There are two almost certain conclusions that can be drawn from last week’s events. The first is that the policy of restraint in the face of Hamas fire, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has championed since (and even during) Operation Protective Edge in 2014, led to the fall of his government. Israelis are fed up with holding back while southern communities are fired on, and Netanyahu wasn’t smart enough or attentive enough to catch this change in public opinion in time.
The second conclusion is that the government won’t repeat this grave error. The next time Hamas chooses to negotiate with Israel by firing rockets, it will suffer a heavy blow. The era of strategic attacks on empty warehouses is over.
Until now Netanyahu was careful not to really undermine Hamas’ control of Gaza so that Gaza would not be transferred to the control of the Palestinian Authority, which has succeeded in preventing extensive violence against Israel. From the prime minister’s perspective, keeping the Strip and the West Bank as separate Bantustans was critical to blocking a Palestinian state. For this he was prepared to preserve Hamas’ control, even if the price was wild rocket attacks on the South.
It may be too early to tell what effect last week’s failure will have on government policy, but one thing is clear: Since Hamas continues to rule in Gaza by Netanyahu’s and the right-wing government’s good graces, the next confrontation will come eventually and it won’t be pleasant – not for the Israelis and especially not for Gaza residents.
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One can philosophize about whether war should be avoided at almost any price. Who is not familiar with Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly” and the bitter lessons from senseless wars that took the lives of millions of civilians and soldiers?
But today’s date reminds us of how complex the issue is. On this day 81 years ago, on November 19, 1937, British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax met with Adolf Hitler in Berlin, and Hitler assured him that all he wanted was peace. Halifax, who, like Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, sought to prevent an unnecessary war, returned to London contentedly. We know how that turned out.
Even if wars are a terrible evil that must be prevented, the State of Israel cannot abandon some of its citizens to uphold a policy designed to serve political ends. Citizen’s lives are nonnegotiable – even when they live in outlying areas or if some consider the risk “minor.”
That Netanyahu’s objectives in the Gaza issue are completely erroneous exacerbates the failure. Hamas is not a necessary evil we must learn to live with – or if necessary to die with – but a serious problem that we must be rid of. But war and reoccupying Gaza are by no means the proper or only options for removing the threat. The proper way is by negotiating to facilitate the gradual hand-over of Gaza to PA rule, with the assistance of the United States, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
The problem is that Netanyahu and the right don’t want this. The fruits of their policy were seen in Operation Protective Edge, whose unnecessary ground incursion into Gaza without clear objectives (since there was no intent to topple Hamas) caused more than 70 Israeli deaths – and for what?
Likud and Habayit Hayehudi voters, especially in the south, have to decide in the next election if they are fed up paying with their lives and homes for this policy, whose sole goal is to prevent the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel, or if they want to continue to be Netanyahu’s sitting ducks in Hamas’ firing range.