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Why Is Netanyahu Silent?

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 27, 2018.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 27, 2018.Credit: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images/AFP

The thunderous silence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior members of his government in the face of comments by Yahya Sinwar, Hamas leader in Gaza, are further proof that Israel understands only force. “I don’t want more wars,” Sinwar said in a rare interview with the Italian daily La Repubblica, which ran simultaneously in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, in which he called for a cease-fire. It does not seem to have moved anyone in Jerusalem.

Israelis who are waiting for the day when a Hamas leader gives a surrender speech will not find what they are looking for in Sinwar’s remarks. Sinwar said that if Hamas is attacked it will respond because “armed resistance is a right.”

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He also said that lifting the closure on Gaza is a necessary condition for a cease-fire. And he said what the Israelis know in their heart: Israel “is incomparably stronger than Hamas, but you will never win.”

Sinwar is realistic when it comes to the balance of power between Israel and Hamas and describes Israel’s dilemma as if he was privy to the minutes of the security cabinet’s meetings and the boastful, words of ministers Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett in the cockfight they are waging with each other. “We cannot prevail in a confrontation with a nuclear power,” he said, “but likewise, [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu would have nothing to gain from a new war: This would be the fourth war, and they cannot deliver the same results they delivered with the first, the second, the third … Eventually, they would have to reoccupy Gaza.”

Sinwar seems to understand very well the demographic threat that occupying Gaza would mean for Israel: “At a time when Netanyahu is trying to get rid of Palestinians in the West Bank while keeping a Jewish majority, I don’t think he would be interested in annexing a territory with an extra 2 million Palestinians.”

Netanyahu has a tendency to disparage Palestinian conciliatory messages in general and changes in tone by Palestinian leaders in particular. This time too, he will probably put all his energy into justifying his inaction in advancing an agreement. Instead of seeing the moderate messages as an opportunity for a cease-fire and rapprochement, Netanyahu and his government are acting like they don’t hear. As usual, Netanyahu will find someone else to blame, as he did in his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in which he blamed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for the situation in Gaza.

And meanwhile, the routine of death in Gaza goes on. On Friday, the Gaza authorities reported that three more Palestinians, one of them a 12-year-old boy, were killed by Israeli army fire near the border with the Strip. “I don’t want more wars,” Sinwar said. Now it’s Israel’s turn to answer the question of what it wants: a cease-fire or war.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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