At a time when there is a need for a joint fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, the region’s most intense in the last decade, is an avoidable distraction for the global community. Like in the past, the troubled West Asian region is witnessing an asymmetric war with Israel carrying out a blitzkrieg in Gaza in a hugely disproportionate response to the Palestinian militants firing rockets at Israeli cities. The spiralling violence opens the wounds left unattended and festering for decades. The latest bout of violence has prompted the United States to wade into the issue and offer support for Israel’s security. Though American President Joe Biden has been reluctant to be dragged into the conflict, he was left with no choice but to call up Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and assert that Israel has a right to defend itself when faced with “hundreds of rockets flying into its territory”. Given its vast network of relationships across the region and the Arab world, the United States is well placed to de-escalate the tensions and explore ways for a more reliable engagement in the region. The immediate trigger for violence may have been Tel Aviv’s ill-conceived attempt to evict some Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, but the violence is also fuelled by the pathetic conditions in Hamas-controlled Gaza, where there is a growing sense that Israel can change conditions on the ground to extinguish any remote hope for a two-state solution.
Though a vast majority of non-Muslim countries recognise Israel and maintain diplomatic relations, the overwhelming public opinion is more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and is critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and the ongoing occupation of the West Bank. The latest bout of fighting between Israel and Hamas was triggered by days of escalating clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at a holy hilltop compound in East Jerusalem, a site revered by both Muslims and Jews. The threatened eviction of some Palestinian families in East Jerusalem has also caused rising anger. Israel claims the whole of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. The US is among a handful of countries to recognise Israel’s claim to the whole of the city. In the past 50 years, Israel has built settlements in these areas, where more than six lakh Jews now live. Palestinians say these are illegal under international law but Israel denies this. The creation of a Palestinian state, alongside Israel, has been the most contested question in recent history. Peace talks have been taking place on and off for more than 25 years, but have not solved the conflict.
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