Aug 7th 2014

Will Netanyahu Seize The Moment?

by Alon Ben-Meir

 

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a retired professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He taught courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies for over 20 years.

There is a growing consensus among Israelis and Arabs that the Israel-Hamas war will end just like the 2009 and 2012 encounters. Hamas will declare victory by pointing out the casualties and pain inflicted on the Israelis and the likely limited relief it will obtain from the crippling blockade. Israel will be satisfied that Hamas’ military capability and infrastructure is destroyed or seriously degraded while leaving Hamas’ governing structure basically intact, as Netanyahu prefers the lesser of two evils—a weakened Hamas rather than the rise of a Jihadist authority in Gaza.

The status quo that existed before the war will gradually be restored, Hamas will rebuild its shattered forces, tunnels, and a new cache of rockets with greater sophistication, and Israel will prepare for the next round of fighting to keep Hamas at bay.

This scenario is sadder than sad; it projects hopelessness about the prospect of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and disregards the repeated heavy toll these mini-wars exact in destruction, death of innocent civilians, and human suffering, further deepening emotional scars and making peace ever more elusive.

Can this appalling scenario be avoided? What would it take, and by whom? The answer lies at the heart of two principle requirements:

Israel rightfully insists that Hamas must permanently renounce violence and disavow its stated objective to destroy Israel as a precondition to lifting the blockade; Hamas demands the lifting of the blockade to allow for the free flow of goods and travel as a precondition to any enduring ceasefire. Both demands are extraordinarily difficult to accept as neither is prepared to concede without meeting the other’s demand.

Both sides have agreed in the past on ceasefires, which met their objectives only in part. Unfortunately, the lull in hostilities during those periods was not utilized by either side to foster more sustainable peaceful relations.

Although Israel and Hamas view each other as mortal enemies, this war has forced them once again to recognize that neither can destroy the other, and they must now begin to moderate their religious or ideological narratives, necessitated by the changing circumstances. In reality, Israel can reoccupy Gaza and topple Hamas, but Netanyahu does not want, and wisely so, to assume the burden of administering the Strip and caring for nearly two million Palestinians without a viable exit strategy and without leaving behind sustainable calm. Equally, Hamas realized that firing over 3,000 rockets at Israel and its efforts to kill or kidnap Israelis has had little effect.

The fundamental difference in this war, however, may well change Israel’s and Hamas’ calculus:

Never before has Hamas been so strapped for funds and isolated. Egypt destroyed the tunnels leading to Gaza, virtually ending the flow of goods and depriving Hamas from collecting taxes, and closed the Rafah border crossing. Iran’s financial aid was reduced to a trickle, and the continuing Israeli blockade and the lack of financial and political support from the Arab states and the PA (with the exception of Qatar and Turkey) added immeasurably to Hamas’ woes.

All combined have left Hamas with no prospect of improving the conditions of its despairing populace to stem the growing public restiveness and discontent. With little left to lose, Hamas ignited a new crisis to shake up the status quo, hoping to change the dynamic of the conflict from which it could benefit, regardless of the risks involved.

Conversely, Netanyahu’s popularity has soared; public trust in his leadership has never been deeper. He has understood the limits of what Israel can do and shown restraint by rejecting calls from his right-wing political partners to expand the war beyond his stated objective—the destruction of the tunnels and Hamas’ infrastructure.

The question for Netanyahu is whether he would be willing to return to Gaza and “mow the lawn” again, and if that would secure Israel’s future despite the lack of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before he departs the political scene.

Netanyahu is a zealous ideologue who believes that Israel is not an occupying power and that the entire Holy Land, including the West Bank, is an inseparable part of the Jews’ existence and whose redemption is intertwined with the redemption of their land.

With this deep conviction, can Netanyahu change his position and take a historic leap of faith to work toward ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

I disagree with those who suggest that Netanyahu will never change his stripes. Many deeply ideological leaders before him have unexpectedly risen to the occasion to answer the call from their people and the international community for a drastic change.

Former Israeli Prime Ministers Begin and Sharon, de Klerk of South Africa, and Gorbachev of the former Soviet Union are some prominent leaders who unpredictably changed their political convictions and direction; Netanyahu himself had unpredictably accepted the Wye River Memorandum.

Netanyahu is a skilled and astute politician; he knows how to rally the people around him, is not deterred by obstacles, believes in himself, and is totally dedicated to Israel’s national security.

The time and circumstances in which he finds himself now place his deep ideological conviction against the unmitigated reality of the Palestinians. As a leader, he now realizes that the condition in which he finds himself provides him a pivotal moment in time that may not be repeated to seek an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As John F. Kennedy once said, “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

The current 72-hour ceasefire provides an opportunity for Netanyahu to demonstrate leadership, courage, and vision, and shift the onus entirely on Hamas and those countries critical of the blockade.

He should offer a complete lifting of the blockade in phases over a period of time (two to three years), provided that Hamas agrees to renounce violence and demilitarize Gaza. Hamas must also agree to the stationing of a robust international force to monitor the borders and PA security forces to supervise the crossings from Gaza into Israel and Egypt.

In addition, Hamas must adopt the Arab Peace Initiative, which would mean implicitly recognizing Israel and at the same time offering Hamas a face-saving way out.

Whether or not Hamas agrees to this Initiative, Netanyahu will emerge as a statesman who is ready to strike a deal that the whole world would embrace while achieving a remarkable feat without risking much, radically changing the outlook for the resumption of serious peace negotiations.

Ultimately, Israel’s long-term national security rests on ending the blockade and neutralizing the threat from the West Bank in particular by negotiating with any representative Palestinian government and ending the occupation under mutually accepted terms.

Netanyahu has served as Prime Minister longer than any of his predecessors, with the exception of Israel’s founder, David Ben-Gurion. Like any other leader, Netanyahu is surely thinking about his legacy and likely wants to be remembered as the prime minster who led his people to a lasting peace, rather than leaving Israel even more insecure and vulnerable.

Will Netanyahu seize the moment and give the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians the greatest gift—to live, grow and prosper together in peace?

Maybe I am a dreamer, but as Victor Hugo once observed: “There is nothing like a dream to create the future.”

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jul 4th 2024
EXTRACT: "Most American voters who believe that Trump is the best defender of democracy are not fascists, much less communists. The very thought would horrify them. But they almost surely have a strong opinion on who constitutes the true American people: God-fearing, hard-working, and most probably white. And they worry that these ordinary Americans are being displaced by illegal immigrants, and that their way of life is being threatened by new ideas about gender, race, and sexuality emerging from elite universities. Trump is stoking these fears and exaggerating these threats. His line that the US courts are attacking not only him, but every right-thinking American is horribly effective. Since he is heard as the true voice of the people, he is the purest democrat. As a result, liberal democracy might not withstand another four years of his rule."
Jul 3rd 2024
EXTRACT: "....the debate showed all too clearly that he is suffering cognitive decline and cannot possibly serve as a competent president for another four years. If Biden is true to his word, and stopping Trump from regaining the presidency is his overriding goal, he needs to announce that at the Democratic Convention in August, he will release his delegates from their obligation to vote for him, and instead ask them to vote for the candidate with the best chance of defeating Trump."
Jul 3rd 2024
EXTRACTS: "Both Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the United States Supreme Court have just announced grand opinions trying to resolve the fundamental constitutional issues raised by former President Donald Trump’s claim to absolute immunity" ---- "According to Sotomayor, who wrote for the three dissenting justices, Roberts’ sweeping grant of immunity has 'no firm grounding in constitutional text, history, or precedent.' ” ----- "For what it’s worth, I think that Sotomayor is right and Roberts is wrong." ----"But for now, it is much more important to consider the objection raised by Justice Amy Coney Barrett to both Roberts’ constitutional glorification of the presidency and Sotomayor’s devastating critique of Roberts’ majority opinion." ---- "Barrett is right to ask why Roberts and Sotomayor did not join her in adopting the problem-solving approach that they have repeatedly endorsed in many other contexts." ---- "Roberts took the path that not only betrayed Founding principles, as Sotomayor argued, but also betrayed the very principles to which he has dedicated his entire career. "
Jul 1st 2024
EXTRACTS: "Netanyahu’s disdainful criticism of Biden. Netanyahu knows how indispensable the US is to Israel, as no country has provided Israel with more financial, military, and political support than the US. And no American president has ever been more supportive and committed to Israel's security than President Biden. But then, leave it to the most loathsome Netanyahu, who dares to criticize the president for suspending the shipment specifically of 2,000-pound bombs to continue with his devastating bombardment of Rafah that could indiscriminately kill thousands of innocent civilians." ---- "All Israelis who care about their country’s future must rise and demand the immediate resignation of this corrupt and brazen creature who inflicted untold damage on the only Jewish state, making it a pariah state."
Jun 12th 2024
EXTRACTS: "One of the more amusing exercises on the economic calendar is the International Monetary Fund’s annual review of the United States. Yet while everyone knows that the US government pays absolutely no heed to what the IMF has to say about its affairs, the Fund’s most recent Article IV review of the US economy is striking for one unexpected finding. Readers will be startled to learn that, in the IMF’s estimation, US government debt is on a sustainable path." ---- "What then could go wrong? Well, US institutions could turn out not to be so strong. Donald Trump has a personal history of defaulting on his debts. As William Silber has observed, Trump in a second presidential term could instruct his Treasury secretary to suspend payments on the debt, and neither Congress nor the courts might be willing to do anything about it. The gambit would be appealing to Trump insofar as a third of US government debt is held by foreigners. The damage to the dollar’s safe-asset status would be severe, even if Congress, the courts, or a subsequent president reversed Trump’s suspension of debt payments. Investors in US Treasuries would demand a hefty risk premium, potentially causing the government’s interest payments to explode."
Jun 9th 2024
EXTRACT: "An all-too-familiar specter is haunting Europe, one that reliably appears every five years. As citizens head to the polls to elect a new European Parliament, observers are once again asking whether far-right anti-European parties will gain ground and unite to destroy the European Union from within. To be sure, skeptics of this doomsday scenario have always argued that the far right will remain divided, because nationalist internationalism is a contradiction in terms. But it is more likely that specific policy disagreements – mainly over the Ukraine war – and drastically diverging political strategies will prevent Europe’s various far-right parties from forming a 'supergroup.' ”
Jun 9th 2024
EXTRACT: "While the dreadful legacy of his Conservative predecessors – the morally vacuous Johnson and the reckless Liz Truss – would make it extremely difficult for Sunak to offer a credible vision of a better future, many of his current problems are self-inflicted. For example, he supported Johnson’s bid for the Conservative leadership, a decision that reflects poorly on his judgment. Sunak has also been a Euroskeptic since he was a schoolboy and was an early supporter of Brexit."
Jun 8th 2024
EXTRACTS: "Why are so many young people attracted to far-right politics? Polls show that 36% of French people aged 18-24 support Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, while roughly 31% in the Netherlands back Geert Wilders’s nationalist, anti-immigration ..... 26% of Americans aged 18-29 prefer former US President Donald Trump over the incumbent Joe Biden." ---- "Center-left parties had become increasingly associated with urban elites who benefited from a globalized economy in which immigrants provided cheap labor and well-educated cosmopolitans could seek financial profit or intellectual stimulation wherever they desired." ---- "Trump does not have to convince many young people to vote for him. If enough of them refuse to vote for Biden, either because he is too old, too conservative, or too pro-Israel, Trump could win November’s presidential election. If elected, he will continue to shatter the norms and wreck the institutions that allow democracy to function."
Apr 13th 2024
EXTRACT: "That said, even if Europe were to improve its deterrence capabilities, it would be unwise to assume that leaders necessarily make rational decisions. In her 1984 book The March of Folly, historian Barbara Tuchman observes that political leaders frequently act against their own interests. America’s disastrous wars in the Middle East, the Soviet Union’s ill-fated campaign in Afghanistan, and the ongoing war of blind hatred between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, with its potential to escalate into a larger regional conflict, are prime examples of such missteps. As Tuchman notes, the march of folly is never-ending. That is precisely why Europe must prepare itself for an era of heightened vigilance."
Apr 13th 2024
EXTRACTS: " Nathan Cofnas is a research fellow in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. His research is supported by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust. He is also a college research associate at Emmanuel College. Working at the intersection of science and philosophy, he has published several papers in leading peer-reviewed journals. He also writes popular articles and posts on Substack. In January, Cofnas published a post called “Why We Need to Talk about the Right’s Stupidity Problem.” No one at Cambridge seems to have been bothered by his argument that people on the political right have, on average, lower intelligence than those on the left." ---- "The academic world will be watching what happens. Were the University of Cambridge to dismiss Cofnas, it would sound a warning to students and academics everywhere: when it comes to controversial topics, even the world’s most renowned universities can no longer be relied upon to stand by their commitment to defend freedom of thought and discussion."
Apr 13th 2024
EXTRACTS: "Word has been sent down from on high that there is room for only “good stories of China.” Anyone who raises questions about problems, or even challenges, faces exclusion from the public sessions. That was certainly true for me." ----- " But my admiration for the Chinese people and the extraordinary transformation of China’s economy over the past 45 years persists. I still disagree with the consensus view in the West that the Chinese miracle was always doomed to fail. Moreover, I remain highly critical of America’s virulent Sinophobia, while maintaining the view that China faces serious structural growth challenges. And I continue to believe that US-China codependency offers a recipe for mutually beneficial conflict resolution. My agenda remains analytically driven, not politically motivated."
Apr 11th 2024
EXTRACTS: "The insurrection began just after 8 p.m. on November 8, 1923, when Hitler and his followers burst into a political rally and held the crowd hostage. ---- The Nazi attempt to seize power ended the following morning, ---- After two and a half days in hiding, Germany’s most wanted man was discovered ----- Hitler was charged with treason, and his trial began on February 26, 1924. ---- .....the judge, having found Hitler guilty, imposed the minimum sentence....That miscarriage of justice was facilitated by the trial’s location in the anti-democratic south, and by the role of the presiding judge, Georg Neithardt, a conservative who was happy to allow Hitler to use his court as a platform to attack the Republic. ----- Like Hitler in 1924, Trump is using the courtroom as a stage on which to present himself as the victim, arguing that a crooked 'deep state' is out to get him."
Apr 9th 2024
EXTRACTS: "If Kennedy’s emphasis on healing suggests someone who has been through “recovery,” that is because he has. Following the trauma of losing both his father and his uncle to assassins’ bullets, Kennedy battled, and ultimately overcame, an addiction to heroin. Like Kennedy, Shanahan also appears to be channeling personal affliction. She describes grappling with infertility, as well as the difficulties associated with raising her five-year-old daughter, Echo, who suffers from autism," ----- "Armed with paranoid conspiracy theories about America’s descent into chronic sickness, loneliness, and depression, Kennedy has heedlessly spread lies about the putative dangers of life-saving vaccines while mouthing platitudes about resilience and healing. To all appearances, he remains caught in a twisted fantasy that he just might be the one who will realize his father’s idealistic dreams of a better America."
Mar 18th 2024
EXTRACT: "....the UK’s current economic woes – falling exports, slowing growth, low productivity, high taxes, and strained public finances – underscore the urgency of confronting Brexit’s catastrophic consequences."
Mar 18th 2024
EXTRACTS: Most significant of all, Russia’s Black Sea fleet has suffered significant losses over the past two years. As a result of these Ukrainian successes, the Kremlin decided to relocate the Black Sea fleet from Sevastopol to Novorossiysk on the Russian mainland. Compare that with the situation prior to the annexation of Crimea in 2014 when Russia had a secure lease on the naval base of Sevastopol until 2042." --- "Ukrainian efforts have clearly demonstrated, however, that the Kremlin’s, and Putin’s personal, commitment may not be enough to secure Russia’s hold forever. Kyiv’s western partners would do well to remember that among the spreading gloom over the trajectory of the war."
Mar 8th 2024
EXTRACT: "As the saying goes, 'It’s the economy, stupid.' Trump’s proposed economic-policy agenda is now the greatest threat to economies and markets around the world."
Mar 8th 2024
EXTRACT: "Russia, of course, brought all these problems on itself. It most certainly is not winning the war, either militarily or on the economic front. Ukraine is recovering from the initial shock, and if robust foreign assistance continues, it will have an upper hand in the war of attrition."
Mar 8th 2024
EXTRACT: "...... with good timing and good luck, enabled Trump to defeat [in 2016] political icon Hillary Clinton in a race that appeared tailor-made for her. But contrary to what Trump might claim, his victory was extremely narrow. In fact, he lost the popular vote by 2.8 million votes – a larger margin than any other US president in history. Since then, Trump has proved toxic at the ballot box. " -----"The old wisdom that 'demographics is destiny' – coined by the French philosopher Auguste Comte – may well be more relevant to the outcome than it has been to any previous presidential election. "----- "Between the 2016 and 2024 elections, some 20 million older voters will have died, and about 32 million younger Americans will have reached voting age. Many young voters disdain both parties, and Republicans are actively recruiting (mostly white men) on college campuses. But the issues that are dearest to Gen Z’s heart – such as reproductive rights, democracy, and the environment – will keep most of them voting Democratic."
Mar 8th 2024
EXTRACTS: "How can America’s fundamentalist Christians be so enthusiastic about so thoroughly un-Christian a politician?" ---- "If you see and think outside the hermeneutic code of Christian fundamentalism, you might be forgiven for viewing Trump as a ruthless, wholly self-interested man intent on maximizing power, wealth, and carnal pleasure. What your spiritual blindness prevents you from seeing is how the Holy Spirit uses him – channeling the 'secret power of lawlessness,' as the Book of 2 Thessalonians describes it – to restrain the advent of ultimate evil, or to produce something immeasurably greater: the eschaton (end of history), when the messiah comes again."
Mar 1st 2024
EXTRACT: "The lesson is that laws and regulatory structures are critical to state activities that produce local-level benefits. If citizens are to push for reforms and interventions that increase efficiency, promote inclusion, and enable entrepreneurship, innovation, and long-term growth, they need to recognize this. The kind of effective civil society Nilekani envisions thus requires civic engagement, empowerment, and education, including an understanding of the rights and responsibilities implied by citizenship."