The winners are quite clearly Hamas and Netanyahu but the Palestinian cause, and the discourse around it, also scored a major victory.

Many Israeli and US officials pin all the blame for this month’s 11-day 'conflict' on Hamas. But there is no denying that practically any Palestinian faction in Gaza would resist Israel under the current circumstances. 

After all, the Palestinian resistance began decades before Hamas’s establishment, and it would continue even if Hamas did not exist, so long as Israel continues its ethnic cleansing and occupation of Palestine. 

So, while there are many reasons to be grateful to Egyptian, German, Qatari, and UN diplomats who successfully brokered a ceasefire that went into effect on May 21, it is unfortunately a safe bet that violence between Israel and Hamas will break out again unless the Palestinian question can be resolved in a just and lasting manner.  

The longer-term ramifications of Israel’s so-called Operation Guardian of the Walls are yet to be realised. But there are some significant conclusions which observers can already reach.

The Palestinian cause will not be liquidated

All Arab governments were given a reminder that the Palestinian struggle is near and dear to the hearts of many Arabs. Pro-Palestine solidarity demonstrations  in Bahrain, Mauritania, Morocco, Iraq, Tunisia, Qatar, and other Arab countries underscored this point. 

Former President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner proposed the “Deal of the Century” which was based on an idea that the Palestinian cause could be liquidated. But due to the regional fallout from this month, regimes across the Arab/Muslim world must understand that the issue of Palestine simply cannot go away by pretending it can be buried. 

This month’s bloodshed in Gaza was, at minimum, a major headache for Arab governments. These regimes would have preferred to avoid the awkward dilemma of needing to balance their interest in normalising relations with Israel (or at least gradually moving in that direction) on one hand with appearing to be in touch with the “Arab Street” on the other. 

Being able to avoid this dilemma altogether would be the preference for these Arab governments—especially the four which formalised relations with Israel last year: the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco.

Perhaps it is much more than just a headache for these regimes. Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians can bring protestors across many the Arab region out on the streets, which deeply unsettles many Arab governments as Dr. Shadi Hamid recently explained

“Palestine arouses passions. It always has, and it always will. It is one of the last remaining issues that can rally broad and genuine support across Arab borders. This is why messaging must be carefully managed by regimes. Transnational solidarity — whether in the form of pan-Arabism or Islamism — is a threat. It can’t easily be controlled.”

Ultimately, the normalisation process will likely slow down because of this month’s violence. Even prior to this latest round of Israeli aggression on Gaza and Jerusalem, it seemed safe to bet that no other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) state was on the verge of joining the Abraham Accords. The risks of doing so did much to explain why, and due to events of this month those risks are far more serious. 

Put simply, there is no reason to expect states like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Oman to stop pragmatically engaging the Israelis in somewhat low-profile manners. But it is quite difficult to imagine Israeli embassies opening in any of those countries during a period in which so much passion and anger is being expressed across the Muslim world, including the Arabian Peninsula, with respect to Israel-Palestine. 

Changing conversation in Washington

The discourse has changed in Washington DC. No longer do virtually all Democrats see criticism of Israel and Washington’s uncritical support for Tel Aviv as political suicide. 

Many, especially more “centrist” and older figures in the Democratic Party, still do. But with lawmakers such as Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York and others calling out Israel with language that hardly any lawmaker would have dared to use a decade ago, there is no doubt that the boundaries for discussing Israel-Palestine have shifted in the US. 

Although the Biden administration’s handling of this month’s brief war tells us that Washington’s actual policies have not changed, the war of narratives in the US capital has changed, and probably permanently so. 

It will be important to see how this pressure from the younger and more progressive elements of the Democratic Party on Biden to approach Israel-Palestine differently plays out. Given Biden’s lifelong commitment to the state of Israel, he may ignore this pressure altogether and continue the policies of past US administrations. 

In any event, the debate over US foreign policy vis-a-vis Israel-Palestine is now an extremely divisive issue within the Democratic Party and that probably will not change in the foreseeable future. 

Netanyahu’s Lifeline

This conflict between Israel and Gaza was nothing short of a political lifeline to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The eruption of violence this month was convenient for Israel’s head of state in the sense that it was a major distraction from Netanyahu’s charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust charges. 

Violence in mixed Jewish-Arab areas ended hope for a “government of change” based on “an anti-Netanyahu coalition spanning the political spectrum”, which opposition leader Yair Lapid was working to form when this month’s crisis erupted.

If a new government can’t be formed by June 3, the Israeli Knesset will take control of the process and if the parliamentary body is unable to decide, the Israelis will have yet another election which could take months to arrive. The Israeli prime minister would keep his power until that point, underscoring how this latest round of violence bought Netanyahu more time in office.

“Throughout his career, Netanyahu has tried to avoid military adventures. Even when he was dragged into offensives against Gaza (Operations Pillar of Defense in 2012 and Protective Edge in 2014), he was primed to end them almost as soon as they began,” wrote the veteran Israeli political analyst Ben Caspit. “However, this is the first time Netanyahu is striving to continue the operation rather than end it.”

The bigger picture

In terms of this month’s military conflict, it safe to contend that, politically speaking, the winners were Hamas and Netanyahu.

Although Operation Guardian of the Walls inflicted damage on Hamas’s infrastructure, the Palestinian group is also able to claim to have achieved its own gains. 

The missiles and rockets fired at Israel put the country in a standstill for 11 days and forced members of the Knesset to put their business on hold and seek cover, highlighting how, despite being the weaker party next to Israel, Hamas still retains power to make Israel pay for engaging in such warfare. 

Clearly, Israel’s 14-year-siege of Gaza has not prevented Hamas from building up an arsenal that is capable of striking targets across Israel, as opposed to just the southern areas of the country near the Gaza border.

Diplomatically, more actors internationally and regionally have put greater consideration into engaging with Hamas, either directly or indirectly. This development is a blow to President Mahmoud Abbas and those in Israel who want the world to isolate the organisation as much as possible while viewing Hamas as a radical force in the same boat as Islamic State and Al Qaeda. 

Hamas will also take comfort in the fact that Arab regimes must accept higher political costs when weighing the pros and cons of joining the Abraham Accords. Considering these factors, it is fair to ask what Israelis believe their country achieved by launching Operation Guardian of the Walls.

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