All-out war

Hamas’ brutal attack could have been avoided

I certainly join the voices of many leaders who condemned Hamas’ attack in the strongest terms. With that said, I am not as surprised as many that this attack in fact has taken place and claimed the lives of so many innocent Israelis, nor will I be surprised by the ongoing Israeli retaliation that will certainly claim the lives of hundreds if not thousands of Palestinians, including many innocent civilians. I’m not surprised because, like many of us who have been following the development of events between Israel and the Palestinians in the last few years, especially the past several months, I easily came to the conclusion, and stated so a number of times in my writing, that it was only a question of time when such a flare-up would take place.

This unprecedented and unimaginable attack by Hamas, from the land, air, and sea, must have taken months to plan, train, and prepare for execution. And yet Israel’s ‘most sophisticated’ intelligence agencies did not detect even a hint of such a devastating plan. What does that say about the Israeli government, led by an arrogant and self-conceited prime minister, Netanyahu, who brags about Israel’s unmatched military capabilities and preparedness?

While Netanyahu was busy plotting to crush Israel’s democracy through his so-called judicial reforms, and reinforcing Israel’s security in the West Bank by sending thousands of troops to protect the settlers who have been rampaging against the Palestinians, Hamas was preparing for this deadly attack on an unprecedented scale, claiming the lives of, as of this writing, 700 Israelis and abducting over 100, while exposing Israel’s vulnerability in the eyes of its strongest enemies, including Hezbollah and Iran.

The timing of Hamas’ attack obviously was not accidental. It was planned to take place exactly on the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It was meant to crudely remind the Israelis that the Palestinians’ rights and aspirations are not a box to be checked off, as Netanyahu recently described when asked about the prospective normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

No Israeli could have possibly believed that a so-called ‘ragtag group’ with ‘firecrackers,’ as some Israeli officials have described Hamas, that has been under blockade for 18 years, would be in a position to mount an attack of such magnitude, sending tens of thousands of Israelis to shelters, cowering in fear. For decades the Israeli government has led the public to believe that the Palestinians will not cease their fight for independence unless Israel enacts brutal force against them. This attack has proven this claim false; that even under the harshest circumstances the Palestinians will never give up their fight for freedom and independence by answering violence with violence, and will never succumb to Israeli forces.

The current Israeli government, whose minister in charge of civilian affairs in the West Bank, Bezalel Smotrich, called earlier this year for wiping out the Palestinian village of Huwara and has given free reign to settlers to harass Palestinians at every turn, did nothing but usurp the last vestiges of hope for the Palestinians to be free again. To treat the Palestinians as if they are the occupier rather than being occupied, as Smotrich has claimed, is not only outrageous but self-defeating, as has been proven over the last 75 years. For Saturday’s brutal attack by Hamas to occur under the watch of the most militant government in Israel’s history has only proven its ineptitude and that ignoring the Palestinian problem will happen at Israel’s peril.

Hamas knew too well that the people of Gaza would suffer massive losses of life and destruction for attacking Israel on such an unprecedented scale. The extent of the casualties and destruction inflicted by Israel already attests to that. They have nevertheless taken such a deadly but calculated risk because they were determined to change the dynamic of the conflict with Israel and create a new paradigm and force Israel to reevaluate its position toward the Palestinians. I found it interesting that Hamas’ spokesperson didn’t call for Israel’s destruction but rather called for an end to violations against Palestinians, stating “We want the international community to stop atrocities in Gaza, against Palestinian people, our holy sites like Al-Aqsa. All these things are the reason behind starting this battle.” This is in response to the provocateur Itamar Ben-Gvir, who since he assumed the position of National Security Minister, has deliberately visited the Temple Mount, which by a 1967 agreement between Jordan and Israel, Jews have been barred from visiting.

Whereas Hamas’ militant wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, has never reconciled itself with Israel’s existence and must be destroyed, Israel should send a clear message that it is willing to initiate peace negotiations with moderate Palestinian leaders to create a long-term reconciliation process that will lead to a permanent solution. It is time for Israel to realize that the policy of going to Gaza to ‘mow the lawn’ every few years has failed miserably and accomplished nothing but deepen their resistance. The recent horrifying attack attests to this perilously misguided Israeli policy.

Although Israel has every right to defend itself and crush the irredeemable Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists, who are backed by Iran and Hezbollah and will not accept Israel’s reality, Israel must also remember that the vast majority of the Palestinian people want to live in peace, and accept Israel’s right to exist. Sadly though, extremist governments such as the current one led by Netanyahu, portray the Palestinians as if they were all terrorists and can never be trusted; hence, they must be handled with an iron fist.

For how many more decades will Israel hold to this baseless, perilous, and counterproductive notion before it realizes the Palestinians are vastly ordinary people who want to live a normal life, just like any Israeli? They should remember that hopelessness breeds despair, and despair breeds anger and resentment, which in turn leaves the Palestinian people with feeling no choice but to resort to violence and risk death rather than live a life of endless despair.

This reminds me of the absurd position of those Republicans who oppose gun control in the United States in the aftermath of mass shootings. After such an occurrence, they settle for sending prayers and condolences to the bereaved families, insisting that ‘this is not the time’ to talk about significant gun control laws, as if their prayers and condolences would stop the next mass shooting. But this obviously was never the case, as mass shootings continue, claiming the lives of more than 50,000 Americans each year, and no effective gun control has been enacted. So is the case with any new ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, or Israel and the Palestinians. No ceasefire or condemnations will stop the conflict between the two sides. Those who are seeking peace, stability, security, and prosperity in the Middle East should remember that if Israeli-Saudi normalization is established and it does not incorporate a clear path for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is nothing but a recipe for increasing regional violence and destabilization far beyond what we have seen thus far.

It is time for the Biden administration, which has been paying merely lip service to the two-state solution like all of its predecessors, to act on its formal position and insist that it’s time for Israel to take this conflict with the Palestinians seriously. The Biden administration must not assume for a moment that another ceasefire, regardless of its scope, will provide a lasting solution. Moreover, the Saudis must make it publicly clear that there will be no normalization of relations with Israel unless a clear path is established that would lead to a permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Saying so publicly will allay the Palestinians’ concerns that they will not be left behind to fend for themselves, while sending a clear message to the Israeli public that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be part and parcel of any agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, consistent with the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. In the final analysis, it is only when the Israeli public demands en masse a new peace initiative will any Israeli government act in earnest toward that end.

Indeed, it is not enough for the Israelis in times of crisis to unite. They must now unite to demand a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They must now pour into the streets by the hundreds of thousands, akin to their protests against Netanyahu’s sinister effort to reform the judiciary, and remain relentless until their government agrees to enter into credible negotiations with the Palestinians. Failing to do so is to simply be waiting, once again, for the next horrifying conflagration that may even be more severe than this attack, and cause incalculable losses of life that no Israeli could imagine in their wildest nightmare.

Once the horrifying war has come to an end, and some sort of ceasefire takes place, tragically after thousands have been killed on both sides, a commission of inquiry should be set up to investigate how the Netanyahu government was caught off-guard. There is no doubt that this government has taken the relatively passive resistance of the Palestinians for granted, and never contemplated that they would ever be in a position to wage such an unprecedented assault. Those who are responsible in the government will have to be held accountable and pay the price.

Furthermore, the opposition leaders Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Avigdor Lieberman, and Merav Michaeli, should heed Netanyahu’s call for a unity government on the condition that once the war ends, that he should resign and new elections be held.

Short of that, the Israeli public must demand the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Instead of attending to Israel’s national security needs, he has been busy plotting to severely undermine the judiciary and sacrifice the national interest only to save his own skin. He has betrayed the oath of his office, and must now vacate it to restore dignity and confidence to the title that he undeservedly carries.

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Dr Alon Ben-Meir
Dr Alon Ben-Meir
Dr Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Centre for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. [email protected]

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