Sat 11 Nov 2023 3:41 pm - Jerusalem Time

Hebrew Press: There is one solution to end the war, but Netanyahu has other plans

By Ebal Giladi

After 4 weeks of difficult war, while the army is besieging Gaza and effectively dismantling the structures affiliated with Hamas, the Israeli government has not succeeded in agreeing on its policy regarding the day after the war. 

This matter is of utmost importance, because the steps of war are derived from its strategic goal. The military does not operate in a vacuum, and its operations must be supported, even as they strengthen policies for the day after the war. There is no agreement on these policies, and therefore, the main battle is taking place in Jerusalem, not in Gaza.

The Israeli government has three options after it decided to dismantle Hamas and its military force:

1. Israel itself controls the administration of the Strip, maintains security and law, activates the education and health system, and is responsible for rebuilding the destroyed infrastructure.

2. Israel is content with annihilating Hamas' military capabilities and allowing it to be a weak party that can continue as a civilian authority.

3. Israel ends Hamas' rule in Gaza, removes its senior leaders, and then transfers population management to another party. The solution could be a multinational force, integrating the Palestinian Authority into the management of civil issues.

There are no responsible supporters in Israel for the first option, except for a small group of Messianics, so the battle is between two options. 

The second option is the continuation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policy over the past 14 years, which has been strengthened after the current government. Netanyahu worked to thwart the two-state solution and intentionally weakened the Palestinian Authority. He did not pass to it the clearance funds to which it was entitled, and claimed that it was not a partner in the negotiations. At the same time, he allowed money to enter Hamas leaders, built a force to confront Abu Mazen's force, and even gave them various guarantees in the arrangements that were made at the end of each combat round. 

If it were up to Netanyahu alone, he would have continued his policies today as well: Hamas would have been hit hard, but it would have been able to continue activating civilian rule in Gaza, even if the price was a round of combat every few years. The basis is not to strengthen the Palestinian Authority, and not to institutionalize it as a leadership in the West Bank and Gaza, in order to maintain the saying that there is no single address for negotiations - in a way that prevents the establishment of a Palestinian state.

However, Netanyahu and the government of Israel are not alone in this battle. The United States joined the battle, militarily, politically, and economically, and it is interfering in the management of the fighting to try to give the army the necessary time and to influence the next day of the war.

This takes us to the third option, which President Biden has been pushing Netanyahu for about 4 weeks. 

The United States actually supports the overthrow of the current regime in Gaza, and is not satisfied with just statements about dismantling Hamas, which have been heard since 2009, time after time, without merit. According to this option, management of the sector must be given to another party, because there will be no “Hamas.” The body best suited for this task is the Palestinian Authority, and Biden actually asked to see how it would be integrated the next day. But it is clear that the authority is too weak to manage the Gaza Strip after 16 years of Hamas rule, and after a war that left a severe humanitarian crisis. The authority also cannot be treated as if it had returned to Gaza with the force of the army. 

Therefore, there must be a transitional phase in which multinational forces work, with the intervention of Egypt and Jordan, to impose law and order in the sector, while the authority bears responsibility for civil cases. After some time, the authority strengthens its capabilities and, through a gradual process, assumes more and more responsibilities. This option, when Gaza returns to be under the control of Ramallah, turns the Authority into a partner in the two-state solution. This is the fundamental reason why the Israeli government opposes this option, even if it is supported by the United States, the international community, the moderate Arab camp, the majority of Israeli society, and a small majority in Palestinian society.

Since the beginning of the war, Israel has declared that the goal of the war is to end Hamas' rule and return the kidnapped people, but the United States demands to understand how the government plans to do this after the end of the military battle. This began politely, when President Biden asked Netanyahu about his plan for the next day, and went up a notch when Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined the war council sessions, even approving a draft of the final statement for the session in which he participated. And now, the literature is over. 

The United States does not ask Netanyahu, nor does it suggest that he discuss it. Rather, it specifies for him and the war council the humanitarian steps that they must approve, when the truce will be, and how harm to civilians can be reduced. She is still waiting for answers about the next day.

Netanyahu, who managed the past year very poorly, understands the absolute attachment to the United States, and is inclined to accept its demands. The biggest challenge facing him remains managing the government sessions in a way that allows Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir to make their positions heard, without them having any influence on the decisions. Therefore, he formed a war council, where neither of them existed, and neither of them could be heard. 

However, representatives of the extreme right do not accept the situation submissively, and are trying to resist the strategy that is being formulated for the next day. Smotrich does not soften his opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state, and he even recently said that the army would remain in Gaza for many years. The same applies to Ben Gvir, as well as Minister Orit Struk, who wants to return and settle in the Gaza Strip. 

All three of them understand what it means to bring power back into the picture. If Hamas is no longer present in Gaza, and the Authority controls all the Palestinian territories, there is someone with whom we can dialogue. In their view, this is the big danger.

There are ministers in the government who believe that the annihilation of Hamas is only a military mission. They are wrong. "Hamas" is an idea and an ideology. "Hamas" is a social and political movement, and it lives in the hearts of people. There is no missile against the idea. In order to kill the idea of Hamas, another alternative must be built and allowed to grow. 

Previously, this alternative was the authority that offered the Palestinians a state, through negotiations, and in agreement with Israel. Netanyahu's policies eliminated this alternative and turned Hamas into a strong player. Dismantling Hamas now requires economic, legal, diplomatic, media, and also military equipment. The army can dismantle all missile launchers, hit command posts, and kill people. However, weakening Hamas politically and cutting off its funds is not a military move.

The United States immediately and clearly stood by Israel on October 7, and is paying an economic and political price to allow the army the required freedom of action. In addition, the United States deployed its forces in the Middle East to deter Israel's enemies and defend its soldiers present in the region. President Biden is paying a price among his voters in the Democratic Party, at a time when Secretary Blinken is moving between Middle Eastern countries, trying to reach understandings within the moderate Arab camp regarding Israel’s steps in Gaza. 

The government should appreciate these steps, and not underestimate their importance. It must also begin to provide answers to the basic questions in this fight. For 4 weeks, the United States has wanted to exaggerate Israeli post-fighting policy, and the Israeli government has found it difficult to reach an agreement on the next day. 

If Israel does not answer US questions within a reasonable time, consistent with Washington's policies, the White House could run out of patience. In this case, Israel will have to emerge with its own capabilities from the mud it got into. Now, the Americans are giving the differences with Israel a public dimension. Following an interview Netanyahu gave to ABC in which he explained that “Israel will have security control over the Gaza Strip for an indefinite time,” a US State Department spokesman said that “Gaza is Palestinian territory, and will remain Palestinian territory.” It is true that Biden will work to approve an aid package worth $14 billion, and will not back down, but political support and maintaining legitimacy for Israeli operations could decline and disappear.

Netanyahu understands all of this, but his coalition still stands in his way. Currently, the Prime Minister is listening to America, and not arbitrarily. More than helpful, he has good reasons:

1. Everyone knew

Netanyahu knew, the government knew, the cabinet also knew, and the Security and Foreign Affairs Committee knew. They were all aware that a battle against Hamas or Hezbollah was expected to break out soon, and that the two parties were in a state of coordination between themselves. Defense Minister Yoav Galant declared, several times, that continuing on the legislative path would push Israel into a “clear, immediate and real danger to the state’s security.” Netanyahu did not take any steps to reduce the danger, but rather chose to push the laws despite the warnings. 

The Americans, who knew the intelligence materials that were presented to Netanyahu, found it difficult to believe that he preferred the cohesion of the coalition at the expense of state security. It is true that no one expected a battle in which 1,400 Israelis would be killed. Netanyahu also estimated that the talk would be about an additional round with Hamas at a cost of 100 Israeli deaths and 1,500 Palestinian deaths, at a cost of 2-3 billion shekels. Is this price reasonable? Netanyahu cannot tell the Americans, "I didn't know."

2. Relations with the United States on the eve of war

Relations between the prime minister and the administration in Washington were the worst in history. Netanyahu's extremist government and the breaking of the promises he made to the president, time after time, amounted to recklessness in the eyes of the White House, and Netanyahu was not invited to meet with Biden despite successive demands. Ministers in the Israeli government accused the American President of supporting the protests against the constitutional coup, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs mocked the Vice President, in addition to another minister who recommended that the Americans focus on their issues. 

Relations were so bad that it also affected the entire stock of the Air Force and the Army. The State of Israel went into a military battle with its eyes open, unprepared, and without immediate American assistance, it would be difficult for it to manage the war. There is great importance for relations with the United States in order to preserve the international legitimacy of the work in Gaza. To maintain this support, Netanyahu listens to Biden and Blinken, not to Smotrich and Ben Gvir.

3. Zero equipment

Although everyone knew, there were no preparations for the expected battle against Hamas and Hezbollah. The economy was not prepared for emergency hours, the evacuation of tens of thousands of Israelis from their homes was not prepared, the health system was not prepared, nor was the education system prepared. In addition, transportation was not prepared to operate during emergency hours. What's worse is the fact that there was no economic preparation. The state budget was distributed corruptly, resources were directed to inappropriate purposes, while warnings of war were ringing in the ears of ministers. It is true that Netanyahu hoped that everything would end in a short round against Hamas, Hezbollah, or both, but the government was not prepared for this either. Hezbollah, which is currently waging a suppressed battle under the roof of war, succeeded in evacuating tens of thousands of Israelis from the northern towns, and prompted the mass recruitment of hundreds of thousands of citizens, which paralyzed a large part of the state’s economy, and all of this through local and specific events only. Who expected that in order to curb Hezbollah, we would need the deployment of American aircraft carriers on the shores of Israel, and statements from the President of the United States and his Secretary of State? True, the Americans basically want to curb Iran, but this situation on the northern front has forced Netanyahu to listen to Biden.

4. US interests

Biden's immediate and clear support for Israel makes him pay a political price among his voters in the Democratic Party. It is true that we still have a full year to go until the elections, but Biden is not ignoring this issue. In addition, it must be remembered that he is committed to American interests first. This is a time when the United States is watching, with concern, the axis being forged between Russia, Iran, and Syria, while China supports them, even increasing its intervention in the Middle East. 

The Chinese President made a successful visit to Saudi Arabia, and that China was the mediator in renewing relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. For Biden, it is very important to keep Saudi Arabia in the right position, and he is strengthening an axis that includes Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states (the Abraham Accords) under the American umbrella. Biden is not interested in a regional confrontation that would prevent a deal with Saudi Arabia, and he expects Netanyahu to help him in consciously managing the war with Hamas, and in efforts to prevent the expansion of the battle in the north.

5. Freeing the kidnapped people

Freeing the kidnapped is a mission of the highest moral importance, which is to intensify the state’s commitment to its citizens. Not arbitrarily, the liberation of the kidnapped was set as one of the goals of the war. The talk is about a complex mission for each government, and there is no doubt that this government lacks the experience, competencies, international relations, and depth required to deal with a complex mission to this extent. 

There are voices in the government that doubt that the mission of liberating the kidnapped is a top priority, and there are those who ask: Is their blood more important than the blood of army soldiers? The assumption that all kidnapped persons can be freed in exchange for all prisoners is incorrect. Even if Israel agreed to release all security prisoners, including those who were arrested on October 7, “after they killed civilians, raped and slaughtered people in their beds,” this would not be enough to free all the kidnapped, and there would be no deal that would leave Israel free. Pursuing Hamas leaders. Simply put, they will not agree to a deal like this. Therefore, solutions must be considered such as those reached in 1982, when Arafat and Fatah were allowed to leave Beirut, or as happened in 2002, when a group of “terrorists” barricaded themselves in the Church of the Nativity and were expelled to Gaza, or abroad. Its members did not return to their homes. Egypt, Qatar and other countries must be included in resolving the issue of the kidnapped people. 

This is bigger than the Netanyahu government. The United States will have a central function in dealing with the kidnapping issue, more than it has now, and it will be strengthened the closer we get to reaching a solution.

6. Government policies

Even before the war, the United States expressed deep concern about the composition of the current government. From an American point of view, a small minority in Israel succeeded in controlling the government through its Messianic representatives, and in imposing provocative policies that increased friction with the Palestinians and inflamed the field. Ben Gvir’s statements and directives regarding the prisoners, in addition to visits to Al-Aqsa Mosque and encouraging the “Hill Youth” to confront the Palestinians, as well as the tent in Huwwara and the return to “Homesh” and talk of returning to Gaza, are all things that put American interests in the region at risk, including the “two-state solution.” ". Much attention has been paid to Smotrich's plan, which wants to transfer a million Israelis to the West Bank to thwart the two-state solution. This is what he plans to do through economic encouragement - that is why he asked to be Minister of Finance. 

This is in addition to orders to expand settlement - therefore, he was appointed Minister of West Bank Affairs in the Ministry of Security. The government's policy contradicts the policy of the United States, and now, Netanyahu must choose between a "Jewish power" or an American power.

It seems that the great hope is born from the bottom of the well: stopping the policy of lying about dismantling Hamas and preserving it as an authority that dwarfs power and prevents progress on a political path. This could be the end of 14 years of the rounds policy that led to thousands of deaths and the waste of billions, in order to return to the situation as it was before the rounds. This must end, which is why the next day is so important.

The United States' choice to stand by the Israeli government without reservation was understood by Egypt and Jordan because of their rejection of the massacre carried out by Hamas, but as the battle progressed, protests broke out against the Israeli aggression on Gaza. Jordan and Egypt have a central role in stabilizing the situation the next day, and therefore, Blinken went to Jordan after meeting with Netanyahu last Friday. 

In Amman, Blinken faced a clear request from Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi to “stop the madness.” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who was present at the meeting, called for an “immediate ceasefire without preconditions.” Blinken rejected these demands and adhered to “Israel’s right to defend itself,” but he also stressed that the matter must be done by “reducing harm to citizens.” Arab pressures could affect the position of the United States, and it expects Israel to take Egypt and Jordan into account the next day, and maintain the moderate Arab camp.

Therefore, the United States makes clear that the war cannot continue unless Israel allows humanitarian truces and the entry of food and medicine into the Strip, in addition to minimizing harm to civilians, and formulating an acceptable plan for the moment when the guns stop. The United States' standing with Israel, from sending troops to billions in aid, is not guaranteed forever. It would be good if Netanyahu led his government to agree quickly on the next day.



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