Some of the commentators who support Israel’s bombing and invasion of Gaza have been incredulously asking what those who have been calling for a cease-fire suggest Israel do instead of pursuing military action.
The first and most important thing Israel should do is put grownups in charge of its government. To that end, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must step down immediately. In fact, Israel’s entire Kahanist led government is an affront to human decency and must go along with him. Men like Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who think Arabs deserve “differentiated rights” or his partner in crime Minister for National Security Itamar Ben Gvir, have no place in government. Not only did their incompetent clown show lead to Israel’s greatest security failure in fifty years, but they are clearly not the sort of men who should be formulating its plans to stabilize Gaza after the fighting stops. If these men had any decency, they would have resigned within a week of Hamas’ attack, once the immediate emergency had passed.
Thankfully, recent polls suggest Netanyahu's days are numbered. The question then becomes, who will take over? And what sort of policies will they implement? The problem is the Israeli electorate has shifted so far to the right; they are unlikely to choose leaders capable of addressing the root of Israel’s problems, the occupation of the West Bank. If Israel really wants to address the situation in Gaza, it needs to bring peace to the West Bank first.
The most logical way to do that is to incorporate it into Israel and finally do away with the fiction of the Green Line. The Green Line, the Palestinian Authority and the administrative absurdities built around them are all meant to obscure the fact that Israel is the controlling political and military authority over the West Bank. Admitting the two-state solution is dead and officially incorporating the West Bank into Israel so its citizens can enjoy equal rights and have a fair say in running the government that rules them represents Israel’s most logical path to peace.
Alternatively, forcing the roughly 450,000 Israeli settlers currently living there to relocate back across the Green Line or become citizens of a new Palestinian state would also work. In either case, it is time to dismantle Israel’s apartheid regime and give the Palestinians of the West Bank their freedom.
Sadly, none of this will happen anytime soon since most Israelis would strongly oppose such measures. In the absence of a long-term solution, the least Israel’s leaders can do is stop trying to set the West Bank on fire. Stop murdering the Palestinians who live there. Stop using flimsy legal excuses to seize their property. Stop arresting them arbitrarily and then torturing them or holding them without trial or due process. Protecting them from the settlers who have been attacking and killing them would be nice too. By just doing the basic things a government is supposed to do for the people it rules and treating them the same regardless of their religion or ethnicity, Israel would make significant progress towards peace.
Sometimes, the bad guys get away with it. Despite the stench, negotiating with Hamas is Israel’s best option.
Of course, the question was directed towards the current situation in Gaza, not long-term fixes. Even here, the solutions are not terribly complicated. For starters, Israel must stop killing women and children. It should also stop attacking hospitals, even if Hamas is using them to store weapons. Instead, its medical personnel should be working to keep Gaza’s hospitals operational so they can begin treating the staggering number of innocents wounded by its indiscriminate bombing and shelling. Israel’s military is now responsible for the well-being of the civilians who have been hurt or displaced due to its attacks and must therefore provide them with food, temporary shelter, and medical care. It will also need to start digging out the dead and giving them proper burials.
Once it stabilizes the humanitarian situation, it should start talking to Hamas’ leaders about a long-term peace deal. Many will find this sentiment revolting, but it is Israel’s least bad option. Those who refuse to contemplate such a course of action on the basis that Hamas’ leaders must be punished would do well to remember that life is rarely fair.
America massacred millions in Vietnam and none of the elected officials responsible went to jail. George Bush fabricated evidence to justify starting a war that killed or displaced millions and gets to spend his retirement finger painting. Dick Cheney got rich from that same war and gets to spend his retirement in luxury too. Dozens of women accused Deshaun Watson of sexual assault and he was rewarded with a $230 million payday. Sometimes, the bad guys get away with it. Despite the stench, negotiating with Hamas is Israel’s best option.
The alternative is re-occupying Gaza. As Israel’s experiences in Lebanon and America’s experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan show, military occupations do not always go according to plan. As explained here in more detail, a comparison of America’s successful occupations of Germany and Japan versus its unsuccessful ones in Iraq and Afghanistan shows troop levels play an important role in the outcome. America stationed 1 soldier in West Germany for every 31.8 civilians but only 1 for every 8,640 Afghans. Providing a force comparable to the one that secured West Germany for Gaza would take almost 72,000 troops. Israel simply does not have the manpower to occupy Gaza over the long run while it simultaneously occupies the West Bank and remains on heightened alert in the north. Doing so would strain its manpower reserves while breaking its economy in the process.
Even with its minimal resistance, Hamas has been killing an average of fifteen to twenty Israeli soldiers a week, putting it on pace to kill as many as 1,000 a year. That’s roughly the same number of dead Israel suffered during its entire eighteen-year occupation of Lebanon.
Much like their counterparts in America’s military, the IDF’s officers are too busy winning every battle and counting bodies to consider these long-term issues. From their perspective, the invasion has gone smoothly and there is no need to worry. But that is partially because Hamas has yet to fully engage its forces. Much like the Taliban in the face of America’s onslaught, its fighters have mostly melted away. Rather than take on Israel’s deadly Merkava battle tanks, Hamas has wisely decided to conserve its strength.
If this is the case, it is a shrewd tactical decision that indicates Hamas is playing the long game or possibly even baiting Israel into a trap. How long of a game will become more apparent once the IDF moves south and spreads itself thin securing all of Gaza. At that point, we could easily see an uptick in attacks. When the Taliban withdrew, it was a rushed decision made without the luxury of preparation, so it took them several years to rebuild. If this was part of Hamas’ plan from the beginning, then the timeframe will work differently and there will be an increased tempo in attacks sooner than later.
Even with its minimal resistance, Hamas has been killing an average of fifteen to twenty Israeli soldiers a week, putting it on pace to kill as many as 1,000 a year. That’s roughly the same number of dead Israel suffered during its entire eighteen-year occupation of Lebanon. This also suggests a military occupation of Gaza will not end well for Israel. Hamas will either continue to mimic the Taliban by returning to power stronger than ever or Israel will find itself fighting a mutated version of its old enemy in the same way Al Qaeda gave way to ISIS. In either case, these enemies will be deadlier and better armed. The only real questions are how long and how many will die in the process.
While the depressingly familiar story of Israel’s occupation is playing out, America will be burying itself in even more debt and suffering even more political and economic instability as a result. America’s days of riding to the rescue are slowly coming to an end. Which means Israel is currently at the zenith of its power and the time to come to terms with Hamas has never been better. That requires dialogue. If America had talked to the moderate elements within the Taliban or the Ba’ath party, things might have turned out very differently in Afghanistan and Iraq. So, as crazy as it sounds, Israel should try to talk to Hamas.
Instead of talking, the IDF has expressed a strong preference for killing Hamas’ current leadership. Much like killing the boss of a Mexican drug cartel, this strategy will only cause Hamas to fracture into smaller factions, not destroy it. Keeping its leaders alive is the only way to make sure there are people across the table with the authority to make and enforce a deal.
For such a dialogue to work, Hamas’ leaders will need to finally accept the reality of their situation. Their allies in Iran and Lebanon have abandoned them. They do not have the air defenses to protect themselves from the Israeli Air Force and therefore refused to join the fight. The larger war Hamas hoped to start has failed to materialize. No one is coming to save them.
Despite their many missteps and horrible choices, men clever enough to survive a foe as deadly as Israel for so many years cannot be so delusional as to think they can really take back the entirety of Palestine or inflict a lasting military defeat on Israel.
The fact that Hamas’ leaders thought starting a larger war was feasible highlights the flawed logic that has always guided their thought process, casting doubt on whether negotiating with them is even worth the time. Despite these substantial hurdles, diplomacy must always be the first choice. One can only hope seeing so many of the women and children under their care torn to pieces or crushed under massive piles of rubble has finally brought home the senselessness of their struggle.
From a moral perspective, Hamas’ continued armed struggle against Israel was no longer justified once it withdrew from Gaza. The minute the IDF and the settlers left, its fighters should have thrown their rifles on the ground and worked towards building a real future for themselves on the little sliver of land they had left. They should have turned Gaza into the next Singapore. Instead, they chose violence. And they chose it in pursuit of a totally unrealistic goal.
Despite their many missteps and horrible choices, men clever enough to survive a foe as deadly as Israel for so many years cannot be so delusional as to think they can really take back the entirety of Palestine or inflict a lasting military defeat on Israel. As the author suggested several years ago, surrender has long been Hamas’ best course of action. For any peace deal to work, Hamas would need to give up its weapons and promise to stop attacking Israel. Making such an offer, in exchange for their lives, genuine independence, freedom of movement for Gazans and an end to the siege is their best option.
Their crucial mistake was thinking Israel’s political dysfunction was a weakness they could exploit. Its leaders failed to realize that attacking an enemy when it is suffering internal turmoil only breaks the will to fight if you manage to deliver a knockout blow. Anything short of that will only bring the enemy together. The anger and frustration that had previously been directed inwards now finds a more wrathful expression outwards, and Gaza’s poor neighborhoods are turned to dust as a result.
Though their blend of innovative tactics and savagery allowed them to launch a brutal attack on October 7th, a knockout blow of the sort required was never a possibility given Hamas’ relatively weak arsenal of weapons. Launching their attack therefore represents not just a catastrophic moral failure but a strategic one as well. Which is not a coincidence. It is an often overlooked connection, but a truly effective strategy must always be grounded in good morals and decency. Not coincidentally, Israel has failed to subdue the Palestinians because its strategies have also failed to appreciate this connection.
The greater intensity of this latest cycle of violence and the massive number of casualties vividly illustrates the desperate need for peace. A continuation of the status quo is not sustainable. It will only result in death and despair for everyone. Which is why both Israel and Hamas should be talking, not fighting.