Americans For Peace Now, a dovish pro-Israel organization affiliated with the Peace Now movement in Israel, issued an unrealistic and naive statement on January 8 that unintentionally plays into the hands of Hamas.
Calling for an “immediate ceasefire” in the Israel-Hamas war, it urged the Biden administration “to push” Israel to adopt and implement a truce now.
The statement, signed by its chairman, James Klutznick and released on the day U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel on his fifth visit since Hamas’ terrorist rampage on October 7, claimed that “the continuation of the war endangers Israel’s national interests, threatens to lead to a wider regional war, and has made Gaza utterly uninhabitable …”
Continuing in this vein, he said that this “devastating war poses unacceptable risks for Israel, Gazan civilians and the entire region.”
An immediate cessation of hostilities and a pivot from war to peacemaking,” he added, could lead to the release of Israeli and foreign hostages abduted by Hamas and lay the groundwork for peace through a negotiated two-state solution.
In advocating “an exit strategy” from the current war, Americans For Peace Now — a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations — became the first American Zionist group to endorse a ceasefire.
Until yesterday, only Arab, Palestinian, pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist Jewish organizations had demanded a truce, which at this point can benefit only Hamas, an Islamic fundamentalist outfit dedicated to Israel’s destruction.
In calling for a ceasefire, Americans For Peace Now claimed that Israel’s goal of eradicating Hamas “down to its last fighter is unattainable.”
It may be true that Israel cannot batter Hamas into complete submission. Hamas, after all, spent the last 17 years preparing itself for this war, the fifth since 2008.
But if given sufficient time, Israel is surely capable of achieving several crucial objectives — smashing Hamas’ military infrastructure, destroying its elaborate network of tunnels and rocket and weapons manufacturing facilities, killing its leaders and commanders, removing it as Gaza’s governing authority, and ensuring that it can never use Gaza as a base from which to threaten and attack Israel.
These objectives must be achieved if Israel is to be safe and secure and the traumatized residents of southern Israel can confidently return to their homes. If Israel cannot achieve this vitally important mission, Hamas — a proxy of Iran and an ally of Hezbollah — will be left standing and emboldened.
This will be a recipe for continual warfare, given Hamas’ frank and deeply disturbing acknowledgement of its blood thirsty intention to launch yet more attacks of the kind that resulted in the deaths of 1,200 Israelis and foreigners on October 7.
According to Israeli spokesman Daniel Hagari, Israel already has completed the dismantlement of Hamas’ “military framework” in northern Gaza and is currently focused on dismantling its forces in central and southern Gaza. These operations will require a lot more time, perhaps as much as a year or so. They cannot and should not be stopped in mid-course.
In addition, Israel is getting closer to wiping out Hamas’ rocketry capability. Hamas has so far launched 12,000 rockets at Israel.
Israel has paid a high price during its campaign, having lost 185 troops in combat until today. Yesterday alone, nine soldiers were killed, six of whom died when an explosive charge, designed to destroy a tunnel, detonated prematurely.
The mounting casualty toll is very disconcerting, especially to the parents of sons and daughters who have laid down their lives in defending Israel.
To be sure, Israelis are fighting for a just cause. But the war has weakened the resolve of some Israelis. As Nahum Barnea, a prominent Israeli journalist, wrote recently, “In the last three weeks, the war has not changed reality. It costs the lives of fighters, increases the danger of a humanitarian disaster for which Israel will be responsible, harms Israel in the world, and does not bring us closer to the victory that is not there.”
Israel’s great ally, the United States, has supported Israel militarily, politically and economically and defended its right to self-defence. But due to certain domestic constraints, President Joe Biden has asked Israel to transition to more surgical operations to find and kill Hamas leaders, destroy tunnels and military production centres, and free hostages.
Yesterday, during an appearance in South Carolina, Biden was heckled by pro-Palestinian protesters. In response, he said he was pressing Israel to scale back its ground and air offensive. “I understand their passion, and I’ve been quietly working with the Israeli government to get them to reduce and significantly get out of Gaza,” he said.
Out of deference to the United States, as Haragri noted, Israel has begun shifting to a more targeted phase in northern Gaza. But as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted on January 7, Israel intends to fight until “we achieve all our goals — eliminating Hamas, returning all of our hostages, and ensuring that Gaza will never again constitute a threat to Israel.”
Significantly enough, Netanyahu said this message was intended for “both our enemies and our friends.”
In his meeting with Blinken today, Netanyahu held fast to this policy.
Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told Blinken that Israel will intensify operations in the Khan Younis region until Hamas leaders are found and Israeli hostages are freed.
While Blinken concurred with Israel’s war aims and expressed strong support for Israel’s alliance with the United States, he voiced grave concerns about the high civilian death toll in Gaza, which has passed the 23,000 mark.
Blinken warned that the present conflict, which has spread to Israel’s border with Lebanon and sucked in Hezbollah, could “easily mestastasize” and embroil Syria, Yemen, Iraq and, possibly, Iran.
Blinken, too, told Netanyahu that Saudi Arabia is still interested in pursuing a normalization of relations with Israel, but that this will require a clear pathway toward Palestinian statehood, a proposition that Netanyahu fiercely opposes.
In the meantime, contrary to the unhelpful statement issued by Americans For Peace Now, Israel must keep fighting until Hamas is vanquished and Gaza is demilitarized.
Nothing less should be acceptable to Israel.