Prevent Israeli-Palestinian clashes from escalating into regional conflict

The armed conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is escalating. It must be contained as soon as possible to prevent it from developing into a regional conflict. Not only must the parties concerned exercise restraint, but the United States also needs to strengthen its involvement.

The Israeli military has been launching daily air strikes on the Palestinian autonomous territory of Gaza, which is effectively controlled by the Islamist organization Hamas, which continues to fire rockets into Israel. The conflict erupted a week ago and has developed into the largest clash since 2014.

Both sides have suffered civilian casualties. The spread of human suffering should not be left unaddressed. It is important first to agree on a temporary ceasefire and put a stop to the cycle of violence. Japan also needs to raise its voice to demand a ceasefire.

Since the establishment of the state of Israel by the Jews in 1948, conflict with the Palestinians who were forced to leave their land has continued unceasingly.

In recent years, the hard-line stance by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has intensified the conflict. Unable to establish a stable administration and on the verge of losing his position due to corruption allegations, he might have dared to increase tensions in order to restore his political strength.

The Palestinian political situation also faces many problems. Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas postponed at the last minute the first parliamentary elections in 15 years, which were originally scheduled for May. Hamas probably saw an opportunity to expand its support as it judged that Abbas feared defeat.

Hamas launched the attacks, taking advantage of the repeated bloody clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces around Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority has been unable to control radical actions with the use of force by Hamas, which denies the existence of Israel.

It is a matter of concern that the clash is spreading to neighboring countries. In Lebanon, the Islamic Shiite organization Hezbollah is said to have attempted an attack on Israel. In Jordan, a protest movement against Israel is also taking place.

Further intervention by Iran, which provides militarily support to Hamas and Hezbollah, and other countries must not be allowed to complicate the situation further. The escalation of the conflict in the Middle East could also lead to the expansion of the influence of Russia and China.

U.S. President Joe Biden has dispatched a high-ranking official to the region and is calling for a calming of the situation, but it is unclear whether this will lead to a ceasefire. It cannot be denied that the United States has prioritized its strategy toward China, and its diplomacy in the Middle East has taken a back seat.

The extreme pro-Israel policies of the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump have also encouraged Netanyahu’s hard-line stance. Biden needs to tell Netanyahu that excessive attacks and an invasion of Gaza will only lead to international isolation.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 18, 2021.