Azmi Bishara: Israel's plans for the Gaza Strip can still be defeated
It will be possible to frustrate Israel's plans for the Gaza Strip and plots against the Palestinian resistance by the US administration working with Arab countries to shape the "day after" the war, Dr Azmi Bishara, Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, said in a new interview with Alaraby TV. This can be done through Palestinian unity, vigilance and coalition-building, he argued.
But Bishara warned that Israel may yet be capable of determining the outcome of the war in its favour, thought this is not inevitable.
Meanwhile, he said, the US stance – of unequivocal support for Israel and its war objectives - has not changed despite recent signs of a rift between the US and Israeli governments.
In his latest interview with Alaraby TV he said nothing guaranteed Israel would succeed in its plans to bring the Gaza Strip under its own military, security and political control - even with the support and acquiescence of Arab countries.
Some Israeli politicians, including the leader of the Israeli opposition, Yair Lapid, acknowledged that current plans didn't take into account that the resistance might be able to prevail.
Bishara said Israel was planning a fully-fledged apartheid system. He said the only difference between the US and Israel concerned the approach used to achieve what were agreed-upon goals - namely the elimination of the resistance.
The direction being headed in according to Bishara, was to transition, starting from late January to mid-February, from the current phase (comprehensive and intensive bombardment) to a new phase where action would be taken specifically against Hamas targets, tunnels, and leaders.
Bishara believes no one knows how long this phase might last, especially as "the rubble has become a problem for Israel because it has become a place for the resistance fighters to carry out their operations from".
The "day after"
Bishara aknowledged there are differences between Washington and Tel Aviv regarding "the day after" and between Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu.
However, "the 7 October operation has literally thrown Netanyahu back into Biden’s arms" according to Bishara, who said that Washington is still committed to establishing an Israeli-Arab alliance to fill the vacuum in the case that the US turns its gaze away from the region and pivot to the Far East.
Regarding the Israeli army's military performance after two and a half months of its assault, Bishara said there is a sense of failure, which is being compensated for by using enormous force almost as a form of tribal, vengeful bloodletting.
"However, in the same way they [Israel] were shocked on 7 October due to their arrogance, they are shocked today by the resistance's capacity for endurance. The evidence for this is that confrontations in northern Gaza are continuing, and the extensive scope of Gaza's tunnels" says Bishara.
Israel's astonishment, according to Bishara, is fundamentally due to "its racist view of the Palestinians and its belief that they are inferior, and therefore are incapable of having developed such capabilities".
Military and political performance of the resistance
Regarding the resistance's military and political performance, Bishara said: "With all due respect to the performance of the resistance and its resilience, abilities, and audacity, we need to keep in mind Israel's strength, and the official support it enjoys from the US and the world. Furthermore, we cannot place the entire weight of the Palestinian cause on the shoulders of these young resistance fighters".
He concluded that "Israel's capacity to determine the outcome is possible, however its is not inevitable and it can be defeated".
Politically speaking, he described the performance of the resistance as good. But he warned that "longer term - and with the resistance having gained great legitimacy - this entails a responsibility which requires efforts to bring everyone in, and put forward a responsible and acceptable political discourse.
"The resistance needs to remember that it must win over those who stand in solidarity with it in the West, that is, the global solidarity movement".
On this front, he cautioned that "plots against the resistance started with discussions about the so-called the day after", and this meant the resistance "needed to adopt a wise and responsible approach. Therefore, alliances must be forged, countries need to be engaged, and all opinions accommodated".
US discusses military action against Yemen Houthis with Gulf states as Red Sea attacks increase ⬇️https://t.co/TFr485AwUZ— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) December 9, 2023
Bishara emphasised that "the (Islamist) ideological dimension" shouldn't be the foundation of the resistance's political discourse in the future.
He advised Hamas leaders to make an effort to convince as many Palestinians as possible that Israel had completely disavowed the entire Oslo process, and that a common programme needed to be found which would bring together all the Palestinian people.
He regretted the absence of such a comprehensive framework currently.
A new exchange deal?
Bishara explained that the two main resistance factions – Hamas and Islamic Jihad – saw no advantage to a deal in which prisoners were released and then bombing would resume the next day.
In his opinion, this had been justified regarding the captive women and children, as the resistance and mediators had hoped the previous truce might become a permanent one at that time, but that didn't materialise.
Therefore, "Hamas now believes there's no point to negotiations on an exchange, if this isn't conditioned upon a permanent ceasefire, followed by prisoner exchange negotiations".
Regarding leaks that the Tel Aviv government is seeking a new deal, Bishara says this is because they need to placate the hostages' families, who form the only source of pressure on the government and army.
"However, they're fully aware of the stance of the other side [the resistance] therefore they are throwing test balloons to gauge the resistance's reaction. But currently there are no serious talks, and there will be no negotiations, as long as Israel still considers the best way to free its prisoners is through military operations."
Bishara discussed the three Israeli hostages killed by the Israeli army in Shujaiya a few days ago, pointing out that this incident "says everything" about Israel's criminality and its military doctrine of depriving Palestinians of their lives – i.e. that it "was permitted to kill anything that moved as long as it wasn't identified as Israeli".
Official Arab stance
As for shifts in [Arab countries'] official positions on the war, Bishara divided these into three types. The first was complicity, and awaiting Israel's elimination of the Palestinian resistance in order to facilitate Israel's integration into the region.
The second was a position of helplessness, and the third was a spectator position.
He expressed his conviction that "a large proportion" of the first group "have realised Israel's behaviour has become politically dangerous, therefore have modified their stance to contain the popular outrage until Israel completes its mission".
Bishara repeated that what was needed were large scale demonstrations throughout the Arab world because this is what would make the US fear that Israel's actions posed a risk to the "stability of the region", and this was still lacking in his view.
Concluding this point he repeated that the war on Gaza had temporarily halted Israeli-Arab normalisation, "and perhaps those interested in normalisation would now be persuaded that it's not possible to sideline the Palestinian issue".
Here he noted how Arab countries who have normalised relations with Israel hadn't even taken symbolic steps like summoning ambassadors in protest at the assault.
He reflected on the Houthis' actions (threatening maritime traffic travelling in Israel's direction via the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb).
He said this was "daring, and effective, not only with regard to the sea routes to Israel, but was actually in a way effecting the type of sanctions that we were hoping for from the other Arab countries, even if to a lesser scale".
As for rumours circulating over a possible deal between Israel and Hezbollah that would forestall the eruption of outright war between them, Bishara said neither Israel nor Hezbollah currently wanted a full-on war.
However, he reiterated that after the war [after October 7] 100,000 Israelis remained outside their homes in the north of occupied Palestine close to the Lebanese borders.
They "won't return as long as Hezbollah is present on the borders, therefore Israel will attempt to push it north of the Litani River - and Hezbollah will refuse".
Bishara thought Tel Aviv might offer Hezbollah various deals, such as a withdrawal from the Shebaa Farms, for example.
If such negotiations took place they would be lengthy, he predicted, "and this will be an important and central issue from the middle of next year, when the ramifications of the war on Gaza start to subside".
Bishara said that if Israel threatened full-scale war, "or if forcing Hezbollah to withdraw from south of the Litani River caused a full-scale war to erupt, then Israel will have to recalibrate its war calculations to decide if it can handle, and wants a war with Hezbollah - which has dramatically increased its strength since 2006".
However, he refused to link the issue closely with the Palestinian issue. Instead, he said, Hezbollah's withdrawal northwards of the Litani "related to Hezbollah's position both regionally and within Lebanon internally, and I don't know if Hezbollah will make this issue a reason to go to war".
He suggested that what happened after UN resolution 1701 was issued (ending the 2006 war) might be repeated, when Hezbollah fighters withdrew beyond the Litani, but then returned south afterwards, gradually.