Sherwin Pomerantz

 The 226th Day of War in Israel

Israeli forces have recovered the bodies of four Israeli hostages who were taken captive as they fled a music festival during the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, the IDF announced on Friday. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military spokesman, identified the bodies as those of Amit Buskila, Shani Louk, Yitzhak Gelernter and Ron Benjamin. He said Israeli troops had recovered the bodies during an operation in Gaza on Thursday night and Friday, but did not say where they were found. All three had attended the Tribe of Nova trance music festival on Oct. 7, where at least 360 people were killed, Admiral Hagari said. Roughly 125 living and dead hostages abducted on Oct. 7 remain in Gaza, according to the Israeli authorities.

Ms. Louk, a 23-year-old German-Israeli citizen, became a symbol of the brutality of the devastating attack. Shortly after Oct. 7, Hamas released a video of a woman lying face down, mostly naked, in the back of a pickup truck in Gaza. Based on the dreadlocks and tattoos, Ms. Louk’s mother said she believed it was her daughter.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with “the Arab Six” at the World Economic Forum in Riyadh a few weeks ago to discuss a “day after” plan for Gaza that includes the release of the hostages and the establishment of a Palestinian State, as reported by Al-Ahkbar, a Hezbollah-affiliated media outlet. The “Arab Six” includes Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the Emirates, Qatar, and the Palestinian Authority (PA). The plan would require a ceasefire in the Gaza war, the return of hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, the return of the Palestinian Authority to the Gaza Strip, and the establishment of a “technocratic government” consisting of PA members and a committee. According to some reports, Israel has offered the PA oversight of the Rafah crossing, but the PA refused.

The second phase includes normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel, a process that was in its initial phase before the war began on October 7th. In addition, Gaza would undergo full reconstruction in this phase, and Israel and the Palestinians would reach agreements about the status of refugees and Palestinian territories with the implementation of a two-state solution. Also, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) would be revitalized, the Palestinian factions would be reconciled, and a demilitarized Hamas would join the Palestinian unity coalition.

In February, Sky News Arabia reported that Hamas gave an initial agreement to the formation of a technocratic government for Gaza after the war and said it was open to joining the PLO. At the Arab League Summit, the king of Bahrain, the host country, called for a Mideast peace conference and the establishment of a Palestinian State. However, the Israeli cabinet rejected a UN Palestinian statehood resolution last week.

“No reward will be given for the terrible massacre of Oct. 7, which 80% of the Palestinians, both in the West Bank and in Gaza, support,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who initiated the proposal. “We will not allow them to establish a terrorist state from which they can attack us even more,” he added.

Israeli government minister without portfolio Benny Gantz said he would leave the government by June 8 unless a post-war 6-point plan for Gaza is implemented.  Gantz accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of being more concerned with personal and political considerations than with Israel’s security.

Gantz gave an ultimatum that he will leave the government if the following six conditions aren’t fulfilled by June 8th.

  1. The return of the hostages.
  2. The defeat of Hamas and the demilitarization of Gaza.
  3. Creating a governing body for Gaza that would be a coalition of US, European, moderate Arab, and non-Hamas and non-Fatah Palestinians.
  4. Return of evacuees to their northern communities by September 1st and the reconstruction of the western Negev.
  5. Taking steps towards normalization with Saudi Arabia, including moving towards a “treaty with the free world and Arab countries against Iran.”
  6. Adopting a proposal for standardized national service that will enable all Israelis to “serve the country and contribute to the highest national goals.”

After outlining the six criteria, Gantz said (about PM Netanyahu), “If you choose to lead the nation to the abyss, we will withdraw from the government, turn to the people, and form a government that can bring about a real victory. Prime Minister Netanyahu, I look you in the eye this evening and say – the choice is in your hands,” Gantz said. He added, “After speaking to you repeatedly, the moment of truth has arrived … I have known you for many years as a leader and Israeli patriot – you know very well what needs to be done.”

Finance Minister and Chairman of the Religious Zionism party Bezalel Smotrich called for a permanent presence of the IDF in the entire Gaza Strip, total military occupation of the city of Rafah, and called on Prime Minister Netanyahu to issue an ultimatum to Hezbollah to stop firing on the North. He made this statement at a party meeting in the North, where he called on Netanyahu to set a long-term security policy that would guarantee Israel’s security and victory. He also called for an immediate completion of the operation along the Philadelphi Corridor and total occupation of the whole city of Rafah. He argues that this “Is to prevent the continued smuggling from Egypt to Hamas and to cut off the lifeline to the terrorists.” The only problem with this approach is that the population of Israel is overwhelmingly again reoccupying Gaza.

Regarding the northern border with Lebanon, Smotrich called on the prime minister to issue an ultimatum to Hezbollah to completely stop firing at northern Israel and to “withdraw all its forces beyond the Litani River.” Should Hezbollah continue to fire after such an ultimatum, Smotrich stated that the IDF should launch a defensive attack deep in Lebanese territory, including a ground entry and an Israeli military takeover of southern Lebanon. In response to Smotrich’s statements, Yisrael Beytenu MK Avigdor Liberman asked which IDF soldiers would be fulfilling these duties. At least he realizes that we don’t have the resources to fight two major wars simultaneously.

Sadly civil unrest in Israel seems to be gaining momentum as there are, once again, large demonstrations throughout the country, most demanding the return of the hostages and the resignation of PM Netanyahu. Saturday night saw a massive outpouring of people in Tel Aviv and smaller but just a vehement occurrences countrywide.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 32 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Former Chairperson of the Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.
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