Even though it seems the despair engulfing Israelis after the Gaza war is déjà vu – the same “we’re doomed to live by the sword” and “the entire world is against us” – something is different this time around.
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The despair on the eve of the Six-Day War accompanied an existential fear, while the gloom after the Yom Kippur War stemmed from our fractured faith in our leaders and the shattering of the belief that the army was invincible. The terror attacks of the second intifada spawned bitter disappointment over the chances for peace with the Palestinians, while the despondency after the Second Lebanon War was channeled into anger over the Olmert government’s mismanagement of the war.
The despair is different after Operation Protective Edge. It hasn’t been accompanied by a political dispute, anger or accusation. It’s despair without release. More than ever, Israel has accepted that it is locked in a game stacked against it. The enemies are irrational, Al-Qaida clones, so a political solution is impossible.
At the same time, a decisive military victory is impossible because of the limits of force, which most of the public understands and therefore does not wish to return to Gaza. And then there’s the hypocrisy of the international community. Every other proposal for understanding the situation is met by contempt or a bored look, suggesting that the person who proposed it is naïve or crazy.
The main author of the current despair is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has consistently described the war as a link in Israel’s eternal struggle for its existence. Deep down, this is also how he views our relations with the Palestinian Authority.
As a result, we can’t expect Netanyahu to “discover” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as a result of the war and conduct serious peace negotiations. Even if there are hints that Netanyahu understands that Fatah is not Hamas, his conclusion from the war will more likely be that Israel must not give up territory and leave its security to the Palestinians.
As always during times of war, the left hasn’t offered a way out of this doom loop. Either it excludes itself from the community when it mentions the Palestinians’ suffering, or it is dragged into a thorny debate when asked “with whom shall we make peace, Hamas?” The left can’t have a significant say as long as the debate remains at the tactical level. Meanwhile, the left’s confused answers contribute to the despair.
This fatalistic despair is dangerous for Israel. The left's role is not just to be dragged behind the government in support of the war or to mumble “Abbas.” Its role is to craft a confident, competing narrative in the face of the despair; a narrative that analyzes the events that led to the war and stresses Israel’s diplomatic possibilities — which perhaps could have prevented the war.
The accusations of naïveté must be directed at those who prefer to be held captive by Hamas’ actions and forgo our diplomatic tools – whether the briefly opened window of opportunity that allows Hamas’ inclusion in the political process, or the negotiations for an overall settlement.
People who tie their own hands and don’t use all their tools are the naïve ones, the suckers. True, it’s no sure thing that if we had acted differently the situation would be much different. Political solutions raise an infinite number of problems and fears. But what’s the other possibility? Despair.