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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Origins, Impacts, and Ways Forward

Date:2024-04-16 Source:International Cooperation Center

The ongoing escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has varying degrees of impact on regional and international political and economic dynamics, drawing significant attention from the international community. Termed the “century-old conflict”, it is characterized by complex historical, religious, cultural, and contemporary roots. Similar to the vicious cycles of the past decade, the current conflict is a consequence of the prolonged derailment of the Middle East peace process and the impasse of the two-state solution. The recent flare-up has brought the Israeli-Palestinian issue back into the international spotlight, becoming part of the global political agenda. The conflict affects regional reconciliation and hinders the gradual improvement of relations in the Middle East. It poses a significant challenge to U.S. diplomatic policy, disrupting its strategic deployments in the region. Moreover, it triggers international public opinion battles and cognitive struggles, and exacerbates internal divisions within economies like the United States and Europe. As of the end of 2023, the conflict had limited impact on the regional and global economy, as well as the energy market, for it had had little influence on global oil production capacity and neither the importers nor the exporters had the capital to weaponize oil, leaving it out of the preferred choice for the countries involved in the conflict. Currently, the spillover of the conflict to neighboring areas remain limited. As a result, the focal points are the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the effective governance of the area, to which the implementation of the two-state solution is the fundamental resolution. Since the outbreak of the recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict, China has consistently advocated for peace, justice, international law, common aspirations of the majority of countries, and human conscience and has been actively facilitating the peaceful settlement of the conflict.

Multiple Perspectives on the Current Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

I. Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The undulating Israeli-Palestinian conflict, spanning over 70 years, has evolved into a “century-old dilemma” with profound historical, religious, cultural, and contemporary roots.

First, historical roots. Colonialism and imperialism are where the Israeli-Palestinian issue stemmed from. The 1917 Balfour Declaration expressed support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. After World War I, with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Britain was granted the Mandate for Palestine by the League of Nations, adopting a “pro-Zionist, anti-Arab” policy that led to the massive Jewish migration to Palestine, intensifying Arab-Jewish tensions. During and after World War II, the U.S. became a pillar for the Zionist movement, taking over the role of Britain in the Middle East, and manipulated the United Nations to pass the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine (hereinafter referred to as the Partition Plan) on November 29, 1947, which stipulated the establishment of an Arab state and a Jewish state in the Palestinian region. The Jewish population, which accounted for one third of the total population was allocated 56.5% of the land in Palestine, while the Arab population, which accounted for doubled proportion, was allotted 43% of the land. Jerusalem was designated for international administration. The Partition Plan faced strong opposition and resistance from Arabs. After the British mandate, the area had witnessed the establishment of Israel, but not an Arab state, leading to consequent conflicts which later became the “century-old dilemma”. 

Second, Religious and Cultural Roots. Jewish history includes the settlement in Canaan (Palestine), dispersion worldwide, and the reestablishment of the Jewish state in Palestine. Throughout history, the Jewish people have maintained an unwavering religious belief, firmly convinced that God is the only sovereign, that Jews are God’s “chosen people,” and that Canaan is the “Promised Land” given to the Jews by God. Even today, the concepts of the “chosen people” and the “Promised Land” are still deeply ingrained in the minds of many Israelis. On the other hand, Palestine became part of the Arab Empire in the 7th century with Arab inhabitants who are also followers of Islam being the majority. They settled there from generation to generation, taking this place as the third sacred land after Mecca and Medina. Therefore, both sides claimed Jerusalem as their own territory. Those religious fervor and bigotry pose serious obstacles to political solutions.

Third, Contemporary Roots. The Israeli-Palestinian issue intertwines with political games among major powers, Israeli-Palestinian political confrontations, and their internal struggles. Long-standing U.S. favoritism towards Israel has prolonged the conflict, with Israel’s security high on the agenda of the U.S. Middle East strategy. For one thing, the Jewish feature prominently in the U.S. politics, economy and culture. For another, the U.S. support for Israel can be leveraged as the method for meddling in the Middle East affairs, dividing and weakening regional powers so as to maintain its control and hegemony in the region. Recent years has witnessed the U.S. efforts to stoke strategic competition among major countries, to normalize Israel’s relations with Arab countries and to acquiesce to Israel’s expansion of settlements in the West Bank further with the aim of suppressing and weaking the anti-American powers such as Iran and Syria while ignoring the Palestinian issue. 

Meanwhile, following the fifth round of elections within three-and-half years, Israeli political strongman Benjamin Netanyahu formed the nation’s “most right-wing government”, which is comprised of right-wing and far-right political parties, including the Likud Party, the religious party Shas, and the Religious Zionist Party. Subsequently, Itamar Ben-Gvir, Minister of National Security of Israel has repeatedly ventured into the highly contentious Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, known as the “Noble Sanctuary” in Muslim terminology. This move has been widely perceived by Palestinians and the broader Muslim community as a deliberate provocation. Concurrently, the Israeli government has intensified its efforts to expand Jewish settlements, exacerbating the deteriorating conditions for Palestinians and plunging them into a severe existential crisis.

II. Impacts of the Ongoing Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

1. Impact on the Region

The Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) initiated a large-scale surprise attack against Israel, named “Al-Aqsa Flood”, on the 50th anniversary of the Day of Atonement, which is a “desperate counterattack” signaling that the Palestinian issue cannot be ignored. However, there remains severe internal Palestinian divisions between Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (Fatah). Facing Israel’s extensive and unprecedented retaliation in Gaza, Hamas, though resilient, is expected to lose control over Gaza. Meanwhile, as Israel intensifies its military operations, the Gaza Strip has seen heavy casualties in civilians and a serious humanitarian crisis. 

The conflict also profoundly affects Israel’s politics, economy, and society. Hamas’ assault exposed the failure of Israel’s “Mowing the Grass” policy in Gaza, dispelled the myth of Israeli military and posed grave challenge to its national security strategy that pursue absolute security, leading to security dilemmas and substantial losses in socio-economic development. The Times of Israel, invoking Moody’s Report, indicated daily losses of at least 1 billion new shekels (approximately USD 269 million) since the onset of recent conflict. Relevant reports also revealed that the total cost of the war is estimated to range from 150 billion to 200 billion new shekels (approximately USD 40 billion to 54 billion), equivalent to 10% of Israel’s GDP.

Regionally, the continued conflict escalates tensions in the Middle East, exhibiting a relatively stable situation of the Persian Gulf region in the east but renewed and escalating conflicts in the Mediterranean in the west, posing an increased risk of spillover. This is mainly manifested as conflicts between Israel, the U.S. and powers in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria severely threatening regional stability and security. The conflict has also negatively impacted the overall trend of easing relations in the region. The normalization process between Saudi Arabia and Israel stalls, and Arab-Israeli relations experience a comprehensive setback, with some countries downgrading diplomatic relations with Israel. The conflict may also stimulate a new wave of extremism and terrorism in the Middle East. However, the overall willingness of Middle Eastern countries to pursue strategic autonomy and prioritize development has not been shifted under the impact of the current conflict.

2. Impact on the Globe

The new round of Israeli-Palestinian conflict intensifies global security crises and relevant dilemma, underscoring the urgent need for sound global security governance. It also indicates that a prompt resolution to the Palestinian issue must be found while the escalating humanitarian disaster in Gaza is raising questions about the global conscience. The conflicts sparked intense battles on public opinions and cognitions, leading to internal divisions in many countries between “pro-Israel” and “pro-Palestine (Arab)” factions, particularly in Western countries. Meanwhile, the international focus has shifted to the severe humanitarian crisis in Gaza, extending sympathy for Palestinian civilians and condemnation of Israel’s collective punishment and harm to innocent civilians. Externally, the conflict’s spillover has posed risks to the security of the shipping in Red Sea, affecting global supply chain security and thus the international trade. It may introduce uncertainty to global economic development, becoming “another source of uncertainty”. As a result, attention towards the Ukraine crisis has decreased, and aids from the United States and other NATO members may weaken, potentially influencing the direction of the Ukraine crisis.

Furthermore, the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict has significantly influenced major powers’ strategies in the Middle East, disrupting U.S. strategic deployments and putting it in a dilemma in that region. For the U.S., the conflict has hampered its efforts on the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel and its plan on the “India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor”. After the outbreak, senior U.S. officials have paid multiple visits to the Middle East, including President Biden’s hasty visit to Israel, with an aim to show support for Israel rather than to stop the war in Gaza. Concerned about the situation spiraling out of control, the U.S. deployed two carrier strike groups to the Middle East, deterring forces of Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and others. In the meantime, facing an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, the U.S. vetoed multiple ceasefire resolutions in the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council, standing against the international community. Its “double standards” in the Israeli-Palestinian issue faced severe criticism, leaving the U.S. with little reputation and immense international pressure.

On the other hand, the Chinese government has consistently maintained a fair and just stance on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, standing on the side of peace, justice, the international law, the common desires of the majority of countries, and human conscience, and has been actively facilitating the peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, shouldering its responsibilities as a major country. Since the outbreak of the conflict, China has exerted intensive efforts in mediating the situation, promoting ceasefires, protecting civilians, and easing tensions by ramping up coordination and building consensus, which facilitates the implementation of the two-state solution through fixing the deep-rooted problems. China, as the rotating president of the UN Security Council in November 2023, played a key role in passing the first resolution in the Security Council (Resolution 2712) since the escalation of the conflict. China has also strengthened coordination with the Arab and Islamic world and leveraging the role of BRICS to deescalate the conflict. On November 21, 2023, President Xi Jinping attended a special virtual summit on the Israeli-Palestinian issue with leaders of BRICS countries, delivering an important speech titled “Working Toward a Ceasefire and Realizing Lasting Peace and Sustainable Security”, showcasing China’s role as a responsible major country. Under joint efforts form the international community, Israel and Hamas reached a 4-day ceasefire agreement, effective from November 24, 2023, and subsequently extended it twice for three days in total, during which Israel and Hamas exchanged some detained individuals. 

III. Prospects and Ways Forward for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict has persisted for a considerable period, and the situation in Gaza remains in a dire stalemate. Israel’s military retaliations exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, drawing increasing international condemnation. International mediation, intervention, and humanitarian assistance are in urgent need. Currently, the primary goals are achieving a ceasefire, providing humanitarian aid, and releasing detained individuals. Subsequently, the international community should reinvigorate efforts to convene an international peace conference in the Middle East and promote peace based on the two-state solution. However, with multiple challenges ahead, the prospects for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks to achieve significant progress are not optimistic.

First, massive casualties from the recent conflicts have deepened mutual hostilities. Whether this conflict will prompt Israel to reconsider its national security strategy and return to the two-state solution remains uncertain. Meanwhile, achieving internal reconciliation among Palestinians is a critical prerequisite. Second, disputes persist over Gaza’s reconstruction, governance arrangements, and who will lead Gaza. Israel proposes a systemic arrangement for security governance and de-radicalization in Gaza, not ruling out short-term occupation or partial occupation of Gaza. At the same time, the outcome of the 2024 U.S. presidential election introduces uncertainties to whether the U.S. will exert pressure on Israel to return to the two-state solution. The U.S. Middle East policy is filled with variables. Third, it remains unclear whether the international community is able to drive an authoritative international peace conference and restart new peace negotiations. However, under international pressure, if a relatively long-term ceasefire can be achieved, it may pave the way for consensus building, offering hope for a new round of Israeli-Palestinian talks.

In conclusion, the recent conflict has brought the long-marginalized Israeli-Palestinian issue back into the international spotlight, signaling that the global community cannot ignore this fundamental issue in the Middle East. The crux of the Israeli-Palestinian problem lies in the Palestinian people’s prolonged inability to realize their legitimate national right to create an independent state. The two-state solution is the fundamental way to unravel this “century-old dilemma” and can bring lasting and stable peace to the Middle East. (Author: Wang Lincong, President of the Chinese Association of Middle East Studies, Deputy Director and Research Fellow of the Institute of West Asian and African Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) 

Five Insights on the Latest Round of Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

With a complicated background, Palestinian-Israeli Conflict can be considered as “conflict of the century” or a “world-class problem”. In the history of the conflict, the Madrid Conference of 1991 was a watershed event. Before the conference, the conflict was always resolved through war, be it between Palestine and Israel, or Arab countries (excluding Egypt) and Israel. They launched four Middle East wars in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973 respectively as well as the Lebanon War in 1982. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States emerged victorious in the Gulf War and became the world’s sole superpower. For the Middle East, it accordingly transitioned from being a frontline battleground between the U.S. and USSR to an area completely dominated by the United States. Therefore, the United States tend to ensure the stability and peace in the Middle East. On October 30th, 1991, the Madrid Conference was mainly convened by the United States, thus starting the Middle East peace process, namely, the negotiation based on the principle of “land for peace” to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In 1993, as Palestine and Israel signed the Oslo Accords, the Palestine Liberation Organization (hereinafter referred to as the PLO) established the Palestinian Authority that assumed governing responsibility in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Afterwards, through negotiations, the governing scope was expanded to the entire West Bank of the Jordan River, and the resolution of the final status of Palestine was also discussed. However, with the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by domestic extremists and the shift of U.S. strategic focus after the “9/11” attacks in 2001, the Middle East peace process has gradually weakened and finally become nominal. The latest round of Palestinian-Israeli conflict resembles to the several rounds a vicious cycle over the past decade, all of which result from the chronically nominal Middle East peace process and the poor performance of the “two-state route” and the “two-state solution”.

There are two causes for the latest round of Palestinian-Israeli conflict. On one hand, some forces in Palestine have an unprecedented sense of crisis that their nation has reached a critical moment of life and death. Established on December 30th, 2022, the current government in Israel is known as the most nationalist government since the founding of the country, which consists of three forces, including the right-wing Likud, traditional religious parties, and ultranationalist parties connected with religion strongly. Since coming to power, the government has mainly strived to achieve two things: to expand Jewish settlements and to promote the so-called “judicial reform”. The former led to multiple conflicts on the West Bank of the Jordan River and East Jerusalem, and the Israeli army was also involved in them, which resulted in its inadequacy around the Gaza Strip when the Palestinian-Israeli conflict broke out on October 7th, 2023; The latter has led to divergence in Israel, with continuous protests and demonstrations. Objectively, they have become an open door for Hamas’ attack.

On the other hand, the Palestinian issue has been gaining less attention since 2000, especially after the “9/11” attack, which led to decreasing attention to the issue. In particular, under Donald Trump’s administration, the Abraham Accords was strongly promoted by the United States to prompt the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco and other Arab countries to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, thus changing the unified position of Arab countries on the Palestinian issue since 2002 that Arab countries won’t develop diplomatic relations with Israel if Israel does not recognize Palestine as a country. Since 2023, Biden’s administration has been vigorously promoting the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. If they successfully establish diplomatic relations, many more Arab countries will follow it to normalize their relations with Israel. Before the latest round of Palestinian-Israeli conflict, there have been extensive consultations between the two countries. However, since the onset of current conflict, the negotiation of normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel has been put aside.

Israel has suffered double whammy for the latest round of conflict. It has caused significant Israeli casualties and the detention of a large number of personnel. What’s more, its reputation of “intelligence” and “defense forces” was shattered, which led to intense reactions of Israeli people. For Israel, naturally, its counterattack in military terms is also unprecedentedly strong. Taking all factors into account, there are five insights that emerged from the new round of conflict.

First, the latest round of Palestinian-Israeli conflict is still “a storm in a teacup”. Here, “teacup” mainly refers to the forces in Israel, Palestine (Gaza Strip and the West Bank of the Jordan River), Lebanon, and may also include those in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. At present, the current conflict mainly covers Palestine and Israel, and has not escalated into a regional conflict or war so far. Although this is an unprecedented crisis, the “storm” is still brewing inside the “teapot”. Sometimes it seems like the teapot lid is about to be blown off, which is worrisome, but on the whole, it will still be “a storm in a teapot”, because there are actually two “invisible hands” controlling the situation. One of them is the United States, which firmly supports Israel and at the same time is worried that the situation would get out of control and lead to serious regional conflicts. In addition, it also strives to avoid catastrophic situations in conflict areas, which, otherwise, would cause serious impacts on its image and reputation around the world. Therefore, at the beginning of the conflict, the United States deployed heavy weapons to this region, including two aircraft carriers. The other hand is Iran, which can mobilize relevant forces in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. In general, the coordination of armed groups influenced by Iran is relatively restrained, and the United States’ and Israel’s responses to them are also restrained. To avoid confrontation, both the United States and Iran are observing each other’s “red lines”.

Second, although the latest round of conflict is far from over, the “two-state solution” has basically gained global consensus. Currently, whenever the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is discussed internationally, the “two-state solution” and the issue of recognizing Palestine as a country will be put forward. The latest round of the conflict has attracted international attention, which raises the global recognition of the “two-state solution”. In promoting the consensus, China has always called for peace and justice and has abided by the international law, the common aspirations of most countries, and the conscience of humanity, actively promoting the peaceful resolution of conflicts. Certainly, it is easier to forge the consensus on the “two-state solution” than implementing it.

Third, the latest round of Palestinian-Israeli conflict has brought profound political crisis to both sides. At present, there is a growing voice in Israel calling for the downfall of Netanyahu’s administration, and the opposition is gaining strength. However, at this harsh moment of the so-called war cabinet, the pressure for the Netanyahu’s administration to step down has somewhat eased. In the future, there might appear a more nationalist government or a relatively rational government in Israel, both of which are quite possible. But considering the current situation, it is more likely that there will be a tougher government. At the same time, the latest round of Palestinian-Israeli conflict also drives Palestine to reform internally, and the new leadership of Palestinian Authority may gradually emerge. Although Hamas has now been ruled out by the United States and Israel in planning future political arrangements in Gaza, it still exists after a period of extremely brutal military operations. Hence, after the conflict, Hamas may still have a role to play in the politics of Gaza but its importance depends on how this round of conflict ends.

Fourth, the latest round of Palestinian-Israeli conflict may not bring great impact on the global economy and politics, and its impact on the Middle East may be relatively limited. At the beginning of the conflict, oil and gold prices went up, and countries concerned about an escalation of the conflict. Later on, the situation turned out to be different. In December 2023, as the Houthi movement in Yemen “made troubles” in the Red Sea, global shipping was disrupted, and there is another rise in oil prices. Nevertheless, with the escort of the Combined Fleet organized by the United States, the situation is generally under control, and the conflict is unlikely to escalate. In all probability the landscape of the Middle East would largely remain the same, except for the delay of normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. So far, the military operations of Israel have made little progress, indicating the trend of a long-term conflict. But overall, after the conflict, the original trend in the Middle East may continue, and the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel may still be put on the agenda.

Fifth, the latest round of Palestinian-Israeli conflict will have a significant impact on the United States’ plan of the Middle East. Since the troop withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 and from Afghanistan in 2021, the United States has been undergoing a strategic contraction, focusing on the major-country competition. It is reluctant to increase its investment in the Middle East while it is unwilling to give it up and provide opportunities for other major countries to fill the power vacuum there. In the light of this, the core of the U.S. strategy on the Middle East is to promote the normalization of relations between Israel and Arab countries, so that its interests can be maintained during its strategic contraction. Unfortunately, the latest round of the conflict has disrupted its plan, affecting one of its key goals in the Middle East, which is to ensure the security of Israel. The latest round of conflict has revealed Israel’s insecure state, prompting the United States to channel its resources and adjust its strategies. (Author: Li Shaoxian, Dean and professor of School of Arab Studies, Ningxia University)

The Impact of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict on U.S. Foreign Policy

Since the World War II, the United States has played an important role with regard to Palestinian-Israeli issue. Discussing the new round of Palestinian-Israeli conflict requires an understanding of U.S. interests and policies in the Middle East, as well as an examination of how this conflict affects the United States and its policy adjustments in the region.

I. America’s Interests and Policies in the Middle East

The Trump administration defined America’s interests in the Middle East in three aspects: first, combating extremism and terrorism and preventing the region from again becoming a haven for such forces; second, avoiding dominance by external or internal “hostile nations”; third, ensuring the Middle East countries’ contributions to the stability of the global energy market. In order to achieve safeguard those interests, the Trump administration’s Middle East policies were mainly approached from four aspects. The first was to provide political supports to reforms in Middle Eastern countries and weaken the influence of terrorist groups and extremist ideologies. The second was to encourage Middle Eastern countries to develop their economies and open up to the outside world so as to address the fundamental issues of underdevelopment and inequality in the region, and eventually eliminate the breeding grounds for terrorism. In the light of this, the United States supported countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia to develop market economies and promote economic modernization. The third was to advocate for and promote peaceful coexistence between Israel and Arab states. The U.S. has encouraged countries such as the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco to sign the Abraham Accords and establish diplomatic relations with Israel, supported the two-State solution for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and proposed “the Deal of the Century.” The fourth was to maintain the U.S. military presence in the Middle East to fulfill the promise of protecting the allies’ security, while ensuring a relatively stable security environment in the region and supporting Gulf countries in building missile defense systems. In terms of the U.S. interests and Middle East policy, the Trump administration aligned closely with Israeli interests, and thus Trump was considered one of the most pro-Israel presidents in U.S. history.

During the Biden administration, U.S. interests and policies in the Middle East began to shift. After Biden took office, as the threat of extremism in the Middle East declined,, America has changed its views on its interest in the region and had new concerns: First, the U.S. advocates for a rules-based regional order to ensure the interests of countries such as Israel; Second, the U.S. prevents external forces from disrupting the freedom of navigation in the major waterways of the Middle East and rejects military dominance in the region; Third, it promotes de-escalation in the Middle Eastern and fewer military conflicts so as to restore a relative safety and stability; Fourth, it pushes for regional integration in a relatively secure situation, strengthening economic, political, and security ties between Middle Eastern countries, and setting off the region’s development momentum; Fifth, it promotes and spreads values such as “human rights” and “democracy” in the Middle East.

To achieve these interests, the Biden administration took the following measures: first, helping allies such as Israel enhance their deterrence and military capabilities against Iran to counter Iran’s threats and maintaining regional stability; second, assisting relevant countries in diploma, economy, and security to prevent the export of extremism and terrorism from the Middle East; third, supporting Israel in improving, expanding, and deepening bilateral relations with Arab states, and clearly stating support for the two-State solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; fourth, maintaining an effective military presence in the Middle East to counter instability, but clearly stating that maintaining military presence is not intended to change regimes or transform society in the Middle East; fifth, encouraging political and economic reform in the Middle East to unleash development potential.

II. The New Round of Palestinian-Israeli Conflict Has a Major Impact on the United States

Considering the interest calculations and policy practices of the Trump and Biden administrations in the Middle East, before the outbreak of current Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the landscape in the Middle East had not deviated from the policy framework set by the U.S. government. However, the outbreak of current conflict has undermined U.S. domestic politics, America’s calculations of interests in the Middle East, policy practices, and international image.

First, current conflict has forced the United States to realign its foreign policy focus. Before the eruption of this conflict, the U.S. had shifted its strategic focus from the Middle East to the so-called Indo-Pacific region and concentrated on the “great power strategic competition” against Russia and China. However, the conflict forced the U.S. to reinvest more resources in the Middle East, which diverted U.S. resources and capabilities for addressing the Ukraine crisis, thereby dividing its attention between two crises at the same time. However, looking even further back, since the Obama administration, the gravity of the Middle East on U.S. foreign policy has declined and has been unable to change the overall direction of U.S. foreign policy. The chaos in the Arab world that started in 2011 did not prevent the Obama administration from advancing the rebalance to Asia-Pacific. The Trump administration went further by identifying China as the “top strategic competitor” and accelerating the implementation of relevant strategies and policies. The Biden administration then decided definitively to withdraw from Afghanistan, which had been included in the “Greater Middle East”. After the Ukraine crisis, the Biden administration weighed its options repeatedly, trying to coordinate its strategic planning at both ends of the Eurasian continent and its response to both Russia and China. Nowadays, the outbreak of a new round of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict adds to the complexity of the U.S. diplomatic coordination but is unlikely to change the overall direction of the U.S. strategic adjustment. Currently, the Biden administration is dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a crisis which does not indicate a major shift in U.S. foreign policy.

Second, the new round of conflict has dealt setbacks in U.S. Middle East policy. Initially, the U.S. aimed to de-escalate the tensions in the region so as to reduce resource allocation to the region. However, not only has the regional tension failed to ease, but it has also escalated and may persist. The U.S. has played an active role in the normalization of relations between Arab states and Israel. However, following the outbreak of the new conflict, countries like Saudi Arabia had to halt their normalization processes with Israel. The widespread anti-Israel sentiment among the populace of Arab countries has rendered reconciliation virtually impossible. Previously, the U.S. sought to improve relations with Iran by lifting some sanctions against Iran in exchange for releasing American hostages. The ongoing conflict has interrupted the process of improving U.S.-Iran relations, potentially deteriorating the situation. That conflict underscores that forces opposing Israel still have the capability to launch large-scale attacks, thereby to some extent challenging one of the U.S.’s major security concerns in the Middle East—the decline of extremism and terrorism threats. The impact on U.S. Middle East policy could be even more profound.

Third, U.S. soft power has been affected, promoting the need for measures to maintain its global leadership image. Following the outbreak of current conflict, the Biden administration quickly increased economic and military aid to Israel, signaling unwavering support. This further reinforced the perception of U.S. foreign policy as heavily skewed in favor of Israel. The conflict clearly diverges from U.S. interests in the Middle East and its global strategic interests. Moreover, Israel’s persistent military operations in the Gaza Strip have resulted in a serious humanitarian crisis, which has been widely and strongly criticized by the international community. Consequently, the U.S. faces mounting pressure to address justice concerns raised by other nations. To maintain its international image as a defender of “democracy” and “human rights” and prevent further criticism and pressure from the international public opinion, the Biden administration had to compel Israel to curtail the spread of conflict in Gaza and prevent the unfolding humanitarian disaster. This stance has significantly widened the divergence of interests between the U.S. and Israel. In fact, it is also hard for the U.S. to control the actions of the Netanyahu government. Before current conflict, Biden administration was already dissatisfied with Israel’s persistent expansion of Jewish settlements, and the divergence of interests between the two countries has long been apparent. Historically, the divergence of interests between the two countries has occasionally arisen due to differences in their international and regional status. Now, because of Israel’s actions in Gaza, which once again directly damage U.S. global leadership and regional interests, the Biden administration can only pressure Netanyahu’s government while continuing to support Israel to avoid further damage to U.S. interests. On November 15, 2023, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2712, which calls for an urgent humanitarian pause and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip. This diplomatic progress was achieved based on considering the common interests of all parties.

Fourth, the new round of conflict has exacerbated divisions within the United States, leading to more social tensions. Jewish groups still wield significant influence in the United States, mainly in political, business, and media circles. In this information age, ordinary people can fully express their views, which often diverge significantly those held by the so-called elites regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Particularly, young people who engage with new social media platforms tend to express more support and sympathy for the Palestinians. This further intensifies the America’s existing social divisions which were caused by other issues. It also constraints the flexibility of policy for the Biden administration in dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and to some extent, leads to a more serious domestic political quagmire in the U.S. (Author: Gao Zugu, Director and Professor at the Institute of International Strategy at the Party School (National Academy of Governance) of the Central Committee of CPC) 

The Impact of the New Round of Palestinian-Israeli Conflict on Major Economies

The Palestinian-Israeli dispute is profoundly complex, involving a multitude of issues related to ethnicity, religion, territory, and history. Considering the historical context of the Middle East, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not a recent occurrence but a longstanding issue. It results from deep-rooted grievances and clashes between Palestinians and Jews. These tensions fluctuate over time marked by its persistent, complex, and cyclical pattern. However, the issue is particularly prominent at this stage. Prior to the latest outbreak of the conflict, the Middle East was relatively peaceful. Signs of detente had emerged between long-time adversaries, Iran and Saudi Arabia, as they agreed to restore diplomatic relations. Additionally, some Arab states began to normalize relations with Israel. Against this backdrop, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict might no longer be the central issue in the Middle East. The recent regional de-escalation efforts, while welcomed by the outside, have been met by resistance by Hamas, a group that has long opposed Israel. To some extent, the new round of conflict is Hamas’s response to the current situation in the Middle East. Due to exceedingly complex interplay of ethnicity, religion, territory, and history, fully resolving the Palestinian-Israeli dispute is extremely challenging. Nonetheless, to prevent further escalation and spillover, international cooperation is essential to strive for short-term peace.

Even though the new round of Palestinian-Israeli conflict has drawn global attention, by the end of 2023, the impact of the conflict on regional and global economies has been relatively limited. A sudden intensification of the conflict did cause a noticeable rise in international oil prices, but the effect quickly subsided. The prevailing consensus was that the impact of the conflict would remain bilateral and not spill over to neighboring countries, let alone the entire Middle East. Oil prices are known to be one of the key factors affecting the global economy. While prolonged high oil prices could escalate operational costs of economy and exacerbate inflation, impacting global economic recovery, the short-term volatility in international oil prices is unlikely to significantly alter the global economic pattern. Although the current conflict may have a small economic impact, it has politically influenced major economies to varying degrees.

The new round of Palestinian-Israeli conflict has hit U.S. Middle Eastern strategy. In its pursuit of global hegemony, the U.S. has long regarded control and stabilization of the Middle East as one of its strategic goals, focusing on three aspects.

First, promoting “Color Revolution in Greater Middle East” and expanding the network of allies. The “Color Revolution” here does not refer to ideology-based revolutions but to American hegemony-oriented movements, which receive U.S. supports in the Middle East to overthrow anti-American regimes. From this perspective, the new round of Palestinian-Israeli conflict has minimal overall impact on U.S. strategy, which will remain unchanged in its push for “Color Revolution in Greater Middle East”.

Second, ensuring Israel’s security. The special relationship between the U.S. and Israel has solidified into a robust security alliance in the Middle East. In other words, ensuring Israel’s security is the critical baseline and one of the cornerstones of America’s Middle East strategy. The current conflict has sounded an alarm for the U.S., which might focus on the Middle East as a strategic priority to ensure Israel’s security.

Third, safeguarding energy security. In terms of energy, the U.S. imports a small amount of oil from the Middle East and virtually no natural gas, meaning it is little dependent on Middle East’s energy. Nonetheless, as a hegemonic power, the U.S. still deems energy security as one of its major responsibilities. There are two crucial passages in the Middle East: The Strait of Hormuz and the Suez Canal. As for protecting the security energy corridor, the new conflict makes it difficult for the U.S. to disentangle from the Middle East in the short term. Despite its little dependency on Middle East’s energy, the U.S. views itself as the “world leader” with a responsibility of ensuring the safety of energy transport routes. Overall, current conflict has dealt a blow to the U.S., compelling it to postpone the withdrawal of military forces from the Middle East.

The current conflict may yield favorable effects for Russia. On one hand, strategically speaking, Russia has long been competing with the U.S. in the Middle East. It has already involved in regional matters, such as establishing close relations with nations like Syria and Iran, participating in energy cooperation, and helping countries like Iran to counter Western sanctions. The new conflict provides Russia more opportunities to further intervene in Middle Eastern affairs. It is anticipated that Russia’s say and influence in these affairs will gradually increase, posing a challenge to U.S. strategies in the Middle East. On the other hand, the outbreak of current conflict has reduced focus on the Ukraine crisis. Western countries, particularly the U.S., have had to shift their attention to Israel’s security. As the Ukraine crisis recedes from the spotlight, Western military aid to Ukraine might weaken, and the economic assistance will also be under scrutiny. International pressure on Russia has significantly decreased, which is indeed a major positive for the country.

From the perspective of economic development and energy security, the EU is highly dependent on the Middle East for oil and gas. Especially amid energy sanctions on Russia, the EU is increasingly reliant on Middle East’s energy supplies. Thus, the EU is likely the region most concerned about the deterioration of the conflict. The EU seeks a quick resolution to the conflict to avoid spillover effects. The Strait of Hormuz is associated with Iran and Saudi Arabia, while the Suez Canal involves Egypt and Turkey. Should the conflict spill over, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, and others might get embroiled, which could severely disrupt navigation routes in the Middle East. European countries are highly dependent on Middle Eastern energy. If these energy routes were threatened, they would face serious adverse effects. Therefore, with regard to energy security, European countries are more concerned about the current conflict than the U.S. and Russia, eager to avoid spillover effects. Should the situation worsen, the EU might take measures to restrain Israel from escalating the conflict and might also exert pressure on Iran to avoid excessive involvement.

Currently, the conflict has limited impact on China, but it is important to monitor the potential risks of rising oil prices due to the conflict. In terms of energy, the current conflict has temporarily exerted minimal effects on international oil prices, thereby limiting the impact on China’s energy supply security. However, China relies on energy from the Middle East and imports a significant quantity of oil and gas from the region. If the conflict leads to a rapid increase in oil and gas prices, this will undermine the security of energy supply to China. As China’s economy gradually recovers, this situation may contribute to imported inflation. (Author: Dong Xiucheng, Professor at the School of International Trade and Economics, University of International Business and Economics, and Executive Director of the China International Carbon Neutrality Research Institute)

Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: New Dynamics in Energy Geopolitics

On October 7, 2023, a new round of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict erupted. The Middle East, a major hub for global oil and natural gas supply, witnessed daily crude oil production in 2022 comparable to that of North America. Although the conflict had not caused any noticeable impact on the world crude oil market by the end of 2023, nor had energy become a hot topic of discussion regarding the conflict, there was a shift in the key reference points of energy geopolitics.

I. The impact of the new round of Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the global energy market

Until December 2023, the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict had neither a direct nor overt impact on the global energy market. Examining oil price fluctuations around October 7, 2023, the new conflict did lead to a brief surge in oil prices, but the increase was limited, and oil price changes were still determined by supply and demand fundamentals.

The international crude oil market was relatively stable as of December 2023, which was primarily attributes to Israel’s moderate oil production, and the Gaza Strip’s lack of oil production. For crude oil traders, as long as the conflict does not affect actual oil production and the Middle Eastern oil export channels remain unimpeded, the key reference point for oil price changes remains the supply-demand balance. From the demand side, global oil and gas consumption patterns have not changed significantly due to the sluggish global economic growth. From a structural perspective on the supply side of global oil and gas, the ability of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and other oil-producing countries (OPEC+) to affect the price of crude oil by increasing production to lower prices or cutting production to maintain prices is gradually diminishing. That is because major oil-importing countries have built up sufficient strategic or commercial reserves to sell to refineries when international oil prices are high. Moreover, the major currency for international oil trade remains the U.S. dollar, and its interest rates are influenced by the economic situation and policies of the United States.

II. New dynamics in energy geopolitics

A broader perspective is needed to consider the potential effects of future developments in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Historically, whenever changes in the security landscape in the Middle East affected the global economic and political landscape, people would think of the “oil weapon,” especially when oil-exporting countries in the region curtailed exports or imposed embargoes on certain importing countries. Such actions demonstrated the vulnerability of demand-side perception. Over time, particularly as the Middle East’s share in the global oil and gas market declined, the “weaponization” of international oil trade expanded to restrictions imposed by major importers on exporters. After the 2022 Ukraine crisis, sanctions against Russia are a recent example of geopolitical influences on oil flow.

In terms of the dynamics in oil and gas geopolitics, all import-dependent countries face the “impossible trinity” in energy economy and political policy: it is impossible for any economy to optimize energy security (ensuring total supply, diversifying import sources, etc.), energy transition (especially developing renewable energies), and the enhancement of competitiveness in domestic energy and economy at the same time. It is only possible for them to strive for a dynamic balance of their energy system among these aspects. That “impossible trinity” concept applies to all major countries. Its core lies in economic development and national competitiveness enhancement, rather than sufficient fossil energy supply or diversified sources. Moreover, national competitiveness in the energy sector hinges not on the security of oil and gas supply, but rather on independent development, including the development of renewable energies.

Currently, energy geopolitics still influences both supply and demand. Taking Russia as an example, its onshore crude mainly flows to Asian countries, such as China, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asian nations. Sanctions imposed by economies like the U.S. and Europe not only impact Russia’s oil exports but also affect oil consumption of Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asian countries and the export of refined products. One of the sea routes for Russian oil and gas exports leads to India. After the 2022 Ukraine crisis, India continued to import crude from Russia, partially replacing imports from West Asia. As of October 2023, the amount of crude oil imported from Russia constituted approximately 38% of India’s total crude oil imports. However, India was not criticized for importing Russian oil. The reason is that the crude oil from Russia, after being refined in countries like India, Singapore, and Turkey, ultimately flows to countries and regions like the UK, Japan, Canada, Australia, and the EU and satisfies the needs of end-user countries for energy product. Hence, while most EU member states and the U.S. impose sanctions against Russia, they continue to use Russian oil processed and transshipped through other places. This shows that a country’s economic needs are very important in international political confrontations, as countries still make decisions from the perspective of their own economic development under the premise of not sacrificing their own economic growth and social stability.

Thus, it is necessary to understand the complexity and diversity of the changes in international oil and gas market, which should not be simply considered as a tool or result of geopolitical conflict without factual basis. In countries that have imposed sanctions against Russia, socio-economic factors such as the affordability of domestic energy consumption prices and the advance investments for energy transition are at play.

In the new energy geopolitics situation, general energy supply autonomy is the common goal for major economies. Two key factors of that autonomy are the development and utilization of new energy and the construction of new energy industrial chain. Moreover, competition in refining industry has extended to the competition for key mineral resources needed for wind and solar energy equipment. Like oil and natural gas resources, control and counter-control remain the focus of competition in transnational new energy industry. Of course, that is just one aspect of the new energy geopolitical competition; many more areas call for attention and exploration, including energy conservation, renewable energy equipment, and the ensuing circular economy.

Since the onset of current Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the international crude oil market has remained relatively stable. Unless the conflict intensifies to the extent that it affects oil production and oil transportation, the market will continue to maintain its existing momentum. From a broader perspective, energy security must be understood from the context of the international environment which entails changes in oil supply, oil prices, oil flow, and refining capacity. From 2022 to 2023, planned and new refining capacities were largely concentrated in China. The crude oil processing capabilities of India, Malaysia, and the Middle East also had increased. To maintain the operations of refineries, those countries need to ensure their crude oil import. In short, crude oil is just one link in the chain; it must eventually be refined and reach to sales channels. Therefore, risks in energy market, in fact, exist in multiple parts of the process. “Weaponizing” oil is unlikely to be the first choice for the states involved in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as neither exporters nor importers have the capital to do so.

Overall, while oil prices and supply are at center, the market itself operates according to its own laws, and countries are pursuing energy supply self-sufficiency or supply chain resilience. These factors are related to national influence, meaning that the broad influence of major countries’ energy economic industrial policies is becoming increasingly important in energy geopolitics.

III. China’s energy security and development

China’s demand for Middle East’s energy is rooted in historical ties and represents an inelastic demand for maintaining stable imports in the future. In early 2023, two major oil-producers in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, reconciled in Beijing, agreeing to restore bilateral diplomatic relations. This development underscores that exporters value the role played by China as a major importer of oil and gas. In early November 2023, China Petrochemical Corporation signed an agreement with Qatar Energy, including a 27-year liquefied natural gas (LNG) long-term agreement and a joint venture project, which will further secure China’s natural gas supply. Whether driven by market supply and demand, or diplomatic considerations, China’s oil and gas trade with the Middle East is poised to maintain a stable, mutually beneficial, and win-win situation.

Against the backdrop of fundamental changes in the reference points for the global energy geopolitics, China needs to strengthen its comprehensive integration of industrial chains with Middle Eastern countries. Beyond energy resources, funds and goods from the Middle East should also be allowed to China’s market. At the same time, China should actively participate in diversifying the industries of energy economies in the Middle East. For example, oil-producing countries in the Middle East are developing wind and solar energy as well as manufacturing industries. This may translate into vast potential for cooperation between those countries and China, as China boasts global competitiveness in equipment, technology, and services of new energy industry. Especially when facing competition from major economies like Europe and the U.S. in the renewable energy industrial chain, China should create a favorable external environment for economic development and respond to major economies’ threat of “decoupling” or “cutting off” China’s supply chain.

In a nutshell, the tranquility of the crude oil market does not demonstrate that external environment of China’s energy and economy development also remain calm. While examining the evolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, attention should be paid on the mentalities and behaviors of different energy geopolitics worldwide. China should persistently promote the peaceful settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and cooperate with the international community so as to prevent the conflict from further spread. It should also align with major economies in economy, trade, and industry, promote the upgrading and transformation of Chinese enterprises, industries, and the entire economy; and put forth every effort to avoid domestic deindustrialization. (Author: Zha Daojiong, Professor of the School of International studies, Peking University, and Director of Research Office at the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development)

Promoting a Peaceful Settlement to the Conflict: China’s Position

Since the onset of a new round of Palestinian-Israeli conflict on October 7, 2023, President Xi Jinping stated China’s principles and position on the current Palestinian-Israeli situation on a number of occasions. He stressed the need for an immediate ceasefire and an end to the war, as well as ensuring that the humanitarian corridors are safe and unimpeded, and preventing the expansion of the conflict. He pointed out that the fundamental way out of the conflict lies in the two-state solution, and we need to build international consensus for peace to promote a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the Palestinian question at an early date. The following is to discuss China’s position on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the enlightenment brought by the Global Civilization Initiative to settle the conflict.

I. Interpretation of China’s Position 

The principles and position illustrated by President Xi Jinping reflects China’s long-standing commitment to objectivity and impartiality. China’s position is both reasonable and inevitable. 

First, China is committed to international law, international obligations, and stands with the majority of countries in the world. Since the onset of current conflict, China has consistently called for the implementation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions pertaining to the Palestinian-Israeli issue. On November 15, 2023, the Security Council passed resolution 2712 which was the first Palestinian issue-related resolution that was passed since the outbreak of the current conflict. China as well as most countries of UNSC casted affirmative votes. When voting on other resolutions related to the conflict in both the UNSC and the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), China’s position also aligned with the vast majority of nations. It is clear that China’s principles and position of promoting peace reflects a consensus of most of countries and retains the moral high ground. China is dedicated to upholding fairness and justice in the international community and protecting the legitimate rights and interests of developing countries, and thus it is a trustworthy friend to many.

Second, China’s position is determined by its unique history. Recent history saw China invaded by imperialist powers and suffered the loss of territory and sovereignty, during which it also bravely fought for national liberation and independence. This unique historical context has led China to reject the power politics and consistently support the Palestinian people’s just cause in maintaining their national rights. As such, China does not advocate a simplistic approach to the conflict that disregards its complex historical and contemporary contexts. China explicitly condemns violent attacks against civilians and underlines the importance of having a comprehensive and fair understanding of the nature of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Third, China’ s position is shaped by its unique culture. The love of peace lies at the core of Chinese civilization and values. The perspectives on war in Chinese culture emphasize caution, opposition, and termination of conflict. Thus, China’s diplomacy is distinct for its pursuit of peaceful settlement on international disputes. And that naturally applies to China’s position on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Chinese culture also favors holistic and integrated thinking which targets both the root causes and symptoms of complex issues instead of a simplistic, palliative approach. Therefore, China advocates for cosidering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in its historical context to facilitate a comprehensive, just, and lasting solution to the Palestinian issue.

Fourth, China’s position is of a balance between the interests and concerns of all parties. As a friend to both Palestine and Israel, China takes a broad view, emphasizing the protection of the legitimate rights and interests of the Palestinian people while attending to Israel’s security needs. Throughout the current conflict, China has kept underscoring that long-term peace and security for both sides can only be assured through mutual respect and understanding between the Israelis and Palestinians and their active implementation of the two-state solution under UN guidance.

II. The Inspirations from the Global Civilization Initiative for Settling the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

On March 15, 2023, General Secretary Xi Jinping first proposed the Global Civilization Initiative at the CPC in Dialogue with World Political Parties High-level Meeting, stressing that as the future of all countries are closely connected, inclusiveness, coexistence, exchanges and mutual learning among different civilizations play an irreplaceable role in advancing humanity’s modernization process and making the garden of world civilizations flourish.

Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict requires a review of the historical interactions between the Arab and Jewish peoples. Both people possess ancient histories and rich cultures that have significantly contributed to the development of human civilization. The two people shares common ancestry, and thus they exhibit similarities in language, religion, customs, and even physical appearance. Historically, while conflicts over religion and territory have taken place, there have also been long periods of harmonious coexistence. During the Middle Ages, Jewish people enjoyed considerable room for development in the Islamic world. Especially during the reign of the Arab-led Al-Andalus Empire, many Jewish people served in prestigious positions in court and excelled in the humanities and sciences, including the cultural masters like the philosopher Moses Maimonides. At that time, Arab and Jewish people prospered together, marking one of the most harmonious and glorious chapters in the history of their relations.

It is known to all that the Jewish people have endured great struggles, facing devastation and exile over thousands of years, though their historical misfortunes have mostly been unrelated to the Arab people. The desperate struggle between Jews and Palestinians, including the new round of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, remains fundamentally a fight over territory and sovereignty. Since the outbreak of current conflict, developed and developing countries have demonstrated different positions, reflecting divergences in their views on civilization and history.

Faced with such conflicts and differences, President Xi Jinping’s Global Civilization Initiative brings enlightenment. The initiative advocates respect for the diversity of world civilizations; promotes universal values to humanity; emphasize the importance of civilizational heritage and innovation; and strengthen international cultural exchanges and cooperation. These words point the way to fundamental settlement to dispute among different civilizations, including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Arab and Jewish civilizations both promote peace and tolerance. With a lengthy history, both people have passed over the civilizational values that are accepted and cherished by all humanity. Starting from these shared values, both peoples should engage in dialogue to understand each other’s concerns; respect each other with empathy; and replace estrangement with exchange, clash with mutual learning, and exclusiveness with inclusiveness. By expanding shared ideas and interests, enmity and hatred can be halted. Only through these means can a permanent settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict become reality. (Author: Xue Qingguo, Vice President of the Chinese Association for Middle East Studies, and Professor of the School of Arabic Studies, Beijing Foreign Studies University) 

Analyzing the New Round of Palestinian-Israeli Conflict from the Perspective of Israeli Domestic Politics

Since the re-ignition of hostilities in October 2023, the new round of Palestinian-Israeli conflict has continued for several months, causing a significant number of civilian casualties. The current conflict has led to a grave humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip to which the international community has been paying high attention. The following analysis focuses on the context of the outbreak from the perspective of Israeli domestic politics, as well as the potential influences of Israeli politics in recent years on current conflict.

I. Israel’s Attitude Toward the Gaza Strip Before Current Conflict

One of the major reasons why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved for so long is that there are people on both sides who are unwilling to accept the two-state solution and do not recognize the Oslo Accords, as they believe that only one state should exist between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Since 2000, Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have largely stalled. Before current conflict, the Israeli-Palestinian issue received little international attention and was marginalized in Israeli domestic politics.

In September 2005, Israel completed a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza without transferring power to Palestinian authorities. Opinions vary on Israel’s unilateral withdrawal. Some believe that the resistance activities by Palestinian extremist groups forced Israel to pull out; others, such as Professor Avi Shlaim from Oxford University, suggest that it was part of a long-term strategy of Israel to give up Gaza as its the real focus was on the West Bank. He said, “The withdrawal from Gaza was thus not a prelude to a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority, but a prelude to further Zionist expansion on the West Bank.” Professor Shlaim belongs to the school of New Historian in Israeli. From his choice of words, it is apparent that he holds a critical attitude towards the Zionist narrative of Jewish resettlement. After Israel’s withdrawal, the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were then indefinitely pending, if not virtually disappearing from the mainstream political discourse in Israel. Aside from a brief period during 2013-2015 when Tzipi Livni, who served as Minister of Justice in the government formed by Netanyahu and centrist parties like the Yesh Atid Party, and HaTnua, the party led by her, attempted to restart peace talks with the Palestinians, almost no mainstream political parties have made advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process a part of their platforms.

From the Israeli perspective, the fragmentation of power within the Palestine led to the weakening of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) led by Mahmoud Abbas. Especially after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, it presented itself as a competing authority to the PNA which managed West Bank. That provided Israel with a “sufficient” reason to persuade its population that Abbas could not represent the Palestinians, and thus Israel “had no partner for peace talks”. Hamas’s refusal to sign the Oslo Accords and some of its extreme actions also gave the Israeli right-wing group an excuse to politically suppress and marginalize the centrist-left (those who support Palestinian-Israeli peace talks and the two-state solution).

From a military conflict perspective, the Palestinian-Israeli struggle has a long history of repeated outbreaks of hostilities which ensnare both parties in a cycle of retaliation. Since Hamas began administering the Gaza Strip in 2007, it has engaged in several intense military confrontations with Israel. Israel has launched large-scale military operations such as Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defense, Operation Protective Edge, and Operation Guardian of the Walls. After multiple military strikes, especially after the destruction of more than one hundred kilometers of underground tunnels in Gaza that could have been used for attacks against Israel during Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021, the situation was in a comparatively calm period. In the conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in May 2023, Hamas stayed out of the fray. That reinforced Israel’s assessment that Hamas had been deterred and was unwilling to engage a full-scale conflict. However, the raid on October 7, 2023, proved that Hamas managed to stage a strategic deception which caused Israel to gravely misjudge its intention and capability to launch an offensive.

II. Internal Reasons for the Failure of Israeli Intelligence

In addition to misjudging the intentions and capabilities of the Palestinian side, another reason for Israel’s significant losses at the beginning of current conflict was overestimating the effectiveness of its advanced technology and weapons. After detecting the intention of underground infiltration, Israel had built an underground barrier on the border from 2017 to 2021 at a cost of three billion new shekels. In 2021 it destroyed some of the tunnels that could pose a security threat through military operations. Israel also installed non-discriminatory automatic shooters along the border line. In addition to those “hardware”, Israel was confident in its renowned intelligence operations, advanced reconnaissance technologies, and powerful military means. It reckoned that were sufficient to secure itself with these advantages which were capable of stopping not only underground attacks but also withstanding assaults from the ground. In fact, before the outbreak of current conflict, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reduced troop deployments in the Gaza Strip and prioritized security of the West Bank which had over 500,000 Jewish settlers.

The focus on Jewish settlements in the West Bank reflects the changing political landscape within Israel––the rise of religious Zionist. In Israel’s 37th government formed on December 29, 2022, the Religious Zionist Party (RZP) hold 14 out of the total 64 seats in the coalition, serving as the key force underpinning Netanyahu’s coalition government. Leaders of the RZP secured several significant ministerial positions in the new government, such as the Minister of Finance.

The religious undertones of religious Zionist make its followers place more significance on the ownership of the “Promised Land”. They refer to the West Bank region by the names of ancient Jewish kingdoms––“Judea and Samaria” and support the realization of Jewish sovereignty over the entire “Promised Land”. The outbreak of the current conflict coincided with the traditional Jewish seven-day festival of Sukkot (September 29 to October 6, 2023), followed by Simchat Torah on October 7, a day expressing devotion to the study of Jewish law. Due to the intense religious nature of these festivals and the incitement by right-wing religious Zionist politicians, tensions escalated between Jewish settlers, Israeli security forces, and local Palestinian residents in the West Bank. That is one of the primary reasons for Israel shifting its security focus to the West Bank. The redirected security focus and troop redeployment indicate that Gaza’s has been less important on Israel’s security agenda.

Another cause of Israel’s misjudgment on relevant intelligence was the political changes in Israel since 2023. The current government is the most religious one since founding of Israel, with half of its coalition members (32 seats) from religious parties, most of whom have not served in the military. Thus, it is difficult for them to provide effective military counsel. Since the beginning of 2023, the government has pushed for judicial reforms to limit the power of Israel’s Supreme Court. As a result, Israeli has seen a fractured society, massive social protests, and many reservists opposing the reforms threatening to stop serving. In March 2023, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was dismissed by Prime Minister Netanyahu because Gallant called for a halt to the judicial reforms and claimed that the controversy surrounding the legislative changes had posed a threat to national security. Although Netanyahu was pressured to reinstate Gallant days later, whether similar events have led intelligence officials to allow political and career considerations to influence their professional judgments and timely reporting of information remains a question. In summary, the political environment and social conflicts may have, to some extent, affected Israel’s intelligence operations and military capabilities.

III. Israel’s Vision for the Future of the Gaza Strip

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has proposed that the Operation Sword of Iron aims to establish a new security regime in Gaza. He has divided the war into three phases: the first phase mainly includes airstrikes and ground operations to eliminate hostile armed forces and destroy infrastructure; the second phase involves quelling sporadic resistance; the third phase involves setting up a new security framework and creates a safe environment for both Israeli citizens and locals. The Gaza Strip was once a “burden” that Israel shrugged off. It is populous, difficult to manage, and poor in resource. But Israel cannot tolerate Gaza becoming a stronghold threatening its security, and hence there are proponents in Israel for reoccupying Gaza. However, Israel has little interest in occupying Gaza as its main concern is the possession of the “Biblical lands” of the West Bank. In light of this, Israel may prefer some sort of proxy––a security regime––to govern Gaza, but there is no consensus on the make-up of such a regime.

Regardless, the new round of conflict has brought the Israeli-Palestinian issue back into the international spotlight and it is now a significant part of the global political agenda. Meanwhile, the substantial losses suffered by Israel at the start of the conflict broke the myth of Israel’s invincibility and undermined the confidence of its military and society. In the medium-to-long term, current conflict could shift the main focus of Israel’s deeply divided society from domestic issues such as judicial reform and social justice to the conflict and national security. The long-stalled peace talks between Palestine and Israel and the two-state solution may also be brought back onto Israel’s political agenda. However, because it may take a long period for Israel to recover from the debacle, it could be challenging for Israel’s peace-supporting centrist-left factions to regain influence and push forward Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in the short term. (Author: Wang Yu, Associate Professor of the School of Foreign Languages, Peking University, and Director of the Institute of Israeli and Jewish Studies)