The politics of ending Gaza’s misery

Helena Cobban
5 min readDec 31, 2023


Source: UN-OCHA’s summary report of December 29, on the casualties in the Gaza-Israel crisis.

(The following essay was first distributed in my newsletter series for Just World Ed.)

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza of course should stay top of mind, but I’ve always been very wary of attempts to divorce intense humanitarian crises from the very real political factors that so often, as in this case, underlie them. The intense crisis that Gaza’s 2.3 million people are suffering is absolutely not the result of a “natural” disaster, but the result of very deliberate policies — political projects — pursued by the leaders on both the Israeli and Palestinian (Hamas-led) sides, as well as those pursued by influential allies including, on the Israeli side, primarily the United States.

Hence, the ending/resolution of the crisis requires political decisions, not just “humanitarian” action. (And as has been clear all along even the attainment of humanitarian goals in this crisis, such as the release of hostages/prisoners or the delivery of aid, requires clear political decisionmaking by many of the involved parties.)

I am quite prepared to admit that when the present crisis erupted on October 7 (based, of course, on the also highly destructive, 56-year-long crisis of Israel’s occupation of Gaza and other Arab lands) I still had no clear picture of how intense, how long-lasting, and how very consequential this latest crisis would turn out to be. I knew it would likely be much more intense than the five or six previous Israel-Gaza flare-ups that have occurred since 2007–08. But it took a bit of time before I realized that for most Israelis this crisis has felt absolutely existential — a factor that apparently gave Israel’s political and military leaders and their good friend Joe Biden full “permission” to pursue their campaign of colonial-era punishment against the people of Gaza with full ferocity and no holds barred.

I confess, too, that I also hadn’t expected Hamas and the other resistance organizations in Gaza to have prepared such resilient and smart defenses in Gaza. In many ways, as several Israeli commentators — including both Alon Pinkas, and Amos Harel, in Haaretz recently — are now starting to admit, Israel’s military and political leaderships now find themselves badly bogged down in Gaza. As those two writers and other Israeli commentators note, the Israeli military have no clear way to attain their stated goals in Gaza, while the political leaders have no clear way to exit the conflict there. All they can easily agree on- at this point as for nearly all the past 12 weeks- has been just to continue their assault. (And Israel’s national-political crisis is also further exacerbated by the massive lack of trust in PM Netanyahu, the maneuvering that continues between him and his coalition partners, and the presence of several rabidly fascist ultra-nationalist parties waiting in Israel’s political wings… )

On the Palestinian side, meanwhile, many U.S. commentators have focused on the deep divisions within the Palestinian body politic and the chronic dysfunctionality of the current, Ramallah-based “PA” leadership. However, within the Palestinian “Resistance” axis there are many signs of growing unity and an increased clarity of political purpose.

At a meeting that concluded in Beirut December 29, leaders of five key resistance movements adopted a clear and fairly realistic political program that, regarding Gaza, focused on these key demands: winning a speedy ceasefire; breaking Israel’s siege on Gaza; and calling on all friendly countries and the United Nations to work together on reconstructing Gaza.

Represented at a high level in that meeting were Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad along with three of the “historic” and more secular Palestinian resistance movements: the PFLP, the DFLP, and the PFLP-GC. These five movements called for revitalization of all the existing national institutions in a broad-based, inclusive manner. And notably, the political goals they highlighted included ending the Israeli occupations of Gaza and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and fulfillment of the Palestinians’ long-recognized Right of Return — but not the entire dismantling of the State of Israel.

Anyway, you can find a good report of their joint political statement as published in the Palestine Chronicle, here.

On another page of the PC website, you can find a statement from Abu Obeida, the spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, that’s headlined “From Vietnam to Gaza- Abu Obeida Issues New Statement.” Just fyi, I will note that on October 8, our friend the veteran U.S. diplomatist Amb. Chas W. Freeman, Jr., wrote that the Hamas-led operation of October 7 was “more like the Tet offensive in Vietnam than anything else,” as we noted on the JWE blog.

Chas Freeman had concluded that short pensée of October 7/8 with this judgment: “Hamas will lose the military battle but it may well win the war.” At this point, it seems quite possible to me that Hamas will not in fact lose the military battle. And though of course the costs that Israel’s actions in this battle are continuing to inflict on Gaza’s people are horrifyingly high, these costs (a) are sadly not at all unusual in the history of colonial “punishment” campaigns against subject peoples, and (b) they have not succeeded in breaking the will either of Gaza’s people or of the leaders of Hamas or its allied movements.

All of these factors, to my mind, considerably strengthen the need for a comprehensive ceasefire now… for the immediate and unimpeded dispatch of sorely-needed relief and reconstruction aid to Gaza… and the pursuit under clear U.N. leadership of a speedy and serious path to the ending of Israel’s 56-year occupation of all Palestinian (and Syrian) lands on the basis of longstanding U.N. resolutions.

I’ve written a lot about all these matters over at Globalities in recent weeks, and shall certainly continue to do so!

… Meantime, though, January 1 will see a signal development in the balance of global power: That is the date on which five new members will be joining the 15-year-old BRICS grouping (= Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa.) No fewer than four of the new members who’ll be admitted January 1 are powerful states in West Asia: Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE, and Egypt.

BRICS is absolutely not a NATO-style military alliance. Rather, it is an increasingly effective economic + “soft power” grouping. All of its members, old and new, have been strongly calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. (South Africa has even filed a brief with the World Court against Israel on grounds of its pursuit of genocide in Gaza.) And all of the BRICS-plus members are strong advocates for a robust two-state solution in Palestine/Israel, based on the longstanding U.N. resolutions…

Originally published at on December 31, 2023.



Helena Cobban

Veteran analyst of global affairs, w/ some focus on West Asia. Pres., Just World Educational. Writes at