Interview: Tanzimuddin Khan
Palestine faces this predicament because of the West
Dr Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan is a professor at the department of international relations of Dhaka University. In an interview with Prothom Alo’s Rafsan Galib, he talks about the fresh conflict between Palestine and Israel, the humanitarian crisis created in Gaza and the emerging circumstances in the Middle East.
Things were normalising in the Middle East, even regarding the Syria-Yemen war and the civil war in Libya too. Why did this Hamas attack happen at this moment?
There are actually many reasons behind this. Ever since 2007, Gaza has been in a sort of confined state. They can only use a single corridor which is with Egypt, and that too in a restricted manner. Gaza has become an enclave, a most densely populated trouble-ridden area with inhuman living conditions.
With Benjamin Netanyahu’s coming to power in Israel, and extreme right-wing members in his cabinet, particularly with illegitimate settler politicians installed in important posts such as the defence minister and the finance minister, it is obvious what their attitude will be towards the Palestinians. It is even more out in the open now. They have termed the Palestinians are ‘human animals’.
A few years ago there was an effort in the Middle East, with US mediation, to normalise relations with Israel. An agreement was signed through the Abraham Accords to normalise Israel’s relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. We saw an effort to involved Saudi Arabia in the process too.
In September, Netanyahu displayed a hew map of the Middle East at the UN General Assembly. Gaza and the West Bank didn’t even appear on the map. This was a denial of the very existence of Palestine. His words implied that a new map was emerging in the Middle East with their relations becoming normalised with Saudi Arabia.
At the same time, if we look at the figures this year, we will see that almost each and every day Palestinians are being killed. This was around 250, up until the Hamas attack. We see this happening year after year. All this led to simmering anger within the psyche of the Palestinians. They felt discarded by the international community. Internal pressure mounted on Hamas, which had become more popular than PLO, to make their stand clear against this continuous injustice by Israel. That led to this attack.
It is obvious as to how destructive Israel's retaliation can be and so why did Hamas still go ahead with this attack?
As I said, there was a psychological anger. On one hand there were these inhuman living circumstances in a confined condition, and on the other there was the continuous Israeli aggression and killing. Unless anyone faces their situation, it is not possible to understand the matter. Such situation gives rise to such frustration and anger, that it obliterates the consideration of the consequences of the attack.
Meanwhile, Hamas had grown in popularity due to the corruption within PLO, its subservient policies and failure to build up resistance against Israel. Perhaps it was this popularity and pressure from the Palestinians that instigated them to take such a suicidal step. They may have also taken into consideration the fact that they had been successful in the past when holding Israeli nationals hostage.
How come Israel did not foresee this attack by Hamas? How was this possible, even after warnings from Egypt and Jordan's intelligence agencies?
A strong movement has been mobilised by Netanyahu's opponents. This has created pressure on him to reform the judicial system there. As a result, Netanyahu's political position has weakened. There was also a perception that for the last few years, Israel's national cohesion was no longer as it was in the past due to internal tensions. Also, for various reasons, since 2005 Israel had become more focused than ever before on establishing settlements from Gaza to the West Bank. Hamas took advantage of this situation.
We now see a war-time national government under Netanyahu which includes the opposition too. It could also be that the Netanyahu government was aware of this impending attack and chose to allow it to take place rather than resist it, so that Netanyahu could use this opportunity to consolidate his position anew.
It is being said that Hamas has given Israel further clout by this attack. And the old narrative of Hamas having Israeli patronage has come up to the fore once again.
It is the western media that says Israel lent its patronage to the formation of Hamas. To me, these are conspiracies. After all, there is a matter of ideology behind the creation of Hamas. It were formed on the model of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and also got assistance from Iran in various ways. However, the Hamas attack has facilitated Israel to implement the new map that it has drawn up. The manner in which thousands of Gaza residents have been told to clear out for the Gaza land operation to be carried out, this may lead to attempts to take over the areas once Gaza is vacated.
Russia attacked Ukraine and severed all water and electricity lines. The West then called this a war crime. When Israel took the same step in Gaza, they sided with Israel. So did Ukraine, despite suffering the same circumstances. How do you view this?
This is very natural when it comes to Palestine. After all, the establishment of the Israel state is through the hypocrisy of the West. We all know the pre-World War II and post-World War II history. We have always seen this hypocrisy of the West in the case of Palestine. In other places they talk about human rights, but it is important for them to support Israel in order to uphold their military strategic interests and their influence in the Middle East through Israel on the Palestine issue. The human rights of the Palestinians don't matter then. For the same reason we see Ukraine's support for Israel, even though they suffered at the hands of Russia in the same manner. Bilateral and trade relations are certainly of importance here, putting the issue of human rights on the backburner.
Many Israeli civilians, including women, children and foreign nationals, were killed in the Hamas attack. They are holding many persons hostage. There is that matter too.
Killing is killing, whether it is an Israeli, a Palestinian or anyone of any country. Killing of civilians can in no way be acceptable. But if the crimes of one side is pushed to one side and only the crimes of the other side are highlighted, that is blatant bias.
After Hamas won in the 2007 election and took over rule in Gaza, the Israeli forces have been carrying out brutal attacks in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2021. We even see their armed settlers taking part in this. But why did not the West pay attention then in the way it is paying attention now? But outside of the western states and the media, a global civil society has emerged who have always been highlighting the inhuman situation in Gaza and Israel's injustice. This includes international human rights organisation and even Jewish organisations in Europe. If this trend grows popular or gains importance at a state level and in the mainstream media, then the picture on the other side of the Hamas attack will also come into focus.
What is the main reason for the Oslo peace treaty not succeeding?
The entire process of the Oslo treaty was very secretive. Though PLO was in leadership of Palestine then, it is not clear whether the general people of Palestine were in support of the Oslo treaty. It was because they didn't support it that Hamas grew so popular. There was need to first gain the confidence of one's own people before going ahead with such a treaty. There was a crisis of confidence. Palestine's recognition of Israel by means of the treaty created more unrest than peace. Israel was supposed to move out of Gaza and the West Bank according to the treaty, but it did not do so. When the treaty was signed, 100,000 Israelis were living there, now that has multiplied several times over. Then the US recognised East Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The overall situation changed in such a manner that the Oslo treaty was more or less a failure. The treaty's credibility among the Palestinians fell even further and the organisation like Hamas grew in strength. They wanted the map to be restored as it was at least before the 1967 war. That was some change noted, but there was no visible process for Palestine to stand up as an independent state or nation. Israel's aggression grew and it was inevitable that such a situation would emerge.
The West takes into cognizance that a humanitarian disaster here will create a refugee crisis. This will put a strain the western purse strings
What situation do you think may emerge in the Middle East now?
The leadership tussle in the Middle East is basically between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Iran always worries that it will lose its influence if Saudi Arabia grows strong. And now with this attack by Hamas, Iran is being taken into consideration again. Iran may take on a stronger role in determining the fate of the Middle East.
This attack by Hamas will affect Saudi-Israel relations no doubt and the situation has become more complex. It has become difficult for Saudi Arabia to support Israel. The stance of Russia and China in the Middle East is totally opposite to that of the West. If conflict breaks out in the region again, this will give Russia and China a chance to exert their influence. The US has sent warships there. These will take position near Lebanon, the main reason being to resist Hezbollah so that the conflict doesn't escalate into conflict of regional proportions.
The internal politics of Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, all three neighbours of Israel and Palestine, has become important. There are many Palestinians among Egypt and Jordan nationals. There is Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Palestinian issue is very alive in the political parties of these countries. If a massive humanitarian crisis emerges from the land operations being carried out by Israel in Gaza, this may change the nature of the conflict. The other armed organisations of Palestine, Hezbollah and other Islamic groups may join hands with Hamas. A lot depends on the US. The West takes into cognizance that a humanitarian disaster here will create a refugee crisis. This will put a strain the western purse strings. From Israel's reaction it seems that their land operation may take on proportions of a genocidal war. This will create a humanitarian appeal to which there will be no choice but to get involved. There will be pressure on the people of the neighbouring countries.
The Arab countries or Muslim countries are not standing very strongly by the side of Palestine. Why not?
We always see Qatar playing a very strong role on the Palestine issue. This time too they are trying to create space for mediation. I have already mentioned Saudi Arabia. The exception here is the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Due to the Abraham Accord, they are not criticising Israel. Actual national interests or the interests of those in power are being given priority. As the governments in the Middle East are not democratic, they often need Israel or US support to maintain their authoritarian rule. And so they cannot give all-out unhesitating support to Palestine. Meanwhile, the importance of ideological politics has also diminished internationally. Authoritarian rule has been established in many countries, including Muslim ones. We see this in the case of support for Palestine. Many are pointing to the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Ukraine-Russia was has created new realities for many countries including Turkey. Turkey is a member of NATO and also has been trying to become a member of the European Union. And so Turkey is being extremely cautious in its statements this time.
Bangladesh would have strong statements on the Palestine issue in the past. Both the Islamic groups and the leftists would be very vocal. But over the past few years that is no longer so strong. Has there been a change in public perception here regarding the Palestine issue?
A new reality has emerged in Bangladesh over the past 15 years. An authoritative rule has risen here too. Polarisation in international politics has been created over Bangladesh's election. China and Russia stand against the US in that polarisation. The stance of India here is also importance in the case of regional politics. Tensions have been created between Bangladesh and the West over the election. Those who stand against the authoritarian system want a change. The ongoing US diplomacy may have given impetus to their aspirations. That means US influence has become more important than ever before in Bangladesh. As a result, everyone -- Islamic groups, progressive elements or moderate parties -- are all being extremely calculative regarding international issues.