A Left-wing Stance on Gaza? More Like Incompetence

Israel is being drawn into a partial and fragile deal years too late and made from so weak a position it’s a wonder Netanyahu, Lieberman and Bennett dare show their faces in public

Residents of southern Israel protest against their government's decision to hold fire in Gaza in response to a similar decision by Palestinian militants, in Sderot, November 13, 2018.
Amir Cohen/REUTERS

It’s hard to know if Israel and Hamas will sustain the fragile calm they’ve achieved. It could be shattered by the time this article is published in print Thursday morning.

The political scene, on the other hand, is easier to understand. Zionist Union will assail Benjamin Netanyahu for not being right-wing enough. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party will say Netanyahu and Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay are mere imitations of Lapid, who’s the real thing. Naftali Bennett will tweet that his fellow rightist, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, is a member of the Arab-Jewish anti-nationalism group Ta’ayush. Lieberman will blame God and Netanyahu will resign to save his skin. Only the security cabinet will blame the army.

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But let’s ignore the background noise for a moment and address the facts. The broader cabinet doesn’t want a military operation in Gaza. The parties in the governing coalition know how to threaten resigning over other issues. Puffing up their chests for the media is mainly an attempt to blame anyone not running fast enough. It’s surprising they haven’t dragged in the left-wing New Israel Fund yet.

Communities near Gaza have been under fire for years. Instead of doing something about it, cabinet members keep yelling that we can’t talk to Hamas. Obviously we can, we always have, like when we got Gilad Shalit freed and when we ended the 2014 Gaza war. This was talking to them, even if we used Egyptian mediators. Only when it’s time to give Israelis who live near Gaza the quiet they deserve, we suddenly can’t talk to Hamas.

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Netanyahu read the picture and understood that we have nothing to gain from another operation in Gaza and that Hamas won’t disappear. The pictures of suitcases filled with cash from Qatar had a political price, and we know how Netanyahu loves paying bills. This was a rare occasion when he showed leadership, and that’s commendable. We should note to people on the left that many Netanyahu voters are willing to live with these pictures and aren’t eager for another military operation.

What isn’t clear is why soldiers were sent on a mission deep into Gaza and the only answer we got was that we do it all the time. Someone bet people’s lives that there would be an escalation and the bet went awry.

Another fact is that Hamas opted for an escalation. Hamas too knows how to shell symbolic targets when it wants to, and it too has a database of “proportionate responses.” It bet that the government would prefer to focus on the north rather than be dragged once again into the Gaza mire. There’s a lesson here: Military superiority isn’t the answer to everything, and when you maintain a few volatile fronts under the heading “managing the conflict,” you can get bitten.

People on the right like to say that an agreement is made from a position of strength. They should apply this notion to their own performance. Instead of reaching an agreement from every position of strength, they preferred to bask in their imaginary power and launch a years-long blockade with occasional military campaigns for restoring “deterrence.”

The problem lies not in the government’s reasonable concern about sending the army back in when all we’d get is fresh graves. Even though a long-term agreement is the right thing to do, the government is being drawn into a partial and fragile deal years too late and made from so weak a position it’s a wonder Lieberman, Bennett and Netanyahu dare show their faces in public.

A book is making the rounds on the right asking “why do you vote for the right and get the left?” I’m guessing the answer isn’t in the book. Right-wing voters aren’t getting the left. They’re getting what they voted for: a collection of incompetent people dragged belatedly into an unstable and partial solution because they’re afraid the lies they sold their voters will be exposed. It would be funny if it didn’t keep ending in bloodshed.