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Emanuel Shahaf

Into the Abyss

While the war with Hamas and to some extent, with the Palestinians in general continues for two months already, there still is frighteningly little introspection regarding how we got there in the first place, nor where we are heading. Other than analyzing how the IDF could get it so wrong, painting Hamas a Nazi (or Daesh) organization and reminding everyone (for the umpteenth time) that PA President Abu Mazen’s Phd thesis from 41 years ago was pure holocaust denial, precious little is done to put things into a realistic perspective. We are hurting too much from the terrible massacre inflicted on us by Hamas on October 7th.

What is making introspection difficult is the fact that part of our government has been hjacked by right wing extremists who 24/7 reinforce all the emotional responses that swell up when things go South, primarily fear, hate and racism. We have now arrived at a reality where perfectly sensible, balanced and educated persons, some even with center left underpinnings, some retired senior officers and former senior civil servants, parliamentarians or even members of the government, recommend extremist, racist and patently illegal measures to be taken against the civilian Palestinian population in Gaza. At the same time we remain stuck to our narrative which reinforces our victimhood and punishes anyone with wayward thoughts. Empathy with enemy civilians is avoided like the plague, humanitarian considerations are ignored and those (few) of us who dare to speak up are either vilified in public or even persecuted by the authorities. Not a great background on which we could move ahead into safer territory but move ahead we must.

Any rational person analyzing the recent past must come to the conclusion that one of the reasons we were precariously galavanting along the abyss until Hamas came along and pushed us in, was that for years there have been no talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Other than ongoing minimalist security cooperation which made the Palestinian Authority (PA) Israel’s security subcontractor and occasional meetings of low and mid-level professionals regarding water, electricity, sewage, finance and customs issues, there were no negotiations of consequence regarding a common political future. You may ask, why common future? Because it certainly will be a common future regardless what exactly the arrangement with the Palestinians will be.

Unfortunately, for years Israel has simply ignored the basic fact that we and the Palestinians do have a joint future and the issue is not if we have it but how it will look. We have been making every effort in the book to deny that the future is common, that sharing it is inevitable while at the same time making every effort and then some to destroy the two-state scenario in favor of a one-state reality. Every positive sign or development regarding our shared life, not that there were many, was diminished, willfully misinterpreted, laughed off, denied or simply ignored in favor of a Jewish supremacy reality. “We will always have to live by the sword” became the misconception, no, the ideal because it permitted us to do whatever we damn wanted to do wherever we wanted to do it. And wielding the sword wasn’t really such a big deal, we became really good at it and in time it even became a great business proposition with all the world-wide military and security sales it generated. Want to build another settlement or two? No problem. Want to remove some Palestinian population for “security reasons”? Go right ahead. Want to provide some more cheap labor to the Israeli market? Here are 20,000 more work permits. Want to lower the heat under the simmering pot in Gaza? Give Hamas another 5,000 permits and everything will be just fine.

We did whatever we wanted to do and could get away with. And the Palestinian leadership, both in the PA and that of Hamas in Gaza cooperated because it served their purposes. The corrupt PA got paid its due, even with some deductions and radical Hamas got paid off handsomely by Qatar with Israel’s wholehearted collusion and support. The Palestinian population was thrown under the bus, too weak to rise up, just trying to stay alive. Surprised that so many Palestinians support what happened on Oct. 7?

Well, I hope our miserable government has taken notice: No more. If anyone thinks we can continue running the show the way we did – he/she better take notice. No more “ignorance is bliss.” If this government thinks it will be possible to continue pounding Gaza into oblivion without serious consequences, there is another abyss waiting for us. If this government thinks it can deal with Gaza and leave the West Bank cooking, that won’t work this time around: Neither the West Bank Palestinians nor the international community will let us get away with it. And President Biden has at least another year to make Israel really miserable if we don’t act on US recommendations: Withholding UN vetoes and even more drastic measures could be an unpleasant result of continued Israeli intransigence.

We have to come up with a plan how we want Israel/Palestine to look. We can live with a temporary arrangement as long as it doesn’t include an occupation. Whatever we do has to enable shared living so we can actually learn to share the land without the constant friction of wanting to take it away from each other. Let what happened on October 7th be the final lesson to drive it home: We cannot continue like we did until now.

Hussein Ibish a US-Lebanese ME researcher wrote: Terrorist and insurgent groups resort to spectacular violence to provoke an irrational response: “They know that the harm they can do to the dominant power is limited, they understand that the harm that the dominant power can do to itself is infinitely greater.”

We better take notice.

About the Author
The author served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is Vice Chairman of the Israel-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce, Vice-Chairman of the Israeli-German Society (IDG), Co-Chair of the Federation Movement (www.federation.org.il), member of the council at israelimovement.co.il and author of "Identity: The Quest for Israel's Future".