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The hour urgently demands new leadership

Fig leaves perform a useful function in art in that they camouflage certain parts of the anatomy. Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, the two erstwhile Israeli opposition parliamentarians whose Knesset faction joined the government after Oct. 7, acted as de facto fig leaves for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu until their recent resignation over his handling of the war and refusal to even contemplate its aftermath. Their departure leaves Netanyahu exposed as the proverbial emperor with no clothes who is publicly held by the aforesaid certain parts of the anatomy by the extremists who hold the balance of power in his ultranationalist coalition.

What could possibly go wrong?

Once again, an intransigent Hamas leadership is saving the hapless Netanyahu from himself, at least in the short term. The Palestinian terrorist organization and Netanyahu share a common interest: neither wants the war to end or even be put on a prolonged hiatus because both realize that they are unlikely to remain in power following any kind of a “deal.”

But sooner or later, those Arab governments capable of exerting any influence over the Hamas thugs in Gaza and Doha may ultimately succeed in forcing them to agree to some kind of a deal, in which case Netanyahu will be forced to make make a politically existential decision.

He can agree to and claim credit for such a development, which he knows is almost certain to result in the collapse of his government, or he can try to weasel out of it for wholly specious reasons (“I never agreed to a comma in the third sentence of the fifth paragraph”). Even money on the latter scenario.

The problem is that Netanyahu and the Hamas leadership are very much like the couple that married beneath each other. Both are engaged in the real-life version of a video game, only here the casualties, the deaths are anything but virtual. According to one recent report, Hamas warlord Yahya Sinwar considers the thousands of Palestinian civilian casualties in the Israel-Hamas war to be “necessary sacrifices.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s modern-day fascisti (note that I didn’t use the term “Nazi”) coalition partners Internal Security Minister Itamar Ben- Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich regularly threaten to topple the government if Netanyahu were to agree to any kind of an arrangement that has the potential of freeing at least some of the remaining hostages and bringing about at least a respite from the continued bloodshed if not an actual ceasefire.

All this merely highlights the obvious: both Netanyahu and Hamas see a prolonged war as their best way of remaining in power, their lifeline, as it were, regardless of any cost.

Accordingly, neither Netanyahu nor the Hamas leaders will ever be credible interlocutors in any complex and highly sensitive process that might, just might, lead to what President Biden refers to as “a durable end to this war.”

By this, Biden means a process “that brings all the hostages home, ensures Israel’s security, creates a better “day after” in Gaza without Hamas in power, and sets the stage for a political settlement that provides a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken are fully aware of the shark-infested waters through which they are trying to navigate. And Republican armchair quarterbacks like former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley who exploit the situation for crass domestic political reasons aren’t making things any easier. Neither are the rabidly anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and in large part blatantly antisemitic demonstrators around the globe who vilify not just Netanyahu’s government policies but Israel as a whole and at the same time give Hamas a free pass.

I don’t claim to have any easy idea of how best to proceed. I don’t think anyone does. But it is clear, at least to me and probably to most people, that the status quo is a recipe for disaster on all fronts. Both Israelis and Palestinians desperately need new leaders who at the very least will be prepared to speak with and, even more importantly, listen to one another. On the Israeli side, that could be Gantz or Eisenkot or opposition leader Yair Lapid. On the Palestinian side, Marwan Barghouti, who has been in an Israeli jail for 22 years, or the exiled Mohammed Dahlan, who has long been considered a potential successor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, comes to mind.

Both Barghouti and Dahlan are Palestinian nationalists, and neither will ever be a candidate for membership in the Likud Central Committee. But then again, Gantz, Eisenkot and Lapid are on the center-right of Israel’s political spectrum – Gantz and Eizenkot are former chiefs of staff of the Israel Defense Forces and Gantz served as the country’s defense minister.

Gantz is now proposing a year-long ceasefire in Gaza that would enable the hostages to be brought home. I’m not holding my breath, but it is at least possible that a handful of Likud Knesset members, or someone like Aryeh Deri, the chairperson of the occasionally more moderate ultra-orthodox Shas Party, will actually listen to what Gantz has to say and seriously contemplate the possibility of having someone other than Netanyahu at Israel’s helm.

After the Oct. 7 carnage perpetrated by Hamas, after more than eight months of a brutal war in which Palestinian civilians have been displaced and killed and in which Israeli soldiers have died trying to free at least some of the hostages held captive by Hamas, the possible options remain as unchanged as they are limited.

The declared Hamas goal – the genocidal elimination of the Sate of Israel and its more than seven million Jewish inhabitants – is a non-starter, as is any permanent Israeli military or even civilian domination over the Palestinians in Gaza and on the West Bank. The utopian vision of a single binational state with Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, and Palestinians coexisting together in the same body politic is similarly unrealistic. Which leaves some form of a “two state solution” that would enable Israel and the Palestinians to live separately alongside one another as the only viable way forward.

Just as the initial stages of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process required the likes of former Israeli prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Olmert, and Ehud Barak, and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni who were willing to interact seriously with Palestinian leaders starting with Yaser Arafat, the present critical hour demands leaders on both sides who are prepared to come up with fresh ideas that could lead Israelis and Palestinians away from a cycle of perpetual war. Perhaps, just perhaps, Benny Gantz will be able to fill that role for Israel.

About the Author
Adjunct professor of law at Cornell Law School and lecturer-in-law at Columbia Law School.
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