Resign? It’s time for Netanyahu to do something even more useful
After the deaths of perhaps 10,000 Gazans in the war between Israel and Hamas, a circuit-breaker is needed to stop the killing of innocent civilians, something that will make both armies pause and take stock.
I propose that Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, offer himself as a replacement for all the children held hostage by Hamas. The Israelis would conduct their bombing campaign with greater caution and Hamas would learn that Israeli grit is real.
This has been proposed before. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, offered himself as a hostage in return for the children. To no one’s surprise, Hamas ignored his offer. But Bibi? They would listen to him.
Realistic? Nope. No chance whatsoever. But there are sound reasons why it ought to happen.
Hamas pulled the trigger, but Bibi loaded the gun. Netanyahu must shoulder the blame for Israel’s colossal intelligence failure. For years the Israelis had propped up Hamas to show that it was impossible to make peace with Palestinians and to weaken the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Nearly all analysts agree that Netanyahu, who has served as PM for 16 years, longer than any other in Israel’s history, is responsible for scuppering the two-state solution. Even The Economist, which sternly advises against a ceasefire, acknowledges that “There will be no serious peace process with Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition of far-right and religious politicians.”
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof went to the West Bank to visit two Palestinian men whom he had met as a backpacker 40 years ago. One of them explained the situation there with a homely analogy. “‘People are suffocating, and because of that they go out to express their feelings.’ He pointed to the soft drink in front of him. ‘It’s like this,’ he said. ‘You shake it, and it will explode.’” Netanyahu has spent his career shaking the bottle.
Bibi has no plan beyond destroying Hamas. Netanyahu knows how to hold on to power and how to present Israel’s case to the world, but he is no Churchill when a Churchill is needed. “[H]e has become a symbol of implacable hostility to a two-state solution at a time when Israeli commitment to it in some form is essential as part of any ‘day after’ plan,” says The Economist. “[A]t one of the most testing moments in Israel’s history the man in charge has no answers for what happens next.”
What happens after all of the terrorists are killed and the hostages are freed? Netanyahu has predicted that the war in Gaza will continue for months. That could mean that there will be tens of thousands of civilian deaths. Implacable hatred of Israel amongst the survivors could give birth to a movement even more deranged than Hamas. Netanyahu is just kicking the can down the road for the next generation.
Bibi talks a good game about integrity and fairness, but he fails to deliver. While the eyes of the world are rivetted upon Gaza, West Bank settlers have been killing Palestinians and stealing their land.
According to a report from NBC, based on figures provided the United Nations, at least 132 Palestinians, including 41 children, have been killed by security forces and settlers over the past three weeks. The killings are part of moves to expel Palestinians from their land on the West Bank. According to B’Tselem, an Israeli peace group, “Israel has also ramped up efforts to drive Palestinian communities and single-family farms out of their homes and land … To further this goal, state-backed settler violence against Palestinians has risen in both frequency and intensity, with soldiers and police officers fully backing the assailants and often participating in the attacks. Events on the ground indicate that under cover of war, settlers are carrying out such assaults virtually unchecked, with no one trying to stop them before, during, or after the fact.”
Netanyahu has turned a blind eye to unremitting, violent encroachment upon their land by the settlers. Unless the Palestinians believe that the Israelis are committed to a just solution to their claims, there will never be peace.
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Bibi is defending Israel, not Western Civilisation. “In fighting Hamas and the Iranian axis of terror, Israel is fighting the enemies of civilization itself,” Netanyahu told a world audience on October 30. And he told Israelis on October 28 that "This will be a victory of good over evil, of light over darkness, of life over death.”
Inspiring words, but the last 200 years show that democracies like Israel are capable of barbaric deeds while fighting under the banner of Righteousness. American and British bombers killed 25,000 civilians in a raid on Dresden; American bombers killed 100,000 people in one night in Tokyo; two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed some 200,000 people. The controversy over whether this destruction was effective, let alone moral, continues to this day. Fighting for a just cause does not exempt the Israelis from fighting humanely.
Netanyahu insists that “The IDF is the most moral army in the world. The IDF does everything to avoid harming non-combatants.” This is hard to square with some of the Army’s tactics during “peacetime”. How about kneecapping as crowd control, for instance? In 2018 and 2019 thousands of Gazans demonstrated in front of the border fence. IDF snipers aimed at the knees of ringleaders -- 8,000 people were hit; in 156 cases, limbs were amputated. In a grim article in Haaretz one of the snipers boasted that he had scored a record of 42 knees in one day.
The most moral army? The army with the fussiest protocols, perhaps, but the most moral?
True, Hamas is a band of murderous thugs who oppress their own people. An Amnesty International report documented its “brutal campaign of abductions, torture and unlawful killings” of political rivals and Gazans accused of collaborating with Israel in the 2014 conflict. It is stomach-churning. But is it civilised to use barbaric violence against civilians to defeat the barbarians? One of the most important documents of the Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, made this telling observation: “The unique hazard of modern warfare consists in this: it provides those who possess modern scientific weapons with a kind of occasion for perpetrating just such abominations; moreover, through a certain inexorable chain of events, it can catapult men into the most atrocious decisions.” Technological superiority does not mean that Netanyahu’s tactics confer moral superiority.
On Saturday, thousands of Israelis demonstrated outside Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem, calling for his resignation. Some of them were chanting, “Jail now!” But jail would be a waste of Netanyahu’s potential. Far better if he offered himself as a hostage to Hamas in exchange for the children. He would rescue both them and his irreparably damaged reputation.
Michael Cook is editor of Mercator.
Image credits: CNBC screenshot, Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech in Tel Aviv on October 30
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