Netanyahu cooked it, the people eats it

צוק איתןIt is like a film rerun: less than two years have passed since Operation Pillar of Defense, we are in the middle of Operation Protective Edge, and once again Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promises quiet for years to come. Many people are asking what happened to the pillar that was supposed to ensure happiness and prosperity. The missiles and the “code red” sirens muddle thoughts, and it is not easy to understand why and how we have again stumbled into war, and how we can get out of it. At the end of Pillar of Defense, both sides claimed victory. In Cairo, Hamas leader Khaled Mashal crowed over his achievement, while Netanyahu and the then Defense Minister Ehud Barak assured us that the operation’s objectives had been met. This time too both sides will claim victory.

In retrospect, it seems Hamas’ “victory” then was the path to its defeat. The hero of the hour was Egyptian president and Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohammed Morsi. He received the US support he hungered for when he promised Israel that the Gaza border would be kept quiet, while promising Hamas that the Rafah crossing (between Egypt and the Gaza Strip) would remain open and the blockade on the Strip would end. As long as Morsi held on, he was guarantor of the ceasefire, but apparently Morsi was struck by megalomania and went too far in trying to force an Islamic agenda. He thus enabled the liberals and youth who had brought down Mubarak to break away. From that moment, the army began plotting with those same disillusioned youth, and on July 3, 2013, seven months after the end of Operation Pillar of Defense, the army got rid of Morsi, declared the Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization, renewed the siege on Gaza, and destroyed the “smuggling tunnels” that were Hamas’ economic lifeline.

During the year that followed, two noteworthy things took place. Netanyahu began negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) under the eye of US Secretary of State John Kerry; and Hamas lost its sources of support in Syria and Iran because of its support for the opposition to Bashar Assad.

The slippery slope

Netanyahu did all he could to waste the valuable time he had, preferring to maintain his coalition with Economics Minister Naftali Bennett over reaching an agreement with the Palestinian Authority (PA). The US and Europe did not hide their disappointment. They placed responsibility for the failure of the talks on Israel, which had done all it could to scupper them. The end of negotiations offered Hamas a chance to reconcile with Abu Mazen. The Gaza Strip was on the brink of humanitarian disaster, and Hamas’ situation was desperate: 40% unemployment, 16 hours daily of power outages, lack of potable water, and some 45,000 government employees without wages.

Hamas’ weakness enabled Abu Mazen to accept the gesture of reconciliation, though not before getting America’s approval. After all, the US bankrolls the PA, and if Hamas wants funding it has to accept the terms of the banker. Thus the putative government was established, which has no Hamas presence at all. But Netanyahu decided to use any means to keep Abu Mazen from helping Hamas out of its isolation and from bringing it into the West Bank by the back door.

Netanyahu thought that the creation of a Palestinian government acceptable to Hamas was an opportunity for him to shake off his image as a rejecter of peace. He even began a campaign of incitement against Abu Mazen, accusing him of giving cover to terror. Yet all his efforts to delegitimize Abu Mazen’s government were ineffectual. Some of his government, including Tzipi Livni (who met Abu Mazen in London), refused to boycott the PA and its leader. Even President Shimon Peres took up Pope Francis’ offer to pray together with Abu Mazen.

The abduction played into Netanyahu’s hands

For Netanyahu, the abduction of the three yeshiva students provided a golden opportunity. The TV stations rallied to achieve his political aims, while he drew up his target. Even though he knew from the beginning that the three students were no longer alive, he created enormous expectation, made cynical use of the three bereaved mothers, and whipped up an atmosphere of revenge whose purpose was to improve the public standing of the Israeli right.

Operation Brother’s Keeper did not aim just to bring back the three students and catch the abductors, but to eliminate Hamas – and this is where the seeds of evil were sown. Hamas did not claim responsibility for the abduction, for the simple reason that it was committed to a unity government with Abu Mazen. Nonetheless, Netanyahu decided to start a one-sided war against Hamas, certain that Hamas had no way to defend itself. Like General Sisi in Egypt before him, Netanyahu decided to do anything to crush Hamas in the West Bank. For this reason he went against commitments made in the Gilad Shalit deal, putting former Hamas prisoners back in jail. Under enormous economic difficulties, and having no real sponsor in the Arab world, Hamas has its back to the wall. Netanyahu decided to push his luck and take advantage of this to bring down the Palestinian unity government.

As in all operations, however, something went wrong. After the discovery of the three students’ bodies – and incited by Netanyahu and his coalition members – some youths went out to take revenge. They abducted Mohammed Abu Khdeir, forced him to drink gasoline, and then burnt him alive. Now Jerusalem is once again divided by violence, and the Arab youth in the Um al-Fahm region (“the Triangle”), the Galilee, and the Negev are venting their rage on anything they come across.

This is not a third intifada, because it has no leadership. It is no more than a spontaneous reaction against the Jewish “price tag” attacks on Arabs, against Israel’s racist legislation, against the arbitrary deaths of children killed by bored soldiers, against humiliation at the checkpoints – in short, against oppression. Hamas knows that this is its moment, and it is trying to regain its lost honor in order to stop Netanyahu from eliminating it from the West Bank.

The present war has no objective other than to strengthen the rule of the Israeli right and silence opposition to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Though Israel bombs Gaza and murders innocent civilians, it has no intention of bringing Hamas down, because the alternative is anarchy in Gaza – and anarchy will bring the Jihadists. This is a political war by an extreme rightwing government, which aims to make the occupation permanent. Netanyahu wants Israelis to get used to having “shrapnel in their butt” (in the words of Naftali Bennett) – i.e., something which bothers them occasionally but can be lived with. But the abduction of the three youths shows that the Occupation is not the ache of an old wound but a festering open sore, and that life between Jews and Arabs is becoming insufferable, bringing us all to the verge of anarchy. The torching of the Palestinian child Mohamed Abu Khdeir is a warning light for all those who fear for Israel’s future.

Bring down Netanyahu’s government

During the summer of 2011, there was an opportunity to change Israel’s priorities and bring down the government of tycoons, but the protest movement leaders chose to concentrate on the price of cottage cheese and housing, refusing to talk about the Occupation and settlements. Then Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich made dialogue with the settlers her raison d’être, while Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid hooked up with his new friend Naftali Bennett. Thus we ended up with an even more rightwing government following the protest. Today we are living the results of that Zionist brotherhood which brought the settlers into the mainstream and made racism legal tender. The present tragic events are also an opportunity for change. The way to do this is to bring down the rightwing government. There can be no coexistence with the settlers, and no coexistence with racism.

To bring down this government, we need an alliance between those Zionist and Arab parties that aspire to a just society and seek the end of the Occupation. As long as there is a divide between Jews and Arabs, the Israeli right will continue to deride us, dragging us into pointless wars that no human society should countenance.

– Translated by Yonatan Preminger


About Yacov Ben Efrat