The chronic confrontation between Israel and Hamas has flared up with great intensity. In contrast to the previous rounds of violence, when all the fatalities were suffered by Hamas, this time four Israelis have been killed. The Palestinians have reported 23 deaths, and Israel’s inner cabinet has instructed the Israel Defense Forces to continue its attacks. Despite all this, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not seen fit to address the public. What would he say? In the absence of strategic goals and purposeful policy, numbers become policy, and the yardstick by which the military and the government will be measured. How many rockets have been fired into Israel? How many airstrikes have Gazans faced? What is the ratio of Palestinian to Israeli deaths? How many people are in shelters, how many schools have been closed?
These numbers are presumably meant to paint a picture of victory or of defeat, of determination and resolve or of weakness and frailness. But there can be no “decisive” victory over 2 million people who have lived under a strangulating blockade for a dozen years. The IDF and the security services could not have been any clearer when for months they warned that the situation in the Strip was volatile and could ignite a tremendous conflagration at any moment. They demanded significant easing of the cruel restrictions the blockade caused to the population, knowing that even a large-scale military operation cannot guarantee enduring quiet. The IDF can punish, harass and take revenge on the inhabitants and even reoccupy the Strip, but it cannot win “victory” over a people in dire straits. Now, four Israelis have paid with their lives for Netanyahu’s no-policy policy.
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Netanyahu had innumerable opportunities to adopt these insights, to ease the blockade and permit the entry of the money and building materials needed to create an economic infrastructure that could erode the motivation for violent clashes with Israel. While economic well-being cannot replace the Palestinians’ desire for an independent state, it can create a reasonable status quo, like that which for many years characterized the relationship between Israel and the West Bank.
Netanyahu preferred to use the political pressures on him, mainly from the far right, to justify a policy of zero initiative and reliance on Egyptian mediation. But putting out fires is far from a long-term policy. In this equation, every rocket and incendiary balloon, every march and attack from the Strip turns even “humanitarian gestures” into hostages.
Netanyahu has failed miserably in keeping his promise to Israelis in general and those living near the Gaza border in particular. He knowingly lies when he offers military action as the ultimate solution. Netanyahu, who boasts of his expertise in maneuvering political pressure to his benefit, can and must initiate a bold diplomatic move and present to Hamas, through Egypt, a worthy plan that will liberate Israelis from the threat in the south.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.