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Avi Gil
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Where was Israel’s political opposition all this time?

They criticized Netanyahu for not eradicating Hamas, but have presented no credible strategy to restore the Palestinian peace camp
Sitting from left to right: Outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz, outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid, outgoing Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar, and outgoing Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, at the swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)
Sitting from left to right: Outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz, outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid, outgoing Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar, and outgoing Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, at the swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Hamas has inflicted a heartbreaking disaster on Israel, and it is only natural that determining who was responsible for the terrible failure will not wait for the end of the military campaign. 

Sources close to the prime minister explain that the catastrophe is the sole responsibility of the IDF, while the opposition claims that it is Netanyahu’s policies that have failed miserably. The devastating reality confirms the opposition’s assertion. Indeed, the terrible tragedy cannot be understood in isolation from Netanyahu’s disastrous policies on the Palestinian issue. But is the Israeli opposition without culpability? Should it be allowed to disown its complicity in the same failed policies that laid the foundation for this debacle?

Signing on to the Oslo Accords 30 years ago sharpened the Palestinian divide between a camp willing to recognize Israel and live alongside it in peace, and a camp bent on the destruction of the Jewish state. Make no mistake, the Palestinian “peace camp” had no great love for the Zionist state, but it was ready to come to terms with reality and embark upon a path of compromise and coexistence. Implementation of the Oslo process was torpedoed by the vitriol of its opponents Palestinian and Israeli. Of course, they did not collaborate, but the results of their actions reinforced their mutual goal.

Hamas terror enabled opponents of the two-state solution to convince the Israeli public that “there was no Palestinian partner.” The Israeli settlement enterprise helped Hamas to ridicule the Palestinian Authority and accuse its leadership of “treacherous collaboration with the Israeli occupier.” The Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007 played into the hands of Israel’s right-wing flank seeking to thwart any Israeli-Palestinian compromise. They argued that it was not possible to negotiate and implement a settlement when the other party was so deeply divided. 

Hamas rule in Gaza has become an effective excuse for those who support annexation of the West Bank. The Palestinian split buys them precious time to establish facts on the ground that will make division of the land impossible. And here we are. Netanyahu’s campaign pledges to topple the Hamas regime turned out to be empty, and with the blessing of his government, the terror organization received a steady flow of financial support from Qatar. 

During the long years of Likud rule, no efforts were spared to weaken the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), despite his opposition to terrorism and his commitment to reconciliation. He was mocked and given humiliating nicknames by Israeli right-wingers, from “featherless chicken” to “Mayor of Ramallah.”

The Israeli opposition did nothing to stand up against this and offered no argument to convince Israelis that without a solution to the Palestinian conflict bloodshed would fill the vacuum. Netanyahu’s opponents on the left have settled for an untenable strategy of “conflict management,” an approach that eventually and inevitably leads to a binational reality and routine flare-ups of Hamas carnage. 

They criticized Netanyahu for not eradicating Hamas but presented no credible strategy to help restore the Palestinian peace camp. In fact, they laid out no convincing path forward, no political horizon based on “two states for two peoples” a vision that requires a halt to settlement activity beyond the settlement blocks adjacent to the 1967 line. 

The targeted killing of Hamas leaders and the demolition of Gaza apartment towers will certainly cause no erosion in the appeal of the Hamas agenda in the eyes of the Palestinian people. Only a reliable Israeli peace strategy would be able to tip the scales in the internal Palestinian debate and defeat the murderous ideology of Hamas. This challenge is huge and fraught with disappointment along the way, but there is no substitute for it.

In view of the enormous tragedy unfolding before our eyes, we cannot escape drawing conclusions, however painful they may be. The long-term empowerment of Hamas is encouraged both by those who work in Israel to thwart a compromise with the Palestinians and by those who have grown disillusioned that a solution is possible and have, therefore, resigned themselves to the Likud’s political trajectory. 

Netanyahu will not change his ways, but will Gantz, Lapid, and their supporters recalculate a strategic course and renew the pursuit of a two-state solution?

About the Author
Avi Gil, a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, is a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI). His novel Toronto Junction was recently published by 2sfarim Publishing.
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