Israelis and Palestinians face their moment of greatest danger since 1948

Benjamin Netanyahu in his speech at the UN in September (Reuters/file) (MIKE SEGAR/)

Israel just lived the worst day in history. More Israeli civilians have been massacred in a single day than all the civilians and soldiers Israel lost in the Sinai War of 1956, the Six-Day War of 1967, and the Second Lebanon War of 2006 combined. The stories and images coming from the Hamas-occupied area are horrific. Many of my own friends and family have suffered unspeakable atrocities. This means that Palestinians too now face immense danger. The most powerful country in the Middle East is livid with pain, fear and anger. I have neither the knowledge nor the moral authority to talk about how things look from the Palestinian perspective. But in Israel’s moment of greatest pain, I would like to do an advert about how things look from the Israeli side of the fence.

Politics often functions as a scientific experiment, conducted on millions of people with few ethical limitations. You try something – whether it’s increasing the welfare budget, electing a populist president, or making a peace offer – you look at the results and decide whether to continue down that particular path; or you turn back and try something else. This is how the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has played out for decades: for trial and error.

During the Oslo peace process In the 1990s, Israel gave peace a chance. I know that from the point of view of the Palestinians and some outside observers, the Israeli peace offers were insufficient and arrogant, but it was still the most generous offer Israel has ever made. During that peace process, Israel ceded partial control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority. The result for the Israelis was the worst terror campaign they had ever experienced. Israelis are still haunted by memories of everyday life in the early 2000s, with buses and restaurants bombed every day. That terror campaign It destroyed not only hundreds of Israeli civilians, but also the peace process and the Israeli left. Perhaps Israel’s peace offer was not generous enough. But was terrorism the only possible response?

After the failure of the peace process, Israel’s next experiment in Gaza was withdrawal. In the mid-2000s, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the entire Gaza Strip, dismantled all settlements in the area, and returned to the internationally recognized pre-1967 border. Admittedly, it continued to impose a partial blockade on the Gaza Strip. and occupying the West Bank. But The withdrawal from Gaza remained a very significant Israeli step, and the Israelis were anxiously waiting to see what the result of that experiment would be. The remnants of the Israeli left hoped that the Palestinians would make an honest attempt to turn Gaza into a prosperous and peaceful city-state, a Singapore of the Middle East, showing the world and the Israeli right what the Palestinians could do when given the the opportunity to govern themselves.

Of course, it is difficult to build a Singapore under a partial lockdown. But an honest attempt could still have been made, in which case there would have been greater pressure on the Israeli government from both foreign powers and the Israeli public to remove the blockade of Gaza and also reach an honorable agreement on the West Bank. . In stead of, Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip and turned it into a terrorist base from which repeated attacks were launched against Israeli civilians. Another experiment ended in failure.

Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip (Reuters/file)
Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip (Reuters/file) (IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/)

This completely discredited the remnants of the Israeli left and brought Benjamin Netanyahu to power and their hawkish governments. Netanyahu pioneered another experiment. As peaceful coexistence had failed, he adopted a policy of violent coexistence. Israel and Hamas traded blows weekly and almost every year there was a major military operation, but for a decade and a half, Israeli civilians were able to continue living a few hundred meters from Hamas bases on the other side of the fence. Even Israel’s messianic fanatics showed little zeal for reconquering the Gaza Strip, and even right-wingers hoped that the responsibilities of governing more than 2 million people would gradually moderate Hamas.

In fact, many on the Israeli right saw Hamas as a better partner than the Palestinian Authority. This was because Israeli hawks wanted to continue controlling the West Bank and feared a peace agreement. Hamas seemed to offer the Israeli right the best of all worlds: freeing Israel from the need to govern the Gaza Strip, without making any peace offers that could dislocate Israeli control of the West Bank. The day of horror that Israel has just experienced marks the end of Netanyahu’s experiment in violent coexistence.

And now that? Nobody knows for sure, but Some voices in Israel are inclined to reconquer the Gaza Strip or bomb it to rubble.. The result of this policy It could be the worst humanitarian crisis the region has experienced since 1948. Especially if Hezbollah and West Bank Palestinian forces join the fray, the death toll could reach many thousands, with millions more driven from their homes. On both sides of the fence there are religious fanatics obsessed with divine promises and the war of 1948. Palestinians dream of reversing the outcome of that war. Jewish fanatics such as Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich have even warned Arab citizens of Israel that “you are here by mistake because Ben-Gurion [el primer primer ministro de Israel] He didn’t finish the job in ’48 and he didn’t kick you out”; 2023 could allow fanatics on both sides to pursue their religious fantasies and re-enact the 1948 war with a vengeance.

Even if things don’t go to such extremes, The current conflict is likely to put the final nail in the coffin of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.. The kibbutzim along the Gaza border have been socialist communes and some of the most tenacious bastions of the Israeli left. I know people from those kibbutzim who, after years of almost daily rocket attacks from Gaza, still clung to the hope of peace, like a religious cult. These kibbutzim have just been razed, and some of the last peacekeepers are murdered, their loved ones buried, or held hostage in Gaza. For example, Vivian Silver, a peace activist from Kibbutz Be’eri who for years has transported sick Gazans to Israeli hospitals, is missing and likely being held hostage in Gaza.

What has already happened cannot be undone. The dead cannot come back to life and personal traumas will never fully heal. But we must avoid a new escalation. Many of the region’s forces are currently led by irresponsible religious fanatics. Therefore, external forces must intervene to de-escalate the conflict. Anyone who wants peace must unequivocally condemn Hamas’ atrocities, pressure Hamas to immediately and unconditionally release all hostages And help deter Hezbollah and Iran from intervening. This would give Israelis a respite and a small ray of hope.

In second place, a coalition of volunteers – from the United States and the EU to Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority – should wrest responsibility for the Gaza Strip from Hamas, rebuild Gaza and at the same time, completely disarm Hamas and demilitarize the Gaza Strip.

The chances of these measures being carried out are slim. But after the recent horrors, most Israelis do not believe they can live with less.

This column appeared published in Guardian