Biden – Thanks but no thanks

On a popular daily morning radio program, Hili Tropper a cabinet minister of the more moderate National Unity, was asked his position on Biden’s two-state proposal. Tropper’s answer was unequivocal – “currently irrelevant.” If we add to this, Netanyahu’s utter rejection of the American-Egyptian hostage deal proposal, it seems Biden is gradually losing ground among Israeli leadership. Biden’s popularity peaked when he stationed the USS Eisenhower off the Lebanese coast, expressing unconditional support for Israel. His triple warning of Hezbollah and Iran – “don’t” – is well remembered.

It is difficult to speak of a Palestinian state when 80% of Palestinians in the West Bank support the Saturday, October 7th attack by Hamas, while the majority in Israel utterly deny full Palestinian sovereignty, especially considering the Hamas assault.

Israeli society is more divided than ever. The government against the military command, the right against the left, with debate over the fate of the hostages hanging above it all. Should we agree to an end to the fighting to save the hostages from Hamas, or continue the war, hoping that military pressure will soften Hamas?

The political issue also divides society. The government refuses to discuss the “the day after,” a refusal which the military claims results in the loss of military achievements attained with the blood of some 200 dead soldiers and thousands of wounded. A Palestinian state is not part of the discussion at all, and it appears there exists a massive short circuit in communication between the Americans and Israelis.

Notwithstanding, the cabinet’s political debate is interesting. It divides the unity government. Netanyahu claims that discussion about “the day after” will take place when the war ends, while Gantz and Eisenkot (and Tropper) claim the day after is here and now. In other words, the war in its intense form is over, and we must now decide what to do. One might ask, how is it possible that Netanyahu and Gantz are sitting in the same war cabinet, managing the battles together while disagreeing on a fundamental question: war or no war?

The reality on the ground makes it possible to better understand this conundrum. In fact, Israel divided Gaza into two, Gaza North and Gaza South. In northern Gaza, the war ended, and the army partially withdrew. This is the area over which debate exists – what to do with it and who will control it. Benny Gantz is gambling on local Palestinian officials to manage the lives of the 150,000 Gazans who remain there, while Smotrich and Ben Gvir want to annex the territory to Israel and settle it with settlers. And what does Bibi want? He wants to survive. If he goes with Smotrich and Ben Gvir, he will lose the partnership with Gantz, and Biden will come out against him. If Bibi goes with Gantz, his coalition falls apart and his political future ends in failure.

While Biden is attempting to get to the root of the problem, searching for a sustainable solution to the bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel’s coalition and opposition are squabbling over the future of northern Gaza. The Israelis are not currently open to radical solutions. In truth, they never were. They have always preferred conflict management over conflict resolution.

Despite the inner feeling of every Israeli that October 7th is a definitive moment, the greatest disaster that has befallen the country since its founding, there is currently no openness or mental energy to get to the bottom of things. On the surface, everyone understands that the army failed and trust in it was shattered. Everyone understands that the primary person responsible for the disaster sits at the top of the pyramid, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He denies responsibility while placing it on the army, all of whose commanders have already taken responsibility for this failure.

And here is the absurdity: What is Netanyahu’s failure? He trusted Hamas, financed it, allowed it to grow stronger in order to weaken the Palestinian Authority and bury the two-state idea once and for all. After all this, Biden come’s to him yet again with the same mantra of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu’s conclusion: There is no one to trust, neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas. And what should be done? He doesn’t currently have an answer and anyways be quiet, there is fighting going on!

Faced with this colossal failure, which brought Israel to its knees and forced the United States to come to its rescue, the American president, who put all his eggs in the Israeli basket, is scratching his head. How can Israeli eyes be opened, how to convince them that the illusion that the conflict can be managed instead of solved is what underlies the October 7 failure? I will bring them a solution in the form of a Palestinian state wrapped in Saudi finery. Maybe they won’t like the gift itself, but the wrapping will tempt them to accept it.

The trouble with Biden is that he doesn’t really have anyone with whom to work. The players he counts on are very far from his worldview and policies. How can one trust Saudi’s Mohammed bin Salman, the same MBS whom Biden declared upon his election to be an undesirable personality? What Palestinian Authority can be built with a bloody prince who despises democracy, and slaughters political opponents? What kind of Palestinian Authority can be established when its representatives are involved in corruption and suppress every sign of freedom and democracy?  Above all, what kind of “upgraded” Palestinian Authority will be built when Hamas hides behind it? Isn’t this simply a replication of the Hezbollah model, which hides behind the Lebanese government but is the determinant player?

So, what’s left of the Biden plan? Not much, except that it helps get rid of Israel’s messianic, extreme right-wing government once and for all. Is this a worthy goal? Yes. Is it essential? Yes. Is it practical? Yes.

2024 is an election year in the United States and possibly in Israel as well. The two election systems are intertwined. On one side will stand the Trump-Netanyahu duo, on the other Gantz and Israel’s entire opposition together with Biden. Trump symbolizes chaos and the trampling of democracy while Bibi symbolizes the end of democracy and nurturing the annexation ambitions of Smotrich and Ben Gvir. The overthrow of Netanyahu would undoubtedly be an achievement for Biden and the turning of a new Israeli page, while Trump’s victory would be a blow to every liberal and democrat all over the world and a disaster for the Americans.

But, in the end, the truth is that a solution depends solely on the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves. They have lived side by side, on the small area of land between the river and the sea for eight decades. Their safety and well-being depend only on themselves, and what they decide or not decide to do. Neither Biden nor Muhammad bin Salman can save them from themselves.

 The democratic camp in Israel, which demonstrated many months for a democratic Israel, cannot be satisfied solely with overthrowing Bibi’s failed government. If the democratic camp wants to defeat the messianic Jews, the fascists, the corrupt and to reboot Israeli society, it must grab the bull by the horns. It is not enough to strive for unity among Israelis. This reboot requires resolving the conflict with the Palestinians.

The road is indeed long. Relying on dictators like bin Salman, Sisi, and Abdullah will not shorten it. To secure the future of the Palestinian people, the growth of a Palestinian democratic movement is essential. Such a movement does not currently exist, to the detriment of both the Palestinians and Israelis. Every Israeli democratic movement that sincerely strives for peace is obliged to clearly and unequivocally recognize the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, freedom and equality. This right, which cannot be undermined, should be guaranteed in whatever political form is decided upon at the end of the process.

About Yacov Ben Efrat