The Economist, November 2, 2023:
Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is taking a terrible toll. But unless Hamas’s power is broken, peace will remain out of reach
Israeli forces are entering a hellscape of their own making. One in ten buildings in Gaza has been pulverised by Israeli aircraft and artillery. Over 8,000 Palestinians have been killed, many of them children. Shortages of fuel, clean water and food, imposed by an Israeli blockade, pose a growing threat to the lives of many thousands more.
Around the world the cry is going up for a ceasefire or for Israel to abandon its ground invasion. Hearing some Israeli politicians call for vengeance, including the discredited prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, many people conclude that Israel’s actions are disproportionate and immoral. Many of those arguing this believe in the need for a Jewish state, but fear for a Jewish state that seems to value Palestinian lives so cheaply. They worry that the slender hopes for peace in this age-old conflict will be buried under Gaza’s rubble.
Those are powerful arguments …
I agree. But do you detect a “but” in the offing?
… but they lead to the wrong conclusion. Israel is inflicting terrible civilian casualties. It must minimise them and be seen to do so. Palestinians are lacking essential humanitarian supplies. Israel must let a lot more aid pass into Gaza.
Yes, let’s do please be humane, but do you still sense that ‘but’ in the making?
However, even if Israel chooses to honour these responsibilities, the only path to peace lies in dramatically reducing Hamas’s capacity to use Gaza as a source of supplies and a base for its army. Tragically, that requires war.
Hmm. Right now Israel is razing Gaza. Isn’t it a defining condition of ‘war’ that both sides be armed? If not, why not call the Holocaust a war between Nazi Germany and Jews?
To grasp why, you have to understand what happened on October 7th. When Israelis talk about Hamas’s attack as an existential threat they mean it literally, not as a figure of speech. Because of pogroms and the Holocaust, Israel has a unique social contract: to create a land where Jews know they will not be killed or persecuted for being Jews. The state has long honoured that promise with a strategic doctrine that calls for deterrence, early warnings of an attack, protection on the home front and decisive Israeli victories.
While I never saw this organ as other than the voice of capitalism’s (neo) liberal wing, I did once credit it with a gravitas it has not merited in at least a decade. But even by latter day Economist standards, these are empire cheer-leading whoppers of gob-smacking omission.
Ignored here are:
- Israel’s role – as distinct from Netanyahu’s – in the creation of Hamas.
- The categoric inability of Hamas to pose an “existential threat” to a nuclear power with the unconditional backing of Washington.
- That the statement – “Because of pogroms and the Holocaust, Israel has a unique social contract: to create a land where Jews know they will not be killed or persecuted for being Jews” – is a leap of staggeringly non-sequiturial dimensions. Palestinians had nothing to do with pogroms or Holocaust, and what are we to make of a “unique social contract” whose fulfilment required ethnic cleansing, an apartheid state and the ghettoisation of millions in the concentration camp known as Gaza?
Over the past two decades Israel lost sight of the fact that Palestinians deserve a state, too. Mr Netanyahu boosted Hamas to sabotage Palestinian moderates—a cynical ploy to help him argue that Israel has no partner for peace. Instead, Palestinian suffering became something to manage, with a mix of financial inducements and deterrence, kept fresh by repeated short wars.
According egregious status to an easy target is a card much favoured by neoliberals: “if only we could be rid of oafs like Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Benjamin Netanyahu, the grown-ups could get their heads together and make real headway.”
This – if we’re inclined to be charitable – is fact-defiant, amnesia-dependent stupidity of the highest order.
On October 7th Hamas destroyed all this, including Mr Netanyahu’s brittle scheme …
Au contraire, Economist, au contraire. What was destroyed on October 7 was not one man’s brittle scheme but a decades old lie. Namely that 2.3 million people could be crammed into a coastal strip of 141 square miles – think about that: a sticking plaster twenty miles long and seven wide, ‘home’ to 2,300,000 human beings – most with no viable way of making a living, deprived of water while illegal settlers in hills a stone’s throw above them frolic in swimming pools, and – you know the rest – get so used to the fact they actually begin to enjoy it, get on with their lovely lives and renounce all talk of Nakba and its ongoing murderous larceny.
The terrorists ripped apart Israel’s social contract by shattering the security doctrine created to defend it. Deterrence proved empty, early warning of an attack was absent, home-front protection failed and Hamas murdered 1,400 people in Israeli communities. Far from enjoying victory, Israel’s soldiers and spies were humiliated.
The collapse of Israel’s security doctrine has unleashed a ferocious bombardment against the people of Gaza. The reason is an attempt to restore that founding principle. Israel wants its 200,000 or so evacuees to be able to return home. It wants to show its many enemies that it can still defend itself. Most of all, it has come to understand that, by choosing to murder Israelis regardless of how many Palestinians will die in Gaza, Hamas has proved that it is undeterrable.
I confess, so desensitised am I to such hasbara that I almost missed the linguistic shift. Israel’s killing of some 8,000 civilians at time of writing is “a ferocious bombardment”. The attacks of October 7, by contrast – with their far lower body count, and much of that from IDF ‘friendly fire’ – are “murder”..
The only way out of the cycle of violence is to destroy Hamas’s rule—which means killing its senior leaders and smashing its military infrastructure. The suggestion that a war which entails the deaths of thousands of innocent people can lead to peace will appal many. In the past one act of violence has led to the next. That is indeed the great risk today.
On Planet Economist this is a cue for another ‘but’ …
However, while Hamas runs Gaza, peace is impossible. Israelis will feel unsafe, so their government will strike Gaza pre-emptively every time Hamas threatens. Suffocated by permanently tight Israeli security and killed as Hamas’s human shields in pre-emptive Israeli raids, Palestinians will be radicalised. The only way forward is to weaken its control while building the conditions for something new to emerge.
Splendid logic. It’s not the walled-off open sewer that is and has been Gaza for decades which “radicalises” its inhabitants. No, it’s being used by Hamas as human shields! Take away Hamas and all will be sweet as candy …
That starts with new leadership for both sides. In Israel Mr Netanyahu will be forced from office because he was in power on October 7th, and because his reputation for being Israel’s staunchest defender is broken. The sooner he goes the better. His successor will need to win a mandate for a new security doctrine. That should involve a plan for peace and reining in Israeli settlers, who even now are molesting and killing Palestinians on the West Bank.
Again the cathartic scapegoating of Netanyahu as something exotically rotten – as opposed to being a logical product of a state whose existence is not only by its nature deeply divisive, but whose Western backers intended it to be so.
Again too the amnesia on 75 years of failure, by Washington and its junior partners in crime, to deliver “a plan for peace”. Your proverbial Martian would fairly conclude, from the paragraph in question, that before the boo-hiss bad guy started showing up at the Knesset like a bouncing stink-bomb, all had been sweetness and light in The Holy Land …
The Palestinians need moderate leaders with a democratic mandate. At the moment they have none. That is partly because Mr Netanyahu boosted Hamas, but also because Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian authority, has sidelined potential rivals. The question is how to stop Hamas or its successor from seizing back control of Gaza before fresh leaders can emerge from fair elections.
More of the same …
Hence, the second condition for peace: a force to provide security in Gaza. Israel cannot supply it as an occupying power. Instead the strip needs an international coalition, possibly containing Arab countries that oppose Hamas and its backer, Iran. As we have argued in previous leaders, creating a coalition that all sides can agree on will take committed leadership from the United States and a leap of faith from the region.
Committed leadership from the United States? Washington is the problem, not the solution.
And that leads back to the condition that makes all this possible: a war to degrade Hamas enough to enable something better to take its place. How Israel fights this war matters. It must live up to its pledge to honour international law.
This is oxymoronic moonshine of the type voiced by Britain’s Keir Starmer. Yes, Israel may of course impose collective punishment on Gaza – by lethally shutting off water and power, then dropping 26,000 tons of bombs and counting – but, if it’s not too inconvenient, would it kindly be so good as to do so without breaching international law?
Or at least shut down the cameras first, to spare our blushes.
Not only is that the right thing to do, but Israel will be able to sustain broad support over the months of fighting and find backing to foster peace when the fighting stops only if it signals that it has changed. Right now, this means letting in a lot more humanitarian aid and creating real safe zones in southern Gaza, Egypt, or—as the best talisman of its sincerity—in the Negev inside Israel.
As Alexander Mercouris convincingly argued two days ago – Why didn’t Israel & USA isolate Hamas? – the “broad support” which The Economist calls for could easily have been won. That another route was taken is no less on Team Biden than Team Netanyahu. But, hey, look on the bright side. Had we not seen the back of Trump, who knows what might have kicked off?
Shit, we’d likely be looking at WW3 on multiple fronts by now!
A ceasefire is the enemy of peace, because it would allow Hamas to continue to rule over Gaza by consent or by force with most of its weapons and fighters intact. The case for humanitarian pauses is stronger, but even they involve a trade-off. Repeated pauses would increase the likelihood that Hamas survives.
A ceasefire is the enemy of peace … Did George Orwell coin that one?
Nobody can know whether peace will come to Gaza. But for the sake of Israelis and Palestinians it deserves to have the best possible chance. A ceasefire removes that chance entirely.
Readers, I give you The Economist: go-to oracle for the discerning idiot.
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