Stop this madness! Declare a ceasefire
Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has just declared in a televised address that Hamas militants are “doomed” but he declined to say when Israel will invade. He said that Israel Defense Forces have already "eliminated thousands of terrorists".
But the trigger has not been pulled yet. Perhaps there is still time to declare a ceasefire. Here are some considerations.
Doesn’t Israel realise how fragile its power is?
In 1974 heavyweight boxer George Foreman, the hardest-hitter of his generation, met the ageing Muhammed Ali in Zaire for the fight of the century. Foreman was a 4 to 1 favourite. Ali leaned back on the ropes and let Foreman punch away until he was exhausted. Ali taunted him, saying: “George, you’re not hittin’ … George, you disappoint me.” In the eighth round Ali knocked Foreman out cold. It was a classic example of asymmetric warfare: a nimbler, smarter guy can beat a big angry guy.
There is very little doubt that Israel can pulverise Gaza and destroy Hamas. It might even be able to do this without kindling a war with Hezbollah and Iran. But how about the long term?
The controversial Israeli historian Benny Morris is a strong supporter of Israel’s record. But he is pessimistic about the future. He told Haaretz in 2019:
“The Palestinians look at everything from a broad, long-term perspective. They see that at the moment, there are five-six-seven million Jews here, surrounded by hundreds of millions of Arabs. They have no reason to give in, because the Jewish state can’t last. They are bound to win. In another 30 to 50 years they will overcome us, come what may.”
Hamas’s biggest asset is fanaticism. Israel biggest asset is support from the United States and Europe. This is based on its kinship with other successful democracies, Western guilt over the Holocaust, support from the Jewish diaspora, and its alignment with Christian churches. But if its behaviour in Gaza blackens its reputation, it will lose that support. Ominously, pro-Palestinian demonstrators around the world chanting “from the river to the sea” show that its strength is already being eroded. For better or worse, a woke younger generation will not feel the same way about Israel.
Invading Gaza is simply not in Israel’s best interest.
What are Israel’s long-term goals?
Hamas’s long-term goals are set out in its 2017 Charter: “Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.” They are brutal and clear.
Israel’s long-term goals after the invasion are murky. They seem to be: first, destroy Hamas; second, see what happens. This is road rage, not statesmanship. It is the same mistake that the US made when it invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. In his speech in Israel last week, President Biden said quite sensibly, that Israel would need “clarity about the objectives and an honest assessment about whether the path you’re on will achieve those objectives.”
Will an invasion really destroy Hamas? Perhaps the leaders trapped in Gaza will die. Perhaps their weapons will be destroyed. Perhaps their tunnels will be flooded. But bombing Hamas out of existence is no more possible than bombing a virus. Israel might win ten years of “peace”, but another generation of young men will take the place of their dead fathers, uncles and brothers to avenge them.
Former Israeli PM Ehud Barak dismisses talk of “destroying” Hamas. “What does it even mean?” he told The Economist. “That no one can still breathe and believe in Hamas’s ideology? That’s not a believable war aim. Israel’s objective now has to be clearer."
An invasion will not avenge the 1,400 Israelis. Perhaps the same number of terrorists were killed on the same day. More than 5,000 have reportedly been killed in Gaza by the Israeli bombardment. Isn’t that enough bloodshed? If the Israelis invade the casualties on both sides will be horrific. And at the end, they will own the rubble. They will have to install a new government or occupy Gaza for years.
The main issue, then, is the 200 or so hostages held by Hamas and other terrorist groups hiding in Gaza. They are both an asset and a liability for Hamas. On the one hand they can be used to extort concessions from Israel; on the other, killing or mistreating them will discredit Hamas in the eyes of the world, even of Arab governments. There is room for negotiation.
Hamas is 100% responsible for the October 7 massacre, but …
“The government you elect is the government you deserve,” said Thomas Jefferson. If that’s true, both Gazans and Israelis have a lot to answer for. Their leaders are appalling.
The Gazans might find it easier to excuse themselves. They haven’t elected anyone for a long time. In January 2006, elections for the legislature produced a majority of Hamas members. That was a poke in the eye to Israel and the international community. Israel, the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations all demanded that the new Hamas government accept previous agreements, recognize Israel's right to exist, and renounce violence.
When Hamas refused, aid was cut off, dooming Gaza to penury. Hamas didn’t care. In 2007 Hamas booted out Fatah, the dominant party in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank. Since then there have been no elections.
A poll conducted in July this year found that half of Gazans agreed with this statement: “Hamas should stop calling for Israel’s destruction, and instead accept a permanent two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.” Even if the poll is accurate, their opinion don’t matter. Gazans are stuck with a government run by fanatics who care more about their savage ideology than garbage collection, food, and a functioning economy.
The Israelis, on the other hand, keep electing Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu bears a significant amount of responsibility for those 1,400 deaths. Although the international community favours a two-state solution, he doesn’t. And he devised a way to keep it from ever becoming a realistic possibility. He propped up Hamas and thereby kept the Palestinians divided.
Incredible as it may seem, Netanyahu subsidised Hamas with suitcases of American dollars. It was a good deal – a weak and corrupt West Bank, a relatively quiet Gaza run by lunatics, and no hope whatsoever of progress toward a two-state solution. It was incredibly, criminally, cynical.
According to The Times of Israel:
“Most of the time, Israeli policy was to treat the Palestinian Authority as a burden and Hamas as an asset … According to various reports, Netanyahu made a similar point at a Likud faction meeting in early 2019, when he was quoted as saying that those who oppose a Palestinian state should support the transfer of funds to Gaza, because maintaining the separation between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza would prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
Former PM Barak says that investigations after this campaign will support this:
“It will be clear that, above all, Netanyahu had a flawed strategy of keeping Hamas alive and kicking… so he could use them [Hamas] to weaken the Palestinian Authority so that no-one in the world could demand that we hold negotiations [with the Palestinians].”
Now hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Israelis and thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of Gazans are going to pay the price for Hamas’s savagery and Netanyahu’s dishonesty.
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Who wants justice? Who wants peace?
Israelis want peace and the Palestinians want justice. Perhaps that is a caricature of their policies. But in the rhetoric of Netanyahu, his ministers, and his generals, there is no talk of justice, only of security. In the sanguinary rhetoric of Hamas, righting ancient wrongs obliterates all other considerations. Article 19 of the Hamas Covenant reads:
“There shall be no recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist entity. Whatever has befallen the land of Palestine in terms of occupation, settlement building, judaisation or changes to its features or falsification of facts is illegitimate. Rights never lapse.”
But it is possible to right ancient wrongs. England and the IRA achieved a delicate reconciliation with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Nelson Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa kept the country from becoming a sea of blood.
The Israelis need to take seriously the Palestinians’ anger over being forced off land which they had occupied for hundreds of years. And the Palestinians need to recognise Israel’s right to exist, if for no better reason than that Israel has been there for decades. Both sides need to compromise if they are genuinely seeking peace.
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, has just published a stern but moving open letter to his diocese, which includes Gaza. Eighteen of the small Christian community in Gaza were killed by an Israeli bomb last week. He writes that the only solution is peace with justice:
The continuous heavy bombardment that has been pounding Gaza for days will only cause more death and destruction and will only increase hatred and resentment. It will not solve any problem, but rather create new ones. It is time to stop this war, this senseless violence.
It is only by ending decades of occupation and its tragic consequences, as well as giving a clear and secure national perspective to the Palestinian people that a serious peace process can begin. Unless this problem is solved at its root, there will never be the stability we all hope for.
Hope that peace is possible between Israelis and Palestinians is vanishing, but it has not died. When Yocheved Lifshitz, an 85-year-old hostage, was released earlier this week, she turned back to a burly, masked Hamas terrorist cradling an assault rifle, shook hands with him, and said “Shalom”. It was a petal of peace cast onto a bonfire of hatred, but in that simple gesture was a glimmer of hope.
Footnote: after the “rumble in the jungle”, George Foreman and Muhammed Ali became friends. Foreman later told a newspaper: “We fought in 1974, that was a long time ago. After 1981, we became the best of friends. By 1984, we loved each other. I am not closer to anyone else in this life than I am to Muhammad Ali.”
Michael Cook is editor of Mercator
Image: screenshot / The Guardian
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