In a war that hardly seemed planned, Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza have begun their fourth conflict in 12 years. This week, the two sides have exchanged massive firepower, triggered by a series of violent incidents in Jerusalem. The last Gaza war in 2014 went on for seven weeks and left more than 2,000 dead, mainly civilians. This time, so much has changed in the Middle East and elsewhere that this war could be shorter, perhaps even less deadly. Here’s why:
1. A decades-old global consensus on avoiding civilian casualties during war has only grown stronger, partly through the actions of international courts. Israel and Hamas may be more attuned to foreign pressure and obey the rules of war aimed at protecting innocent people.
2. Both sides have more trusted interlocutors who can help arrange a cease-fire. Besides Egypt, which controls one border with Gaza and has intervened in the past, other Middle East countries, such as Turkey and Jordan, can play a mediating role.
3. The Middle East is in a mood for peace – and post-pandemic economic growth – with far less tolerance for Islamic radicals like Hamas. Iran is talking to its regional rivals. Last year’s so-called Abraham Accords, in which four more Arab states set up ties with Israel, may have a dampening effect on Israeli-Palestinian violence At the same time, the Palestinian cause has gained more supporters in the West. All of this may allow for what Dennis Ross, a former American negotiator in the Mideast, calls the “empathy rule.”
“The more you show that you will reach out and that you do understand the other side, the more you can and should create an expectation that the other side must also understand your needs and respond to them,” he wrote in his book “Statecraft.”
4. Fixing their respective democracies may be more important to Israelis and Palestinians than another war. That’s evident by Palestinians in the West Bank not rising up against Israel during this latest conflict. A Palestinian parliamentary election that was slated for May 22 was canceled last month, angering younger Palestinians, who have been unable to express their political voice through the ballot box in 15 years. Hamas, too, is eager to hold the election, as it may win. In Israel, meanwhile, four elections in two years have left Israel’s politics in turmoil. Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu is barely hanging on to power.
The changed mental atmosphere of the Middle East could help de-escalate this latest Gaza conflict quickly. After three similar wars, leaders on both sides must know that a fourth one just cannot be the same.