The genocidal barbarism of Hamas on October 7 made clear it must no longer rule Gaza. Israel had no choice but to use force to eliminate its capacity for terror. The idea Israel is conducting “genocide” for fighting a terrorist group explicitly committed to carrying one out, is a blood libel for our age and for it to be South Africa instigating this libel at the ICJ is a chutzpah.
As James Smith noted in the Atlantic, it was South Africa that facilitated Omar al-Bashir’s return to Sudan instead of arresting him for the Darfur genocide, as required by the ICC of which it is a member. Just days after submitting its application to the ICJ, President Ramaphosa welcomed to South Africa General Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, whose forces brutalized the innocents of Darfur.
Notwithstanding the sickening hypocrisy of Israel’s accusers at The Hague, the devastation in Gaza is undeniable. The destruction of basic infrastructure and housing exposes two million people to starvation and disease. It is Hamas, not Israel, that is ultimately responsible for this tragedy but Israel does have a moral and indeed strategic imperative to work with others to solve this humanitarian crisis on its doorstep.
The longer the war goes on, the harder it becomes to maintain international support for Israel’s actions, even from the staunchest of allies.
Hamas has been severely weakened but war alone will not eliminate its political hegemony in Gaza or, therefore, its capacity to carry out terror in the future.
To prevent Hamas from holding Israel and the region to ransom ever again, we need a viable alternative to Hamas and a plan to achieve it. Unfashionable as this proposition might be with Israel’s government and even much of its opposition, better rule for Gaza will only be sustainable if it is part of a coherent and legitimate peace plan with the Palestinian people, supported by a critical mass of Arab states. The idea that normalization can be achieved and sustained in the region, including with Saudi Arabia, without addressing the conflict with the Palestinians, or at any rate without a long-term vision to do so, is wishful thinking.
It is, in the understated words of a Downing Street spokesperson, “disappointing,” therefore, when Israel’s prime minister antagonizes allies by speaking out against a two-state solution and dismissing any vision of a post-war future that would be acceptable to them. It scores him points with coalition partners but risks hemorrhaging the international support Israel needs. Allies must be further dumbstruck at the spectacle of members of the government participating in a far-right conference calling for the resettlement of Gaza.
To talk about a two-state solution as a short-term possibility is naive. But carrying on as before is impossible – October 7 showed that “managing” rather than seeking to resolve the conflict has failed. A two-state solution, with all the security caveats, remains the only viable mechanism to achieve Palestinian self-determination. Simply lamenting that there are no Palestinians to work with will not make Israel more secure – identifying and encouraging potential Palestinian partners might. Recent polling of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem by the Institute for Social and Economic Progress, a Palestinian NGO, found support for a two-state solution at just over 50%, which would increase in the event of serious negotiations.
Deliberately antagonizing allies who have had Israel’s back or the more pragmatic regional states is reckless, demoralizing and irresponsible. Whatever happens in Gaza or for that matter the West Bank, Hezbollah will still threaten Israel from the north with hundreds of thousands of missiles and the capacity to breach the border, at the say-so of Iran. Israel needs international partners full square behind it, ready and willing to support it when action against Hezbollah is needed.
Israel is still in shock. It mourns for October’s victims and is in trauma for the more than 130 innocent people still held hostage in Gaza. Despite the high casualties among Israel’s soldiers, however, only one hostage has been freed as a direct result of military action. Dozens were freed in November because of a deal, legitimated by the overriding duty of a state to its civilian population and overwhelmingly supported by the Israeli public.
Weeks have since passed. Elderly and vulnerable Israelis remain in Hamas tunnels, their medical condition unknown. Young women remain hostage to rapists. Little wonder some family members are so desperate for a deal that they recently disrupted a Knesset committee session to demand one.
Their communities, failed by the state on October 7, continue to feel let down. Freedom from the terror of Hamas is a long-term objective – securing a deal to free hostages from the hands of rapists and murderers is an immediate and hopefully achievable priority, even if the cost of a deal in terms of releasing Palestinian prisoners is painful. Even if it would necessitate a pause or change in the nature of the military campaign, and even if it would be unpopular with the right-wing extremists who prop up Israel’s inept government.
But Israel’s government not only did not prevent this crisis, it seems unable to address the long-term strategic challenges laid bare by it, devoting its energy to short-term divisive politics, antagonizing allies and large sections of its own population.
The scale of the threat and the magnitude of the moment mean it is time for Israeli lawmakers to act with civic duty and find the courage to bring about better leadership.