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HomeGeopolitical CompassThe LevantIsrael’s Self-Destruction: Netanyahu, the Palestinians, and the Price of Neglect

Israel’s Self-Destruction: Netanyahu, the Palestinians, and the Price of Neglect

Author: Aluf Benn

Affiliation: Editor-in chief of Haaretz 

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs

Date/Place: February 7, 2024/ USA

Type of Literature: Analysis  

Words Count: 5437

Link: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/israel/israels-netanyahu-self-destruction 

Keywords: Israel, Netanyahu, Palestinians, Hamas 

Brief:

In 1956, the Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Moshe Dayan, delivered a speech at the funeral of an Israeli from a kibbutz that had been killed by Palestinians. That speech underlined the fact that the murderers were not to blame, given that for the eight years that had passed after the nakba, these Palestinians had been in refugee camps in Gaza, witnessing their land switch hands to new owners. The author highlights that Dayan was a supporter of the Palestinian cause. However, to the contrary, he also declared that Israel needed to be prepared, armed, strong and determined — as a life’s choice.

Decades after this speech, his warning came to life in the bloodiest way. Palestinians who were mostly born to families who were displaced from their homes and who lived as immigrants later lead an attack against Israel on October 7th, causing the death of around 1,200 civilians-soldiers and the kidnapping over 200. The author states that in the attack Hamas soldiers raped, looted, burned, and pillaged, a claim for which no credible evidence has been provided until now. 

Netanyahu’s statement from 2019 has come back to haunt him. He deliberately supported the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas separately. In Netanyahu’s view, it was best to maintain a very low-level conflict. The reasons were that it would be politically less risky compared to a peace deal, and less costly compared to a major war. This conflict management tactic appeared to work for over a decade. For the most part, Israel did not feel the need to face Hamas’ soldiers. Meanwhile, the country was thriving on the global stage. Although Barack Obama’s pressure made Netanyahu revive the two-state solution, Trump’s presidency reduced this pressure on Israel and led it to conclude the Abraham Accords, moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, normalization with Gulf countries, recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights and so on. All these were results of focusing on living the “Western dream’’ of prosperity and tranquility. Essentially, Netanyahu aimed to push aside the Palestinians and focus on remaking Israeli society. 

Throughout the years, Netanyahu’s coalition collapsed. There was a corruption case against him, his rivals managed to replace him and a number of other events in between; but his approach towards the Palestinians remained: Israel could thrive without addressing the Palestinian issue and making it the country’s top priority. At one point, as the author says: The debate over peace and war, traditionally a crucial political topic for Israel, became back-page news.

Netanyahu, to win back power, built a coalition with settlers in the West Bank, since these Zionists were committed to making the occupied territories part of Israel. The two principal demands of the extremists were that Netanyahu should expand Jewish settlements and establish a stronger Jewish presence on the Temple Mount (Al Aqsa Mosque).

 

Liberals and centrists in Israel were not content with Netanyahu’s new government due to its radical far-right position.  They were not critical against Netanyahu’s new government because of its humiliation of the Palestinians or its occupation of the Palestinian Territories, but rather focused on Netanyahu’s judicial reforms. As the author states, ‘’Netanyahu’s opponents acted as if the occupation were an unrelated issue.’’ It is no surprise then that Israeli Arabs largely did not take part in the demonstrations against Netanyahu’s government. Considering the fact that they make up around 20 percent of the population of Israel, in order for center-left Jews to form a government, partnership with Arab Israelis was necessary. Delegitimizing the concerns of these Israeli Arabs helped Netanyahu with his strategy.

There have been frequent clashes between Netanyahu and the military, especially military men who became politicians after retirement. When Yoav Gallant, a retired general and the defense minister at the time, warned Netunyahu that a war was imminent because of the rift in the army on live TV, Netanyahu fired him. He reinstated Gallant after his firing led to more protests, however he did not take his warning seriously. Netanyahu rejected the retired general’s vision, as he saw such warnings as politically motivated and did not take them into consideration.

The warnings which were given to Netanyahu were related to Iran’s network of regional allies to be exact, not about Hamas. However, since Hamas practiced maneuvers within the knowledge of the IDF observation posts, it was a failure that the senior military and intelligence officers did not foresee that an attack could follow through. The author mentions the October 7 attack to be a failure of Israel’s bureaucracy.

 

Netanyahu, as seen by his policies, gave more importance to the politics of Israel rather than its army. He also had plans of concluding a peace agreement with Saudi Arabia. A triple deal such as an American-Arab-Israeli alliance against Iran could be a huge achievement for Netanyahu that would endear him to the Israeli mainstream.

Netanyahu, two weeks before the October 7 attack, declared that the Palestinians had become an afterthought to Israel and the region as he promoted “the new Middle East’’ map centered on Israel at the UN General Assembly. Unexpectedly, his plans were shattered a mere two weeks later. 

As for the PM, it is not only Israel’s intelligence failure, but also his prewar policy leading to polarization within his people, which caused Israel’s vulnerability. Adding to that, Israeli radicalism thrived due to his far-right government and humiliation of the Palestinians. The author also underlines the name of the operation, ‘’Al Aqsa Flood’’, resembling Palestinians’ protecting the Al Aqsa Mosque from being taken over by the Zionists.

Although there are differences in policies such as the rise in the defense budget, these are more so accelerations rather than shifts. The path that Netanyahu has guided, Israel still follows.

Looking at the current situation, the Israeli right has never been more hostile to the Palestinians. The far-right in Israel wants to depopulate Gaza, leading to a second Nakba — which would then enable them to create more Jewish settlements. Additionally, the stance of Israeli Jews remains the same when it comes to the solution of the Palestinian conflict: it cannot be solved peacefully.

Israel’s history might led one to conclude that conservatives might lose influence — as happened after the Yom Kippur War of 1973 eventually leading to peace with Egypt, the 1st Intifada leading to the Oslo accords, and the 2nd Intifada leading to Israel pulling out from Gaza unilaterally. However, this remains only a possibility.  

Domestic opponents of Netanyahu and his government are hoping to disappoint Netanyahu supporters by forcing an early election in 2024. As relatives of the hostages kidnapped by Hamas demand the government to prioritize the freeing of hostages, the Israeli population is divided into two: those who advocate for the defeat of Hamas and those who advocate for making a deal to free the captives.

 

The author concludes with what he foresees in Israel, which is very similar to recent history. Whether Netanyahu remains as the PM or not, the “mowing the grass’’ policy will still remain as the method of conflict management — this will lead to more occupation, more illegal settlements, and displacing more Palestinians. It looks like after October 7 the Israeli public is not open to new suggestions of bringing peace. The author argues that this approach will only lead to more catastrophe. He concludes with the warnings mentioned in the beginning of the paper by Dayan: Israel must reach out to Palestinians and to each other if they want a livable and respectful coexistence. I completely agree with him in the sense that it is not realistic to expect stability while continuing to ignore even the existence of the Palestinians and remaining deaf towards their stories.

Overall, the author’s opposition to the Israeli far-right does not extend to the occupation itself, the source of the conflict, meaning that he makes little effort to understand the “other’’. Furthermore, although he does not advocate a two-state solution, he states that Israel has come to terms with the Palestinians to live in peace. This, I find true but still not realistic. Palestinians will expectedly demand at least equal authority and therefore there can be no real peace so long as Israel retains authority over the Palestinians and their land.

The author states that according to the current indications, Israel will possibly maintain the occupation indefinitely, which could make October 7 the beginning of a dark age in the history of Israel – and that it is up to the Israelis to decide the type of turning point this event will be. While this is a realistic expectation, Israel’s global reputation has been massively damaged and never received such antipathy, which may force Israel’s hand in this regard.

The author makes sensible points about the policies of Netanyahu and Israel’s self-destruction, and how it is important to create a bridge and to understand the aspirations/stories of the Palestinians, but he does not conclude with a proposal. While it is only natural for an Israeli to want to make proposals and sensible point of views to better the future of their country, no solutions for bettering the life standards of the other side is provided. In conclusion, the article seems to solely focus on how Israel would thrive if they treated the Palestinians more gently without treating the fundamental problem of occupation.

 

By: Dilara Özdemir, CIGA Research Assistant

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