We are four days into a ‘pause’ in the fighting – the euphemism for a ‘cease-fire’ that, according to reliable news reports, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has worked assiduously to prevent for four weeks. The pause may end perhaps just after I hit ‘send’ on this article or it may extend for a further, undetermined, period. For anyone who dreads how many more than 5,000 children will die, the pause is a godsend. Logically, Hamas should also want the pause to transition into a long term cease fire, as it has already won the propaganda war by surprising and overwhelming the seemingly invincible Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and provoking Israel into unleashing a vengeful bloodbath that has undermined both its reputation worldwide and its hope of better relations with the Arab world. Hamas has rescued the Palestinian cause from oblivion. Let’s hope Hamas rests on its laurels. The U.S. and the rest of the civilized world also need a cease fire, even more desperately than anyone else. We are sincerely horrified at the carnage. Equally important, a cease fire rescues those western leaders whose original full-throated support of Israel unleashed a frenzy of revenge-taking, and, inevitably, a damaging domestic political backlash. They are slowly coming to understand that neglecting the Palestinian issue has failed, and that it is in the world’s interest to find a permanent practical solution quickly.
If one reads Israeli official statements, especially what Netanyahu says, Israel is straining at the bit to resume fighting and accomplish its declared objective of eradicating Hamas, root and branch, from Gaza. Netanyahu fears jail if he loses his job while the Israeli security forces leadership need to cover up the disastrous intelligence failure and shambolic counterattacks that reportedly accidentally killed many Israelis on October 7. On the other hand, the IDF command knows that the Israeli ground forces are simply not capable of fighting Hamas in the rubble and the tunnels. The IDF has spent the last 50 to 60 years on occupation duty. Manning roadblocks, harassing Palestinian civilians, and protecting settlers would undermine the fighting spirit and professional competence of any army. The relatively few Israeli casualties (about 70) indicate that Israeli ground forces have avoided ground battle with Hamas, preferring to rumble past the rubble in tanks and armored carriers rather than dismounting. They fear a repeat of the humiliation they suffered at the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006; the Israeli Αir Force devastated the Lebanese civilian economy while Hezbollah decimated Israeli ground forces enervated by years of occupation duties. Israel gave itself another black eye when Egypt rebuffed an Israeli demand to accept two million Palestinians the IDF planned to expel from Gaza.
Even if the fighting resumes, Hamas has trapped Israel. The Israelis must choose between continuing the fighting, killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians and hundreds if not thousands of their own soldiers, without a hope of eradicating Hamas. Or, they can declare victory and withdraw. Either way, Hamas wins. Hamas will justify the civilian losses because they put the Palestinian issue back on top of diplomatic inboxes all over the world. The Israelis are trapped between looking like war criminals or looking like losers.
And then what happens? No matter how long the fighting continues, Hamas has upended the status quo. It has become clear that the Israeli occupation, that the U.S. and other western countries had deluded themselves could go on forever, has failed. The Palestinians will neither accept being treated as the Helots of ancient Sparta nor self-expel from what is left of their ancestral homeland. Nor can the U.S. and the Israelis count on the oil-and-gas rich Arab countries of the Persian Gulf to bankroll, for the umpteenth time, the rebuilding of a Gaza Strip shattered by Israeli warplanes with no guarantee that we won’t come around with a tin cup a few years hence.
Many friends in the Gulf tell me that they will reach for their checkbooks only if Israel and the United States agree that the occupation will end, and that an independent and sovereign Palestinian state establishes itself. If not, the American taxpayer gets stuck with the bill. Does any reader believe that even the most fervent friends of Israel in Congress will support several hundred billion in reconstruction funds? Nor is there any hope that Washington and Jerusalem can entice more Arab states into ‘normalizing’ with Israel, the ill-fated Abraham Accords, without a real progress towards a real solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This means a real solution and not the farce of the ‘Peace-Process’ ballyhooed by several American administrations for so many years.
How exactly this will develop remains unclear. The Israelis and Palestinians, as this column has repeatedly pointed out, are too immersed in mutual hatred and unreconcilable redline demands to have even a ghost of a chance of working it out on their own. The United States is the only force that has the capacity to mobilize the international support needed to force the two sides to agree. The best idea floated so far has been for President Biden to secure a UN Security Council resolution bringing occupied Palestine under an international protectorate, overseen by an international force, while we work out the details of a permanent solution.
There are probably lots of other good ideas out there. Any and all of those ideas demand that the world, as well as the Israelis and Palestinians, recognize that the status quo that prevailed since 1967 is dead before they can be implemented. Keeping the pause – or whatever name we call it – permanent would be a wonderful first step.