Netanyahu should not turn Israel into a theocracy state

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Hamas, Netanyahu, Israel

Hamas’ October 2023 attack and Israel’s massive retaliation have shredded every script that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his followers wrote in their fictitious play that portrays the Palestinians as an irredeemable foe, citing Hamas’ attack as proof to support their contentious claim. From this, they concluded that Hamas will not be allowed to reconstitute itself in Gaza, which is justified given Hamas’ obdurate existential threat to Israel, but then they stick to their old scripts and insist that no Palestinian Authority (PA) of any stripe should have a say about the future governance of Gaza. And while ruling out even the prospect of a new moderate PA to rule Gaza, Netanyahu is not saying who should or what the ultimate solution should be that can mitigate rather than further intensify the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Here, blind ideology and dubious beliefs clash head-on with reason and reality. Netanyahu, who formed a messianic government and shares his extremist partners’ burning lust to possess the whole land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, seems to have lost not only his way but also his soul. He placed his political fortunes ahead of his country’s future survival. Hence, regardless of how perilous it is for Israel to impose indefinite military rule in post-war Gaza, as several of his disturbed ministers demand, Netanyahu seems to be yielding to their whims. It suits him to be shielded by a monstrous government of his creation, trying to avoid the unavoidable. Still, neither time nor circumstances will accommodate his lack of courage or design.

Regardless of how much longer Netanyahu can prolong the agony of not making a decision, he must face the bitter truth sooner than later. The leader of the National Unity party, Gantz, who joined the war cabinet, could not have put it more succinctly when he recently addressed Netanyahu, stating, “Personal and political considerations have begun to invade the holy of holies of Israel’s security. Prime Minister Netanyahu, the choice is in your hands. If you prioritize the national above the personal, you will find us to be partners to the battle, but if you choose the path of zealots and lead the entire country to an abyss—we will be forced to quit the government.” Gantz further committed to this view by submitting on May 30 a bill to dissolve the Knesset and hold an early election. Adding to that, Netanyahu’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has also called on Netanyahu “to make a decision and declare that Israel will not establish civilian control over the Gaza Strip.”

Every keen observer of the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will agree that there is now a historic opportunity for a breakthrough to bring closure to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, albeit the road to peace is long, winding, and treacherous. How the Gaza war ends and what governing authority will be in place will shape Israel’s future for generations. Netanyahu, who does not want to resign or be forced out and craves to end the war triumphantly and leave his post as a hero, must act now. Without the prime minister’s office, he will face a commission of inquiry about how Hamas’ horrific October 7 attack took place under his watch, on top of the prospect of jail time on three criminal charges that are still pending.

The question is, what can Netanyahu do, and what would it take to end the Gaza war in a manner that would meet Israel’s ultimate national objectives as well as serve the Palestinians’ best interests?

It is clear that if Israel wants to emerge victorious from the war and justify the horrific cost that Israel and the Palestinians have paid, it must first prevent Hamas from ever reconstituting itself in Gaza, categorically rule out a prolonged military and administrative rule, facilitate a newly elected Palestinian Authority to assume power in Gaza, and finally, pave a clear path that leads to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Forming a new government

Given the composition of the current Israeli government, which includes several messianic ministers who vehemently insist on imposing military rule in Gaza while continuing the occupation of the West Bank, Netanyahu must dissolve his government and establish a new one that supports the above general outline, prior to June 8, Gantz’s deadline for quitting the government. As Gantz stated, “A small minority took over the bridge of the Israeli ship and is sailing it toward a wall of rocks.” The new coalition government, still led by Netanyahu, would include Likud with 32 mandates, Lapid’s Yesh Atid (24), Deri’s Shas (11), Gantz’ National Unity (8), Sa’ar’s New Hope (4), and Labor (4). This coalition will have an overwhelming majority of 83 mandates in the Israeli Knesset. Potentially, Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, with six mandates, could also join.

Admittedly, this may well be extremely difficult to achieve, as there are many reservations on behalf of leaders of various parties, especially Yesh Atid, which has ruled out sitting in a government with Netanyahu. Nevertheless, every member of such a unity government, including Netanyahu himself, will have to show considerable flexibility and must make all the necessary compromises to meet Israel’s historic fateful hour if they want to save the country, as the situation in Israel today warrants a complete departure from their old positions. If Netanyahu manages this transition, he could emerge from this dire situation with some integrity by demonstrating that he put the country’s interest above his own, which he is being accused of, and he may even earn himself a pardon for the three crimes he has been indicted for.

Agree on an immediate ceasefire

The government must agree on a temporary ceasefire for six weeks to achieve several critical objectives. First, facilitate the flow of food, drinking water, medicine, and fuel in quantities and speed to prevent the humanitarian crisis from becoming a complete catastrophe. Second, release as many hostages as possible, and third, make a supreme effort to provide safe passage and shelter to the more than one million Palestinians who fled to Rafah and seek to relocate to central and northern Gaza. It is a monumental task. Should Hamas refuse to accept these terms, Israel must still implement measures one and three.

Prevent Hamas from ever reconstituting itself

The massive sacrifices that Israel and the Palestinians have made will all be in vain unless Israel ensures that Hamas will never be allowed or able to reconstitute itself in Gaza. Israel should not agree to a permanent ceasefire until Hamas is totally defeated in Rafah and achieves that surgically to prevent collateral damage, even at the expense of risking some Israeli lives. Preventing Hamas from re-governing Gaza is not only the best outcome for Israel but also for the Palestinians who have been used, abused, and deprived of decent living for nearly 20 years under Hamas’ merciless rule.

To disabuse the Palestinians of Hamas’ portrayal of the Israelis as the most vicious enemy and the cause behind their suffering, Israel must genuinely exhibit compassion and care while making it clear that it is fighting Hamas, not the Palestinian people. In the end, as David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founder and first prime minister, stated, “The State of Israel will be judged not by its wealth, nor by its army, nor by its technology, but by its moral character and human values.”

Reaching a US-Israel agreement on an end-game

Israel and its most indispensable ally, the US, must agree on the endgame. It is not too early to plan for the only feasible long-term solution, which is for a newly-elected Palestinian Authority to assume power in Gaza after at least a year, to allow the Palestinians to organize politically. Both sides should also agree on an international peacekeeping force’s size, composition, and duration while the PA assumes administrative responsibility. The length of the Israeli military presence in Gaza should be limited to a maximum of a year while the PA is preparing to take charge of security in full coordination with the Israeli military, which must continue beyond the withdrawal of all Israeli forces.

Raising billions for the reconstruction of Gaza

A major international effort led by the US and Saudi Arabia to raise billions for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Gaza must begin now, even before the war comes to an end. This will signal to the Palestinians that there is hope and that the losses and suffering they endured will end, and create a new, promising, and prosperous future.

Negotiating Saudi-Israeli normalization of relations

Once this process begins and to encourage Israel to embrace the above, Saudi Arabia should resume the negotiations over the normalization of relations with Israel. Although at that time, the Saudis were willing to embrace an enhanced autonomous rule for the Palestinians, short of a full-fledged independent state as an intermediate step, after the Israel-Hamas war broke out, the Saudis have now been insisting that there will be no normalization of relations with Israel unless a clear path is established that leads to a two-state solution. Israel, the US, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan must begin to lay the foundation for peace negotiations that lead to that end.

Turkey and Qatar play a mediating role

It would be an illusion to assume that after Hamas has been militarily crushed in Gaza, it will neither survive as a radical movement nor resort to terror to disrupt any prospective peace process. Turkey and Qatar, who have a special relationship with and can exert pressure on Hamas, should start a dialogue with Hamas to help them internalize the fact that Israeli-Palestinian coexistence is irreversible and there will be no Palestinian state unless the Palestinians, including Hamas, accept Israel’s unshakable reality and permanently cease violent resistance. Losing their rule over Gaza and the massive death and destruction they sustained will not be lost on Hamas.

Facing a historic point of departure

There is no neat way to end the Gaza war and satisfy all the players’ wants and aspirations. Israel must realize that it can win a thousand battles and still lose the war. The Palestinians can lose every battle and never win a war, but still endure, rise again, and violently resist Israel’s occupation and subjugation regardless of how high the price may be and how long it will take. To be sure, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will never be resolved by violence, and peaceful coexistence under a two-state offers the only sustainable solution.

This is the time when leadership matters the most. Netanyahu has a historic opportunity to seize the moment and rise to the occasion if he can only muster the courage. Some will say that what I have suggested above is naïve, as Netanyahu will never change his political stripes and ideological convictions. True, knowing his background and his political position over the years, one will have to agree. But then, in his heart, Netanyahu cares deeply about Israel’s future and its place among the nations. The crisis in which he finds himself, which in part is of his own doing, may awaken him to listen to Gantz’s and Galant’s advice and face reality.

This may well be Netanyahu’s last chance not only to redeem himself but also to prevent Israel from becoming a theocracy, a pariah, and an apartheid state, reviled by the community of nations and living by the sword.  A state that betrayed its founder’s vision—the fulfillment of the Jews’ millennia-old dream to be free, grow, and thrive in a state of their own and become a lasting beacon of hope to all people who yearn to be free.

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