The road they didn’t take

Thoughts of mortality, of committing thousands of young men and reservists to war, ought to trouble and concentrate the mind. Worrisome, then, are the loose lips of Israel’s top brass like Eli Yishai, who stated Saturday, “The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages”. Disconcerting too are the attitudes of Michael Ben-Ari, who stated he wants to see 2,000 killed in Gaza, and Gilad Sharon, son of Ariel, who wrote in The Jerusalem Post the following:

We need to flatten entire neighbourhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing.

Their detached attitude to combat, their blasé stance on the sanctity of life, the ease with which they would commit their nation to a war of destruction and desolation, is wicked, callous, and truly frightening. It can’t help but bring to mind, during this month in which we mark the conclusion of the First World War, Wilfred Owen’s take on the Binding of Isaac, “The Parable Of The Old Man And The Young”. After the angel of the Lord appears before Abraham and commands him to offer up “the Ram of Pride” over his threatened son, Owen’s verse takes a grim turn:

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,

And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Four years ago, Israel was on the verge of a ground war with Hamas and other militant organisations based in the Gaza Strip after a significant uptick in rocket attacks upon civilians living in the Negev. In the elections that followed Operation Cast Lead – which halted the shower of explosives, at a cost of thirteen dead Israelis and 700 Palestinian non-combatants – Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud gained fifteen more seats and formed a government opposed to peace, or to use the father Benzion’s adage, in favour of an accord that they must know the Palestinians would never accept.

To say that history is repeating itself, or is in danger of doing so, would be facetious and a little cheap. Yet the familiarity of the position Israel finds herself in – at war with Hamas once more, no closer to an agreement with the PLO, and weeks away from a general election – should certainly sharpen the focus of the Israeli voter and give them just cause to reflect on the Netanyahu administration’s failings.

Operation Pillar of Cloud and the preceding rocket fire substantiate two assertions in the immediate. First, the way in which Hamas has conducted itself since taking full control of Gaza in 2007 ought to finally confirm the sheer stupidity of the one-state solution as an answer the Palestinian question. It follows that if terror gangs like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad do not accept the idea of a Jewish state – their aim still being to “raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine”; the means the unsystematic killing of Israeli civilians or, failing that, the destruction of their homes and livelihoods – they are unlikely to find the idea of coexisting with Jews in a single state particularly agreeable.

Gaza’s chaotic condition should also reaffirm that while Ehud Barak mustn’t regret his decision to unilaterally withdraw in Lebanon in 2000, and nor ought those connected with the disengagement from Gaza in 2005 be overly penitent, to act in a similar way in the West Bank or the Golan would be foolish. The vacuums Israel created by scurrying out of those two theatres were filled by Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south, the result being years of borders skirmishes and missiles volleyed into Israel, necessitating additional military intervention on both fronts.

With this in mind, the path towards peace and stability has to lead to a negotiated end to the occupation of the West Bank, the result being two states for two people in one land. For Israel, arranging the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank would not only end the burden of military administration over a people who desire them not, but a considered, phased withdrawal would minimise the risk of that area becoming a staging ground for terror. The intent of any compact with the PLO – led by Mahmoud Abbas who is also President of the Palestinian National Authority – would also be to narrow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict down to an Israeli-Hamas struggle, at once giving the residents of Gaza incentive to shrug off Islamism and find a representative who will speak to Netanyahu across his oft-mentioned negotiating table.

And what of that table, which now rests in Netanyahu’s office, covered in a thick layer of dust? Four years ago, Abbas and Ehud Olmert were at least talking the months prior to Operation Cast Lead. Abbas recently went so far as to assert that in 2008, the two parties had “reached agreement on all the core issues”, adding, “I’m sure that if negotiations continued, within two months we would have reached an agreement” (though the Palestine Papers suggest the latter is a matter of disputation). Netanyahu, meanwhile, has not met with Abbas face-to-face since September 2010, when talks came to a halt over a failure to extend the freeze on settlement construction. Talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials in Jordan in January of this year came to nothing.

In many ways Mahmoud Abbas appears obstinate, part of the pre-‘48 generation of Palestinian leaders who have thus far failed to guide their people towards statehood. Yet contrary to Netanyahu’s protestations, while there is no partner for peace in Gaza, there evidently is one in Ramallah. His misdemeanours, his attempts to change the course of the peace process, are not fitting of the treatment he has received from the present administration, up to the point of being threatened with a coup d’état if he were to pursue the United Nations route any further. When it comes to the two-state solution, Netanyahu has wasted his second term in office, just as he blew away his first.

Israelis and Palestinians will discover perhaps as soon as today whether or not a ceasefire can be agreed right away. In its absence, and in order to bring some semblance of normality to the people of Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Be’er Sheva, the defence establishment may decide it has no choice but to give over the seed of Israel to another Gazan war. Such an action might very well bring calm for a time, as it has in the past, but in the long term this state of perpetual war with Hamas and perpetual occupation of the West Bank cannot beget peace. Thoughts of mortality ought to trouble and concentrate the mind. Consider then, if you will, the road not yet taken.

About the Author
Liam Hoare, a freelance writer on politics and literature, has written for The Atlantic, The Forward, and The Daily Beast