The latest outbreak of violence in Jerusalem and Gaza, which has already claimed more than 30 lives, including a dozen children in Gaza, and at least two women, including one Indian in Israel, is a stark reminder to the international community of its failure to bring about any sort of peace in the troubled region. Trouble had been brewing ever since Israeli authorities put up barricades at the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramzan outside Damascus Gate beyond the occupied old city of Jerusalem. This was followed by clashes between Palestinians and right-wing Jewish Israeli settlers.
Things came to a head after Israeli troops stormed the Al Aqsa Mosque – Islam’s third holiest site – last week, on the eve of a planned march by Zionist youth to celebrate the capture of East Jerusalem by Israeli forces from Jordan during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The storming left hundreds of Palestinians injured. Hamas, which runs the Gaza strip and is also one of the major militant wings of the Palestine movement, issued an ultimatum to Israeli troops to vacate the Al Aqsa Mosque, which was ignored. Rocket attacks by Hamas against Israeli cities and massive retaliatory strikes by Israeli forces have led to an escalating spiral of violence and bloodshed.
While the present violent confrontation is just the most recent iteration of a conflict which began in 1948 when Western powers forcibly carved out the state of Israel, it has served to underscore the need for the international community to ensure that some kind of lasting peace settlement is worked out between Israel and the Palestinian factions. Being the dominant military power in the region, Israel has, over the years, continued to push forward with its programme of forcible settlement of the occupied territories.
In fact, the current clash was precipitated by the threatened eviction of Arab families from East Jerusalem, which Palestine considers the capital of a future free Palestine, to be replaced by right-wing Jewish settlers. Apart from rote condemnation of violence and calls to de-escalate, which both sides have ignored so far, the international community has had little impact on the proceedings. It is now up to the US to demonstrate that it is committed to peace in West Asia by using its influence over Israel, as well as the Arab states which support Hamas, to bring both sides to the negotiating table. The current conflict, in that sense, presents the first major test for the Biden administration.