocence does not seem to be a yardstick as far as casualties, injuries —physical and mental, and the forced displacements of hapless civilians in a war is concerned.

More the merrier seems to be the guiding principle. While one could lamely rationalise the locus standi of the warring parties how would one condone the confusion and complicity of the major players and the international community which knowing too well the history of the conflict has remained ignorant of its fungibility time and again. It is a given that till the Palestinian issue is resolved to a mutual satisfaction such recurrences cannot be wished away. And common Israelis and Palestinians will continue to pay the price of this folly.

Over emphasis on security driven solutions and responses are often fraught with fear of the unknown in the strategic context. Urging to nuke the Palestinians by an Israeli ultra right wing politician complicates the issues even more.

An embattled PM Netanyahu and his war cabinet have yet again dismissed any possibility of a ‘ pause’ or ceasefire till their war and punitive objectives are achieved. One of them is the immediate and unconditional release of the 240 plus hostages of whom Hamas says that fifty have already been killed by the Israeli strikes.

No way to confirm that as Gaza tunnel tango goes on. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on his third shuttle diplomacy enterprise seeing the Arab anger and Israeli resolve for the fight to the finish, does not seem to have achieved any viable assurances from either side.

Although some pauses for some relief supplies might ensue shortly the fight to the finish might take much longer as street to street and tunnel fights have their own challenges in an inhospitable terrain. Still despite their advice not being followed at least overtly by Bibi (PM Netanyahu), the USA will continue to stand by its pledge to defend the Jewish state.

Apart from this binary, Washington is also assessing the impact on its other important Arab partners and projects like Abraham Accords, I2U2 and IMEC as the global concerns and sympathies with the civilian Palestinians, facing the brunt of collective punishment whose options are in case limited, have grown globally.

The contestation is being predicated between the US and partially the West and Iran with its proxies in 3 Hs ( Hamas, Hezbollah and Houthis ) and with broader support from Russia and China in the geopolitical context, have directly pitted it against Washington — which perhaps neither wants.

US diplomacy under threat

As of now all sides are making conscious efforts to contain the conflict within the Israel-Gaza theatre. But the way tempers and temperature are rising, any callous mistake made by even a Non-State rogue actor could trigger the chain reaction and press the expansion button and the worst case scenario will stare us in the face. For the time being US diplomacy is under duress as its closest ally in the Middle East is not heeding to its advice and other partners begin to lose trust in the US leadership which they so eagerly sought in the past. 

In the meantime, Arab countries want an immediate ceasefire and supply of relief material. The UNSG is crying hoarse as even the highest number of UN officials working for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) have been claimed dead. Qatar and Turkey, which have definite leverage with Hamas, have also said that continuing Israeli bombardment and ground offensive is defeating the progress in releasing the hostages. Jordan (a Peace Treaty partner), Bahrain (an Abraham Accord partner) and Turkey have withdrawn their Ambassadors from Israel forcing the return of theirs.

Bolivia has ruptured diplomatic ties as the Europeans have become divided on humanitarian issues and loyalties to the Americans that was clearly evident in the way the vote on the UNGA resolution went. Even the American backyard in Latin America no longer breaks the bread with their mighty partner. Several of them, including Chile and Colombia have recalled their ambassadors. Africans are equally distraught.

China and Russia are trying to regain their influence by reiterating the calls for ceasefire and resumption of dialogue for the two state solution, while positioning their naval armada to counter any direct US involvement accusing it to be the real trigger of escalation. President Xi Jinping speaking to German Chancellor Scholz reiterated that “Squeezing the security space of other countries, supporting one side while ignoring the legitimate demands of the other side will only lead to regional imbalance and escalation of conflicts. China and Europe should devote (effort) to mediate conflicts and ease tensions.”

India, the Current G20 President, is wading through difficult choices between support for counter terrorism and ensuring support for the Two State Solution which it so dearly holds. It will be under pressure to declare Hamas as a terror group whose attacks on Israeli civilians India condemned especially as Secretaries Blinken and Austin visit Delhi this month for 2+2 dialogue and to discuss deliverables during President Biden‘s visit as Chief Guest for Republic Day (2024) as well as during the follow up virtual G20 Summit later in the month. USA will expect and be supportive of any Indian efforts to deescalate the situation.

Prime Minister Modi and his Foreign Minister Dr Jaishankar have made hectic calls to several friendly leaders and counterparts including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian King Abdullah II and UAE President Sheikh Zayed in the region and beyond to estimate and work out the contours of any role as a peacemaker, it can play. Dr Jaishankar just spoke to his Israeli and Iranian counterparts among others.

Speaking to the British PM Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister Modi exchanged views on the situation in West Asia. “We agree that there is no place for terror and violence. Death of civilians is a serious concern. Need to work towards regional peace, security, stability and continued humanitarian assistance,” he said.
Hence New Delhi does not have the luxury to sit by the banks and count the waves as the instability in West Asia has a direct impact on India’s wellbeing. And I don’t think New Delhi is willing to take the path of inaction since lots is at stake for our own national interest.

Besides the region and the world look up to India, after the magic that it was able to pull off driving the consensus declaration at G20 in September. In the ongoing conflict, India is perhaps the only country which enjoys the confidence and trust of both Palestinians and Israelis at the leadership and grassroot level.

Anil Trigunayat, former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya, and Malta; Distinguished Fellow and Head of the West Asia Experts Group at the Vivekananda International Foundation.

The Article was first published in the CNBC TV18 as Israel-Palestine Conflict — faltering US diplomacy amidst the West Asian crisis on November 07, 2023.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Prasangana Paul , a research intern at IMPRI.

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    IMPRI, a startup research think tank, is a platform for pro-active, independent, non-partisan and policy-based research. It contributes to debates and deliberations for action-based solutions to a host of strategic issues. IMPRI is committed to democracy, mobilization and community building.

  • Anil Trigunayat

    Former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya, and Malta; Distinguished Fellow and Head of the West Asia Experts Group at the Vivekananda International Foundation.

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