Norms and Values
The Aggravation of the Arab-Israeli Conflict as a Lesson for the Whole World
Valdai Club Conference Hall, Tsvetnoy boulevard 16/1, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On October 11, the Valdai Club held a discussion dedicated to the aggravation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The moderator was Oleg Barabanov, programme director of the Club, who noted that the escalation of the conflict was unexpected for everyone, including the expert community. Against this background, the topic of a civilisational conflict has again become relevant, one which cannot be resolved by any political efforts and which is likely to continue to manifest itself.

Anatoly Viktorov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the State of Israel, pointed out that, despite all its unexpectedness, what is happening seems in some sense a natural consequence of the destructive, short-sighted and self-interested policies of Western countries. Instead of finding compromises acceptable to both sides, they have actually attempted to monopolise the settlement, blocking the work of mechanisms and initiatives aimed at breaking the vicious circle of violence. “We are deeply concerned by the developments and declare the unacceptability of violence in any form against the civilian population,” the ambassador emphasised, calling for full-scale negotiations to resolve the Palestinian problem using a two-state formula.

A view from Israel was presented by Zach Battat, a junior researcher at the Middle East and Central Asia Research Centre. He suggested that this round of violence would last a long time because, from Israel's point of view, a "red line" had been crossed. Now in Israel, both politicians and the general population seek to liquidate Hamas at any cost: the country has shifted heavily to the right of the political spectrum. Public opinion perceives what is happening as a war, which means a serious threat of escalation. Speaking about the threat of the conflict spilling out beyond the region, he noted that previously such escalations did not leave the regional framework. But when it comes to ethnic and religious issues, there is always a danger of the confrontation growing, especially if more actors are involved in it.

Amal Abou Zeid, Adviser to the President of Lebanon, Member of the Lebanese Parliament from the Free Patriotic Movement (2016–2018), said that recent events have shown the fragility of the situation in terms of security, and called for new agreements that take into account the interests of all parties involved, including economic factors. He stressed that what is happening is also a serious political problem for the Palestinians of the West Bank and the Palestinian National Authority. Discussing the situation in the Gaza Strip, Abou Zeid called the opening of safe corridors for residents of the strip, including towards Sinai, an “existential issue” for both Israel and Hamas. He also recalled the numerous UN resolutions on Palestine that have remained unimplemented. He added that the Arab world can no longer hope for them.

Daniel Levy, president of the US/Middle East Project (USMEP) analysed the origins of the current situation. He sees one of the reasons for the crisis in the halt of the diplomatic process amid the feeling that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ended in defeat for the Palestinians. As a result, violence became the only option left for them. In turn, there was a noticeable complacency on Israel's part, which led to the fact that a number of opportunities were missed and to an underestimation of the military potential of the Palestinians. In addition, Hamas leaders took note of the political polarisation in Israel and felt it was currently unsustainable. Levy believes that when the dust settles, Israel will need to find a way to engage with the Palestinians in a new way and create some kind of incentive system for them. In addition, Palestinian political renewal and a complete modernisation of the architecture of the peace process will be required.

Andrei Baklanov, Deputy Chairman of the Association of Russian Diplomats, and head of the section for studies of the Middle East and North Africa at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, called the current escalation a completely expected result of the apparent external calm, given the completely unresolved Palestinian issue and the passivity of the international community. “This is a big lesson for both specialists and the international community,” he added. Baklanov pointed to another significant factor - the entrenchment of the most radical elements on both sides during the internal political struggle. Moreover, these elements in some strange way support each other, citing the words and actions of the other side as a pretext for their radicalism. This approach inevitably leads to an explosion, the diplomat stressed. “We will not overcome the crisis development if we do not try to restore some mechanisms of international assistance,” Baklanov concluded.

Vitaly Naumkin, Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences and scientific director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, pointed out the harmful role of US attempts to monopolise the peace process and oust Russia from it. He emphasised that there are much more radical organisations in the Palestinian movement than Hamas, and that if Israel succeeds in destroying Hamas, they will be the ones who will “take up the banner.” This state of affairs will continue to persist as Palestinians feel their most basic national rights denied. According to Naumkin, the miscalculation of the current Israeli leaders lies in their refusal to seek mutual understanding with the moderate part of the Palestinians. Characterising the Russian policy, the scientist noted that Russia’s “equidistant or equally close relations” with both sides work to the benefit of the country and the settlement.