Israel is going to win. But then what?

More than 700 Israelis and 400 Gazans have died since Hamas launched its surprise attack out of the Gaza Strip into southern Israel on Saturday. The terrorists retreated into Gaza with scores of military and civilian hostages. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed mighty and merciless vengeance.

Now the Israeli military faces the terrifying challenge of a ground war inside Gaza to crush Hamas and rescue the hostages.

In the short term, the outcome of this disastrous war seems certain, at least if it does not spread beyond the borders of Israel and Palestine. Israel’s military will stomp on Gaza, kill the leaders of Hamas, and seal the borders to ensure that this humiliation will not be repeated. So, as Zev Farber, a columnist for The Times of Israel, observed, Netanyahu’s sabre-rattling falls flat. Everyone knows that Israel can and will defeat Hamas.

The larger question is what comes after “victory”?

It may seem laughable, but only last year an Israeli entrepreneur, Gershon Baskin, was dreaming of making Gaza the Singapore of the Middle East. Think about it for a moment. Into Singapore’s 734 square kilometres are crammed 5.6 million people. Yet its GDP per capita is higher than that of the United States. The Gaza Strip is 365 square kilometres with a population of 2.4 million. This makes it one of the most densely populated countries in the world – about the same as Singapore. There would be five-star hotels on the beach; a special economic zone employing thousands of Gazan workers, a joint Israeli-Palestinian maternity hospital on the border called “Birthing Together”…

Why not? There are two reasons.

First, Gaza is being throttled by Israel. Its borders are controlled; its ports are controlled; its water and electricity are controlled. It has no resources except for its people and they are starved of opportunities.

Second, Gaza is governed by fanatics who have vowed to destroy Israel, which explains the first reason. It's a vicious circle. In 2005 Israel unilaterally pulled out and handed the keys to the Palestinian Authority. In 2006 the Gazans, to everyone’s dismay, elected Hamas. Despite reassuring noises, it quickly became clear that Hamas was more interested in destroying Israel than in the welfare of the people it governed. And this is why Israel will seek not just to defeat but eliminate Hamas.

But even if Israel is successful – and its “success” will be immensely costly, in terms of lives, of international prestige, and money – it cannot eliminate the foundations for the next war.



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Gazan demography is Hamas’s most potent weapon. People aged between 0 to 14 are 42 percent of the population; people between 15 to 24 are 22 percent of the population. People over 65 are less than 3 percent. The median age is 18. By comparison, the median age in the United States is more than double – 38.5 years. The Gaza Strip is bursting with young unemployed young men. Youth unemployment is 40 percent – 34 percent for men.

Sealing a bottle full of young men with nothing to do except chew the cud of grievance and despair and listen to the violent raving of Islamist leaders is going to lead to another eruption of violence. In ten years’ time, after Gaza is rebuilt from the rubble left after the Israeli invasion, the bottle will explode again.

Israel has tried apartheid and repression and they do not work. What it needs is not more weapons but more creative diplomacy. As Farber wrote: “Israelis and Palestinians need to engage instead of disengage … the status quo of occupation on one side and terrorism on the other cannot, or at least should not, continue.”

I don’t know how many Israelis support Farber’s vision for the future, but it is fascinating to know that there are Israelis and Palestianians who believe that peace is possible:

“This involves Israel in many distinct steps, such as massive investment in Gaza and the West Bank, to bring Palestinian living conditions up to Jewish living conditions, creating a truly bilingual country with Palestinians fluent in Hebrew and knowledge of Jewish culture, and Jews fluent in Arabic and knowledgeable of Palestinian culture. It involves figuring out how to create quasi-autonomous regions that are part of one overarching federal government, with Israel as a Jewish state, but with Palestinian culture as an integral part of that state, with cultural representation and, of course, voting rights in the relevant regions.”

In the middle of atrocities and bloodshed this week, it’s hard to think about peace. But peace through creativity, compassion and compromise is the only way forward. Otherwise the false calm of apartheid will be punctuated by war after war after war.  

Michael Cook is editor of Mercator 

Image credit: screenshot BBC News


Showing 12 reactions

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  • Marty Hayden
    commented 2023-10-12 13:46:03 +1100
    Hello Steven, no I’m not going to refute you. I just don’t have that kind of time. But don’t label me sir. And I’m sick of hearing how peaceful Islam is. 19 or so of the 26 conflicts on our planet involve muslims. Peaceful?
  • Steven Burton
    commented 2023-10-12 03:51:31 +1100
    Marty, I don’t want to contribute to this conversation devolving into either a historical or ecclesiastical essay but… The notion that either Jews or Muslims are inherently tribal and therefore lack the desire to live peacefully is false and both anti-Semitic and Islamophobic.
    The sayings, “love thy neighbor as thyself” and “that which is hateful unto you, do not do to your neighbor” are both Jewish in origin. Also, one should keep in mind that Jesus was Jewish, so his teachings are either grounded in Jewish teachings or directly related.
    “Doing good to neighbors who may even be strangers” and “Whoever believes in God and the Final Day should not trouble his neighbors” are both of Islamic origin. Hospitability, even to one’s enemies in times of a need, is a central pillar of Islamic practice.
    The vast majority of both Jews and Muslim want nothing but to live peacefully, except for those those still stuck in the 13th century like ISIS, Hamas, etc. Those seeking violence are the exception, not the rule.
    Speaking of the past, the Christian church didn’t exactly practice what they preached for most of their history either. You need look no further than the atrocities committed during the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition to understand that turning the other cheek wasn’t exactly a thing through most of the Church’s history. In fact, heretics were still being burned at the stake as late as 1850.
    All religions have fanatics who must be confronted and stopped.
  • Marty Hayden
    commented 2023-10-12 01:50:07 +1100
    People need to understand that the citizens of Gaza and Israel have no reason to get along. For Christians, this is unbelievable. But the Hamas wants to wipe out the Jews, and the Jews are and have always been extraordinarily tribal – they take care of themselves first and foremost. Christians have the parable of the good Samaritan, turn the other cheek, forgive seven time seventy times. And this kind of revolutionary thinking is absolutely unique to Christ. Christians need to understand that. I’m not saying that Jews and Arabs can’t get along and that there are not good willed people on both sides that want to live peacefully, it’s just not clear to me WHY they would want to.
  • Michael Beates
    commented 2023-10-11 05:24:35 +1100
    Steven is correct. Israel is not perfect by any means, but “apartheid” is rhetoric from the far left and does not describe the reality of Arab citizens of Israel. Sadly, for years I have been saying that Arab Christians hold the only hope for peace in the country of Israel. But they are hated by Jews for being Arab and by Muslims for being Christians — yet they hold out peace and are persecuted on all sides. . . . thus many have emigrated over the past decades. There can be no peace when one side is willing to make concessions (as Israel repeatedly has since 1946) while the other side continues to call for their complete death and destruction. The actions of Oct. 7 demonstrate what lies ahead for Jews in Israel if Hamas ever succeeds in getting their way.
  • Steven Burton
    commented 2023-10-11 00:56:48 +1100
    Christopher is completely correct, you have it backward Michael.
    The territories fell under Israeli occupation, not by choice, but as a consequence of a war that represented an existential threat to the existence of Israel, not just Israel as a nation state, but to the very physical existence of every man, woman, and child living in the country. I trust that the events we are witnessing today will have purged any doubts around what Hamas intends to do when they overrun the Israelis beyond question.
    In the decades since the end of the war, Israel faced a hostile occupied population but the situation then was far better than it was today and so the safety and standard of living of Gazans was far better than it is today. It was generally easy for Gazans to find work in Israel, travel across the border, and Israelis routinely shopped in Gaza. It was never a utopian paradise but people were able to live with dignity and there was no tightly controlled blockade.
    Contrary to suggestions otherwise, the “throttling” in terms of the tightening restrictions on movement, the loss of job opportunities in Israel, and the import restrictions all came about as result of a whole series of airplane hijackings, riots, and small terrorist infiltrations that gradually progressed into suicide bombings and rocket attacks and two uprisings. This series of terrorist acts did not start after the occupation, or even after the establishment of Israel, but long before there was even a State of Israel.
    With each attack, the throttling became a bit tighter as Israeli leaders felt that it was their duty to deprive the terrorists of the means by which to commit acts of terror. So the assertion that the violence is in response to the throttling measure is a false narrative, Palestinian propaganda actually.
    The truth is that the throttling only exists to prevent violence. This truth should have been self-evident after Israel completely and unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, removing all Israeli settlers and even leaving behind Israeli-built industry for the benefit of Gazan. At that point, the Gazans had a choice between building an independent enclave, free of occupation, or persisting with their goal of bodily destroying their neighbours. Unfortunately, they voted Hamas into power as they chose the latter. Today we are reaping the harvest from the seeds that were sown at that time.
  • Michael Cook
    commented 2023-10-10 20:50:59 +1100
    The relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Territories is so complex that any statement about its history or the character of the main players is bound to be disputed. However, I would point out that the throttling began before Hamas took over.
    And a diplomatic solution will still be needed after this conflict ends. Presumably two million or more Palestinians will still be living in the rubble of Gaza and Israel will have to deal with them. Having been exploited by Hamas and caught in the crossfire with Israel, they will not be happy chappies.
    My concern is not how the war will end. That’s predictable, albeit not perfectly predictable. It’s how to end this war with both justice and peace.
  • Christopher Szabo
    commented 2023-10-10 20:01:16 +1100
    I’d say you have it backwards, You say first that Israel is throttling Gaza, and then that Hamas are terrorists. It’s the other way around. If there were Armenians or Brits or Singaporeans in Gaza, there would be no need to protect Israel, i.e., ‘throttling’.
  • Malke Borow
    commented 2023-10-10 17:49:42 +1100
    I have nothing to add to Steven Burton’s excellent comment except to add that Hamas are not “militants”, they’re are vicious terrorists.
  • Malke Borow
    followed this page 2023-10-10 17:43:56 +1100
  • Peter
    commented 2023-10-10 16:43:15 +1100
    Somethings Not Right About The Israel/Hamas War – Could It Lead To Genocide, World War Three?

    Brandon Turbeville
  • Steven Burton
    commented 2023-10-10 08:47:28 +1100
    Israel has not “tried apartheid”. The fact is that 20% of Israelis’ population is Arab and they have full rights, including holding seats in the Israeli parliament. The notion that Israel is an apartheid state is nothing but Palestinian propaganda.
    You should also be aware that those 20% of the Israeli population already enjoy the highest living standard in the Middle East (outside the rich autocratic ruling class of the Gulf States), that Israel already is officially a bilingual country where both Hebrew and Arabic are mandatory subjects in all public schools, and that there are other groups in the pluralistic society that make up Israel society including non-Palestinian Arabs such as Druze, Bedouins, and non-Palestinian Christians as well.
    You’ve allowed a logical error to work its way into your piece… on one hand you acknowledge that “Gaza is governed by fanatics who have vowed to destroy Israel,”, while later you (presumably) quote Farber, “What it needs is not more weapons but more creative diplomacy.” In what universe does creative diplomacy resolve conflicts with fanatics hell-bent on destruction? Doesn’t the very definition of the word ‘fanatic’ preclude rational thought? The events of the last few days should have made the impossibility of a diplomatic solution crystal clear to everyone.
    The primary impediment to a just and lasting peace is that the PA, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and a significant portion of the rank-and-file Palestinian people simply do not want peace. Instead they want Israel to be destroyed as a first priority and, until they can obtain that goal, their leadership wants to keep their snouts firmly plunged into the trough of international aid, which is a much easier way to make a living than building an actual functional economy. These are the facts which drive the only policy, imperfect as it is, that provides a measure of safety for Israeli Jews, Arabs, Christian and others alike… containment.
  • Steven Burton
    followed this page 2023-10-10 08:15:32 +1100