A Plea to Israel From the Right: End the Gaza War Now

Prominent columnist Ben Dror Yemini, an outspoken critic of the Israeli left, urges Israel to make a move which no one expects – follow a unilateral cease-fire by inviting Hamas to peace talks.

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

There is something different about this war. Yes, it bears the dark ghosts of its predecessors. Still, there is much about this one that suggests that, whether under arms or under fire, we may have learned something from the wars we have somehow survived.

Sometimes it takes a shock. It may be nothing more than a few unexpected words from a familiar source. Someone like prominent Maariv newspaper columnist Ben Dror Yemini, one of the nation's more consistent and often bare-knuckle critics of the Israeli and international left.

Yemini has a message for Israel's leaders: "Bring the fire to a halt now. Immediately."

"It's not pleasant, but you have to admit that the left is correct," he writes. "Nothing good will come out of this operation."

Rather than launch a ground offensive that may be inestimably costly in human life, chip away further at Israel's international standing, and ultimately strengthen Hamas, leaving it capable of making good on threats to strike the Knesset with a missile, Yemini argues, Israel should take initiative in a new direction. End the war now.

In an eerily prescient opinion piece that appeared early Sunday, hours before intensified Israeli air strikes caused an alarming rise in the toll of Palestinian civilian casualties in Gaza, Yemini wrote that the pattern of Israel's ill-fated recent wars in Lebanon (2006) and Gaza ("Cast Lead," 2008-9) was being played out again.

"At the moment, we're equipped with a lovely statement of support from the American administration and with additional voices of backing from European leaders," Yemini notes. In a reference to Cast Lead and the ensuing UN inquiry of possible war crimes by Israel and Hamas, he continues, "That's exactly how it was the last time. It didn't end just with Goldstone. It also ended with Hamas becoming much stronger. Its international support grew, and its means of striking at Israel became more sophisticated."

The long shadows of the Second Lebanon war and the Cast Lead operation, with their grandiose declarations of unattainable goals, political and military infighting, and the sense of defeat having been snatched with fumbling hands from the jaws of victory, appear to have caused reflection among many Israelis known for hardline views.

With the glaring exception of Eli Yishai, the stridently bellicose interior minister, who said at the weekend that "The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages," vocally hawkish leaders like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have been notably circumspect as to their expectations for the scope and outcome of the current war.

In Yemini's view, international support for Hamas and condemnation of Israel – which he categorically rejects as unjustified – has created a "security buffer zone" for Hamas.

"If you haven’t felt it yet today, you'll begin to feel it in another two or three days. And when it comes, it will be Israel that's on the defensive. And it will come. Every statement of support will be replaced by a different melody the picture will be turned inside out, and achievement will turn into failure."

Soon after Yemini's prediction hit the newsstands, reality in Gaza began to bear it out. In a final twist, Yemini urges Israel to make a move which no one expects – follow a unilateral cease-fire by inviting Hamas to peace talks. With a catch.

This, in Yemini's overture, is how the war ends: "A dramatic conclusion, including a peace proposal to Hamas, including a proposal for direct talks over a long-term cease-fire – and on the condition that they accept the terms of the Quartet."

The "Quartet" of the UN, U.S., EU, and Russia has set out three principals for diplomatic recognition of a Palestinian government: Recognition of the state of Israel, agreement to abide by previous diplomatic accords, and renunciation of violence as a means to achieving goals. Hamas has pledged never to recognize Israel or abandon the armed struggle against its existence.

"They will, of course, refuse," Yemini concludes. "However, the public proposal will clear this up for at least some of the viewers, who are finding it difficult to comprehend who the aggressors are here, and who are those who are being forced to defend themselves."

You needn't agree with everything Yemini says, to sense that something may be changing here. A slight, tectonic nudge toward something like realism.

For decades, after all, the right has advocated pipe dreams in the territories, marketing the unsustainable as abject realism. For those same decades, the right has dismissed as pipe dreams, peace moves based on the realities of demography, democracy, and the deep aspirations of two neighboring peoples.

Let the change begin. However small. However, in the context of war, unlikely. After all, nearly every Israeli-Arab peace move has been the consequence, direct or indirect, of a war.

"So, yes, a cease fire now. Immediately," says Yemini, careful to acknowledge that he, and we, are in grim and uncharted territory here.

"Not that this is the best outcome. This is the least terrible outcome."

Ben Dror Yemini, consistent critic of the left, now calls on Israel: Talk peace with Hamas.Credit: Doron Golan
A boy with a toy rifle walks during a protest, organized by a Muslim Brotherhood group in solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza, in front of UN headquarters in Beirut, Nov. 18, 2012.Credit: Reuters
A Palestinian man uses his iPad as he takes pictures of a destroyed house after an Israeli air strike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 19, 2012. Credit: Reuters

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