Hazem Saghieh

The great paradox of the Gaza war could perhaps be summed up in this two-pronged and contradictory discovery: on the one hand, the Palestinian problem can only be solved politically, through the establishment of a state for the Palestinian people, and on the other hand, this is no longer possible.

In fact, the first half of the “discovery” is not a discovery. Palestinians and Israelis had reached this conclusion by 1993, the year they signed the famous Oslo Accords, overcoming the pains they had inflicted on one another.

The Oslo Accords were not a model agreement; they were riddled with deficiencies, and the resolution of the most consequential issues they covered was delayed to later stages.

Nonetheless, it was incomparably better than what the balance of power could have offered the Palestinians at that time. And the Oslo Accords gave rise to a situation incomparably better than the state of affairs that has now emerged – the situation we now find ourselves in after this agreement was thwarted and the horrific war in Gaza broke out.

The blows dealt by the Israeli right, both nationalist and religious, accompanied by those of Hamas and the Iranian and Syrian regimes backing it, succeeded in foiling the Oslo Accords under the pretext of its shortcomings. It is indicative that those who toppled it, by assassinating Yitzhak Rabin, as well as bombings and the killing of civilians, are the same people waging the current war and pushing it to a dead end.

Thus, in contrast to wars’ capacity for creating political openings, genocidal wars like that which Israel is waging on the Gaza Strip, and horrific attacks like “Al-Aqsa Flood” push back against this kind of optimistic potential outcome.

Can we imagine, today, the Israelis (represented by Benjamin Netanyahu) and the Palestinians (represented by Hamas) sitting together at a negotiating table and hashing out a political solution? Can either side find the kind of strong popular support and sympathy needed to take this course, at a time when the prevailing rhetoric can be put in the same category as an exchange of fire: “It’s either us or them,” and “They only understand the language of force?”

That much can be said before mentioning the bleak specter of an expanded battlefield, either through Western intervention by sea or Iranian intervention by land.

Moreover, the state of the world more broadly can only reinforce predictions of total violence, which could be accompanied, this time, by the absence of a way out and immense difficulties discerning when it could end. The exacerbation of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in Western countries, increasing numbers of crimes like the murders of a Muslim child in the United States and a teacher in France, and the growing prevalence of the “clash of civilizations” and “tribal wars” discourse, coincide with a stark new development: Western governments are addressing the current Israeli war from a “national security” rather than “foreign policy” perspective.

This has gone beyond the political and military support provided to the Jewish state and is reflected in the crude bias we have seen in the media, culture, sports, and other arenas. We could witness, if things continue to go in this direction, assaults on human rights and multiculturalism ethnic coming hand in hand. “Right-wing” Westerns, and even some who are not necessarily right-wing, could develop ideas advocating the need to contain unchecked social pluralism in a manner that serves the “national interest.”

The mass protests being held in Western capitals in support of Gaza are a testament to just how strongly intertwined political life and the origins of residents are at present. In light of the migration of millions and the fears this evokes in some, this fact could provide belated support for the old reactionary theory that emphasizes origins over free will, and perhaps the primacy of blood ties over universal law.

If the conflicts and clashes persist, here and in Europe, between Muslims and Jews, and we see a surge in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, we would be staring down an avalanche of retaliation and revenge, as well as regression toward a more rigid and stagnant religious and identitarian consciousness. Such a state of affairs would inevitably inflame the war of symbols: the cross, the hijab, the kippah, and halal and non-halal meat…

In all of this, and given the increased globalization of minor conflicts that are likely to grow, another chapter is being written in the history of setbacks undercutting the modernity and enlightenment project, hitting it after what a period of optimism that arose in the 1990s but was, hindsight demonstrates, naive and premature. If the Arabs and Muslims’ relationship with the West (and thus with democracy and secularism) has always been turbulent, we can only imagine the depths it could now sink to.

We could once again face an explosion, potentially on a more global scale, of the toxic voices we heard from all sides after September 11, 2001, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed. More than a few figures have recently begun reminding us of the Crusades and that their legacy has not died and never will.

Modernity is less powerful than identity, as is becoming apparent once again, and it is more frail. While the former progresses like a novel, the latter progresses like an epic, and in epics, the spirit of ancestors lives on through descendants and continues to push them, generation after generation, toward vengeance and death.

Our region is horrifying and cursed. It contains enough poison to contaminate the entire universe, or to add qualitatively distinct forms of poison to those that are already present. As for the political discourse advocating a fair solution for the Palestinians, the Al-Aqsa Flood has probably turned it into a flood of illusions that are simultaneously well-intentioned and tedious.