A lull in conflict in the Middle East looks likely. But it may be short-lived, or not happen at all. None of the underlying drivers of tension have eased.
On the Gaza-Israel border, Israeli snipers killed 64 people on 14 May. That brings the total killed by snipers over weeks of protests, from which groups mostly of young men sally forth to throw stones and improvised firebombs, to over 110. Thousands have been injured.
The protests were backed by Hamas, the Islamic clerical-fascist group which rules in Gaza, on the slogan of “right of return”, which Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh explicated as allowing the Israeli Jews to retain “not an inch” of the land of Palestine, and Hamas claimed 50 of the 64 dead on 14 May as its members.
But the protests came nowhere near even a serious breach of the border. Just one Israeli soldier was slightly hurt over the whole period.
The response by Israel’s right-wing Netanyahu government was brutal and murderously disproportionate.
The Egyptian government, which like Israel keeps Gaza under a blockade, has announced that it will open the crossing from Gaza to Egypt until 14 June, the longest it has been open for many years.
Hamas could wind down its action now and let it be understood, perhaps even with some justice, that Egypt’s shift is a result of the protests. It has said that it will stage another big protest on 5 June, the anniversary of the Israeli-Arab Six Day War of 1967, but it has held back from tactics such as firing rockets into Israel.
The Israeli press has reported that Hamas has made behind-the-scenes proposals to the Israeli government that it will operate a de facto truce in return for economic concessions from Israel. That may be true.
The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank called a general strike on Tuesday 15 May to protest against the killings in Gaza, but such a general strike has no impact on the Israeli economy, and street protests were relatively small.
There have been protests inside Israel, notably in Haifa. Nineteen protesters, mostly Israel Arabs, were arrested by Israeli police on 18 May, and one had his knee broken by the cops. A magistrate ordered them released on 21 May.
The Israeli government has been able to rally nationalist opinion by its actions on the Gaza border and its bombing of Iranian bases in Syria, and probably enough so for its immediate political needs. Since March Netanyahu’s Likud party has increased its opinion poll rating from 30% or less to 35 to 40%.
Turkey’s president Erdogan convened an emergency summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, a consortium of 57 states with sizeable Muslim populations (though not necessarily majorities), in Istanbul on 18 May.
Its long final statement, though angry in tone, proposed in terms of definite action only diplomatic and economic pressure on countries not to follow the USA in moving their embassies to Jerusalem. Guatemala and Paraguay have already done so in the last week.
The OIC also declared “unwavering commitment to the two-state solution, which is the only acceptable international solution in the context of self-determination” (bit.ly/oic-18).
My article in Solidarity 469 was wrong in its guess about the outcome of Iraq’s elections on 12 May. The alliance which did best in the poll was the one headed by Moqtada al-Sadr, who is Shia-Islamist but less closely tied to Iran. The probably lengthy horse-trading to get the next governing coalition in Baghdad is still not immediately likely to be of regional-strategic import.
Iran, though its ruling circles often shout about “death to Israel”, signed the OIC two-states statement. For now, Iran wants to explore the possibilities of continuing the 2005 nuclear deal with the EU and other powers despite the USA’s withdrawal. Probably in the short term it will not deploy its allies Hamas or (more plausibly) Hezbollah to start a war against Israel.
The EU has updated old legislation designed to safeguard European-based companies breaking the USA’s blockade on Cuba in order to keep those possibilities alive, though sober bourgeois commentators mostly reckon that prospects are poor.
All this makes for a lull, but a lull in a situation defined by chronic great-power jostling and the weakness, for now, of grass-roots forces committed to fighting for a democratic settlement in the region.