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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Hamas’ attack on Israel has unleashed a horrific conflict. Breaking out over the weekend, Palestinians murdered Israeli civilians and are threatening to execute many hostages. Israel countered with mass aerial bombing and has cut off electricity, water and food going into the Gaza Strip.

Even against the history of the conflict ridden Middle East, the atrocities we’ve seen are beyond appalling. The coming days are unpredictable and alarming.

In this podcast, expert on the Middle East and former Australian ambassador to Lebanon Ian Parmeter joins The Conversation to analyse the conflict so far; explaining its background and ramifications.

Tensions between Israel and Palestine have always been high, against a backdrop of culture, religion and disputed territory. The present right-wing Israeli government

has been intent on allowing settlement expansion in the West Bank and has also indicated that it wants to eventually annexe the West Bank. This has made Palestinians feel that the peace process itself is going nowhere [in terms of their interests]. What has particularly upset the Palestinians, I think, is that a number of Arab states have just now decided to make their own peace agreements with Israel […] and that really has left the Palestinians with the sense that they are at the bottom of the queue. [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu has actually said this directly, that he will make peace with the Palestinians after making peace with all the Arab states

We need to think in terms of the religious dimension. One of the right- wing Israeli ministers made a point of visiting a holy site for Muslims, the Al-Aqsa sanctuary, which is the third most holy place for Islam. It’s the site where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have ascended into heaven, and for Palestinian Muslims, [its sanctity is paramount]. This is reflected in the fact that Hamas has called its operation that it launched on Saturday, Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, meaning that it is attempting to bring the Al-Aqsa issue to the front and centre of the way that Muslims in other parts of the Arab world, but also throughout the world, see what’s happening there at the moment.

Read more:
Why did Hamas attack, and why now? What does it hope to gain?

Netanyahu has vowed “to destroy Hamas”. By choosing to cut off essentials to the Gaza Strip, Israel’s approach has the potential to cause a humanitarian crisis – a lose-lose situation for the Israeli PM, the country’s international reputation and for the civilians in Gaza.

The difficulty for Israel is that in cutting off food, electricity and water, you could have after a relatively short time a humanitarian disaster unfolding among civilians in Gaza […] Israel has a difficult problem with its international relations in the sense that the peace process [with Palestine] has effectively stopped working – Israel is seen by many in the West as a country which is not doing enough to try to resolve the peace process.

As far as support for Palestinians is concerned, I tend to think that that’s probably baked in in many ways by people who support them. The point of support for Palestine is that those who are most adamant in that certainly believe that Palestinians have been given a very, very bad deal ever since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, and that they’ve never been able to have their grievances properly addressed. There will, of course, be criticism of killing of [Israeli] civilians, but that will be tempered, I think, by supporters of Palestine by saying that Israel’s doing the same thing [to Palestinian civilians].

Read more:
Hamas assault echoes 1973 Arab-Israeli war – a shock attack and questions of political, intelligence culpability

On Monday night Sydney saw supporters of Palestine march to the Opera House – which was lit in Israel colours – where they chanted hateful anti-Semitic, comments. Parmeter believes that government leaders need to get on the front-foot and engage with Arab community leaders to minimise the risk of such demonstrations getting out of hand.

Australia has a significant Arab community […] A point that I’ve found out through many postings in the Middle East is that the Australian Arab community is not really united on many issues, they tend to think in terms of specific community issues. Just what will happen in terms of demonstrations? Certainly ugly demonstrations will cause Australians who have got no particular affiliation towards one side or another to feel that they really don’t like what they’re seeing. And some of the slogans have been really very offensive, they could be defined as hate speech. And that’s a very risky thing for supporters of Palestine to do because they do risk alienating people who might otherwise be [amenable] to reasoned arguments.

I think [for the government to engage with community leaders] would be a good idea […] I don’t know if [ministers] are reaching out to Arab community leaders at this point, but it could be a good idea to do so. I hope they do. Of course, there is also the state aspect to this as well. And various states, particularly New South Wales and Victoria, would have a role to play in this.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Politics with Michelle Grattan: Middle East expert Ian Parmeter on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict –