David Lehrer

The new conception is alive and well

Since October 7th, Israeli politicians, press and the public in general have condemned those in Israel who created and promoted the “conception.” Many politicians who are now condemning the conception, are desperately pointing their fingers at other politicians, blaming them for the conception, even though, those who point fingers are often just as much to blame. Full disclosure, I too, bought into the narrative that “Hamas has evolved and is now more interested in jobs for Gazans than in attacking Israel.” We all must take full responsibility for that catastrophic delusion. The conception that Hamas was more interested in the economic development of Gaza than in destroying Israel was not the whole conception, held by most Israeli leaders from the right, center and left. The conception was embedded into an overall strategy developed by Netanyahu and his Likud party which became part of Israeli common wisdom.

“The establishment of the Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza, even if demilitarized, is a strategic threat to the State of Israel. Therefore, the establishment of such a state (the two-state solution) must be stopped at all costs. To achieve this goal, Gaza must be separated, not just physically, but politically, economically and socially from the West Bank. The political rivalry between Hamas and the PA should be promoted by delegitimizing Abu Mazen, leader of the PA, therefore delegitimizing the PA, and by strengthening and taming Hamas in Gaza through suitcases of cash from Qatar. As long as the West Bank and Gaza remain divided politically, economically and socially, the international community cannot put pressure on Israel to enter a political process which would lead to a two-state solution. Over time, Israel will use this tactic to widen and deepen the occupation in the West Bank, making a two-state solution irrelevant.”

The perception that Hamas had been “tamed” and the conflict “managed” was in some sense, proof that the strategy was working. A great example of “confirmation bias,” seeing what you want to see. The heinous attack by Hamas on innocent Israeli civilians on October 7th, destroyed the conception that Hamas could be managed by Israel, but it did not destroy the underlying conception that Palestinians can be managed by Israel. A new conception has arisen to take the place of the old conception which supports the maintenance of the separation between the West Bank and Gaza, preventing the development of a two-state solution. The replacement conception is that Israel can hand over civilian administration in Gaza to local Palestinian leadership who have no ties to Hamas and no loyalty to the PA. The government of Israel refuses to talk about “the day after” because they want to avoid at all costs the obvious solution of handing Gaza over to the PA. When push comes to shove, however, on the nightly news programs, coalition members and, often, opposition members mention local non-Hamas and non-PA connected leadership as the solution to civilian administration in Gaza once the intense fighting has stopped.

This solution for managing civilian affairs in Gaza is flawed. It is as flawed as Israel’s forced agreement with the Lebanese government in 1983, at the end of the First Lebanon War. It is as flawed as the US’s establishment of an Iraq Government at the end of the Second Gulf War or all the CIA attempts to set up US friendly regimes in Latin America. Israel cannot decide for another people, who are its leaders.

Through my work with the Arava Institute finding water and energy solutions for vulnerable communities in Gaza, I am in contact with over two dozen local Palestinian community leaders from NGOs and municipalities. It goes without saying, that none of my contacts in Gaza work for or support Hamas as far as I know. In general, I have found that the local Palestinian leadership in Gaza is very open to cooperation with Israelis (more so than West Bank Palestinians) and mostly just want to create a decent life for themselves and their families. They want an end to the blockade of “double use materials” which Israel, in coordination with Egypt, has imposed. They want economic development, adequate water quantity and quality, electricity 24/7 and not 8-16/7, adequate wastewater treatment and solid waste management, jobs, decent education, healthcare, security and perhaps most importantly, freedom of movement, especially between Gaza and the West Bank. Freedom of movement between Gaza and the West Bank is critical to Palestinians in Gaza because they have family and business relations in the West Bank. They have religious connections and cultural connections to Jerusalem, and places in the West Bank like Bethlehem and the Jordan River and their national identity is tied to their Palestinian sisters and brothers.

While there is not a lot of satisfaction with President Mahmoud Abbas and his government in Ramallah, most of the moderate local leaders in Gaza who I know see the Palestinian Authority as the legitimate government of Palestine. I do not know one of them who would agree to be part of a governing body in Gaza that was not authorized by the Palestinian Authority. I do not know one of them who would agree to be a part of an Israeli plan to separate Gaza and the West Bank. Such a plan would be seen as traitorous to the Palestinian people and to the dreams of Palestinian statehood. One of my colleagues from Gaza, with whom I was working on an industrial development project, said to me that he is totally in favor of working with Israelis on economic development in Gaza, but we should not mistake that willingness to cooperate as a sign that he has given up his dignity, his right to sovereignty and right to nationhood.

The new conception being nurtured by Israeli politicians that there is an alternative to the Palestinian Authority for governing Gaza “the day after” is just another Israeli delusion. Perhaps it is time to stop seeing what we want to see and start seeing what is right in front of us.

About the Author
Dr. Lehrer holds a PhD from the Geography and Environmental Development Department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a joint Masters Degree in Management Science from Boston University and Ben-Gurion University. Dr. Lehrer was the Executive Director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies from 2001 until August 2021 and has now become Director of the Center for Applied Environmental Diplomacy. Dr. Lehrer has been a member of Kibbutz Ketura since 1981.