A Fork in The Road – The Incoherent Coherence of Netanyahu

The time to forge a lasting peace is now. The time to stop the madness is now

Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The placards in Hebrew read, “Strong in security, strong in Economy “. Pic – Reuters

By Anil Madan

Israel has come to a fork in the road. It faces a choice: a ceasefire as a possible path to peace, or endless war with the stated but ill-defined objective of eliminating Hamas as a threat. Even if Israel were to eliminate Hamas that would not put an end to Hezbollah the godchild of the Iranian clerical cabal which has not relented in its message of hate for the very existence of Israel.

If Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu were to take the fork toward negotiations, there is no guarantee that a short-term ceasefire (call it a pause rather than a ceasefire, if you wish) will long endure or even lead to any kind of lasting peace. What is certain is that if Israel’s attacks on Gaza continue as part of Netanyahu’s well-publicized plan to destroy Hamas, it will neither destroy the threat that Hamas poses, nor end the existential threat to Israel that is posed not only by Hamas, but by Iran and its proxy Hezbollah.

Depending on how badly the Israeli Defense Forces can damage Hamas, that organization may or may not be a major player in what is a Palestinian-Iranian crusade against Israel. The essence of Hamas’s hate for Israel and its desire to destroy the Jewish state will linger in some form or other. For example, we have seen the Houthis of Yemen, generally recognized as another Iranian proxy, join the fray. Who else will join? And what will they do? Will it be Syria, Iraq, Türkiye, or some other country or militant organization? Could it even be Russia? Who knows?

Israel has come to a fork in the road and must take it. Some years ago, former President Clinton recounted that he had a chance to strike at Osama bin Laden. But he desisted: “I nearly got him. And I could have killed him, but I would have had to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children, and then I would have been no better than him. And so, I didn’t do it.”

When Israel came to the fork in the road the day after October 7, 2023, when Hamas breached the Gaza-Israel border and killed some 1,200 Israelis and captured a couple of hundred hostages, Netanyahu chose to de-emphasize the civilian toll that his response would entail.

Hamas, Netanyahu have gone too far

A few days after October 7, one of my Jewish friends and I spoke about what had happened. We had heard a Jewish leader, grief-stricken by what had happened in Israel, exclaim something to this effect: “Why is this acceptable, we Jews seek only to live our lives in peace. We do not pray for the death of others or that they should not believe in their God.” My friend explained that he thought it was forbidden for a Jew to pray for the death of someone wicked, but he could pray for an end to whatever caused the wickedness.

I was struck by the congruence between that thought and President Clinton’s sense of morality. There is another apocryphal story of President Clinton rejecting the advice of an advisor that he order immediate retaliatory airstrikes against an Arab militant group. “Can I kill them tomorrow?” he is said to have asked.

I wish I had not been so prescient when, following the events of October 7, I wrote less than a week later. October 7 fell on a Friday. I wrote about a conversation I had with a Jewish friend the following Sunday or Monday. I asked him: By next Wednesday or Thursday, “will you be proud of the death of civilians and the rubble left?” I told him that I expected Netanyahu to unleash the equivalent of carpet bombing.

I also wrote about the dilemma that Israel faced: “that Hamas is embedded with the civilian population and airstrikes will produce collateral damage. In an area as densely packed as Gaza, the only way to avoid killing innocent civilians is to find a way other than airstrikes and bombs.”

And I also wrote: “Unquestionably, Hamas went too far. It now seems that Netanyahu’s political instincts have led Israel also to go too far.”

And I asked: “Let us once again go back to last Friday. If you had the choice of today’s outcome or no attack by Hamas, what would you have counselled Hamas to do? Or not to do? With at least 2,000 dead in Israel, 2,000 or more dead in Gaza, and 250,000 Gazans displaced, and their homes reduced to rubble, in hindsight, it seems obvious, doesn’t it?”

I cautioned then: “A nation whose people survived a holocaust is in grave danger of committing genocide. This madness must stop.”

That was on October 12, 2023. This is now, almost five months later. We are no closer to seeing Hamas eliminated. We are no closer to having all the hostages returned. We are no closer to eliminating the existential threat that is posed to Israel by Iran, Hezbollah, and indeed Hamas.

Bibi Netanyahu came to a fork in the road. And he took it. But he didn’t play a tuning fork and listen for resonance. Instead, he stabbed with the fork. It is time to reconsider.

Certainly, as some have observed, the Hamas attack of October 7 was a carefully chosen ploy to derail the peace express that was chugging along smoothly toward a Saudi Arabia-Israel rapprochement.

That now seems out of reach. But perhaps not. On the one hand, the Saudi Foreign Minister has announced impossible to achieve conditions precedent to establishing diplomatic relations with Israel: for example, the creation of a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. This would entail removal of Jewish settlements that Netanyahu and his hard-right coalition are unlikely to accept. And it is difficult to see that Israel could ever accept an armed Palestinian state as its neighbour. But note that underlying the Saudi proposal is an implicit recognition of Israel’s sovereignty by Saudi Arabia. Even ten years ago, many thought that Saudi Arabia would never accept the right of Israel to exist. Times change.

Israel has come to a fork in the road. This time, Israel must take it. The fact that major Arab states having conceded Israel’s right to existence as a sovereign state, is a monumental development. This is not to be squandered.

Alas, this alone is not enough for peace.

The problem of incoherence

There is the problem of incoherence. There is the incoherence of America’s response. There is the incoherence of Hamas’s response. There is the incoherence of Israel’s response. And then there is Iran, incoherent in its hatred, incoherent in its policy, and perhaps exhibiting incoherence that is unredeemable and irremediable.

Meanwhile, as I predicted, Israel is being accused of genocide. Back in October, with 2000 Gazans dead and 250,000 displaced, I wrote: “This madness must stop.” Today, we have more than 40,000 Gazans killed (adding about 10,000 in the rubble to the 30,000 reported killed), hundreds of thousands injured, and almost two million displaced. Is it possible that madness can be more mad than it ever has been?

The harsh reality that faces Israel is that it is in an existential struggle. The harsh reality that faces every Jewish person is that the killing of Gazan civilians is not what Israel should be known for. Israel was never intended to achieve grace for the Jewish people by destroying another people.

The incoherence of American policy is the unreserved cheering by President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken for Israel’s right — and duty — to defend itself, while belatedly proclaiming a few weeks later that (unnecessary) killing of civilians cannot be justified. And neither Biden nor Blinken has defined what number of civilian deaths is “unnecessary.”

Even if we accept that some civilians will necessarily be killed, it was never intended that America would achieve grace by deciding that some measure of death of innocents is tolerable. Too often, this country has gone down that path. Too often, it has stopped too late.

America has come to a fork in the road and must take it. The time to forge a lasting peace is now. The time to stop the madness is now.

The incoherence of Hamas’ response is palpable. One can understand the stridency that the Nakba of 1948 evokes. There is a tendency for Israel and the west to portray Hamas as barbaric when its disdain for Israeli lives is described as terrorism. But keep in mind that Israel’s control of Gaza (whether one calls it occupation or maintaining security is irrelevant) is viewed by Palestinians and most of the Arab world as disdain for Palestinian lives and equally barbaric. Hamas’s refusal to accept the existence of Israel must be seen as largely directed by Iran which stokes that Palestinian fire.

The incoherence of Israel’s response is that even if Hamas is eliminated, Israel faces two unresolved problems and a major missed opportunity. First, there is the problem of Hezbollah. Hamas is not the only threat to Israel. Second, there is the threat of Iran. Unless Iran becomes an active participant in forging a lasting peace, there will be no peace. So far, there has been little for Iran to pay for its support of vengeful proxies hellbent on destroying Israel. The missed opportunity is, of course, that Saudi Arabia was all but ready to recognize Israel. That is an opportunity not to be squandered.

Saudi Arabia’s acknowledgment that peace with Israel is more constructive than ongoing enmity is a welcome development. The UAE and other Arab states have come to the same conclusion.

The world has come to a fork in the road. There is no reason why Iran cannot be shown that it too must take the fork.

And finally, the incoherence of Iran must be addressed. But that incoherence is surrounded and fed by the greater incoherence that the US and Israel cannot even talk directly to Iran. Saudi Arabia has overcome its intransigence in that regard. Perhaps Saudi Arabia is the bridge to showing Iran that it has come to a fork in the road and must take it.

After all, if one cannot talk to old enemies, one cannot make new friends.

Netanyahu has come to a fork in the road. He must decide that it’s time to ask: “Can I kill them tomorrow?”

Put a fork in that.


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 8 March 2024

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