Image Credits: Times of Israel .
It seems as though events have confirmed that virtually everything, no matter how seemingly hyperbolic, you’ve heard Benjamin Netanyahu say about the threat and intentions of Hamas turned out to be true. But do you know what Netanyahu said about Hamas that you didn’t hear?
“Anyone who wants to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state has to support bolstering Hamas and transferring money to Hamas,” the prime minister reportedly said at a 2019 meeting of his Likud party. “This is part of our strategy — to isolate the Palestinians in Gaza from the Palestinians in the West Bank.”
The most important part of that quote is actually his clear expression of intent “to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state.” But the means by which he attempted to thwart that aspiration were stunningly cynical.
“The modus vivendi was that Hamas takes care of Gaza, Israel allows it to prosper, with the relatively small price that Israel paid every so often, with a round of violence in which Israel would kill thousands of Palestinians and Palestinians would kill dozens of Israelis — that was considered the best Israel could hope for,” said Eran Etzion, former deputy head of Israel’s national security council. “Now that strategic equation has been completely violated.”
Netanyahu’s policy was to “bolster” Hamas, “transfer money” to Hamas, and allow Hamas “to prosper” in Gaza. Their predictably violent and appalling behavior could be used as proof that peace was impossible, and the inability of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank to unite behind one set of leaders assured there was no negotiating partner. For anyone pushing for peace, this was checkmate.
Meanwhile, as Zack Beauchamp points out, the idea was to expand settlements in the West Bank until no one could even imagine a future without them.
In 2017, Israeli far-right parliamentarian Bezalel Smotrich proposed what he termed a “decisive plan” to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Smotrich, who is now serving as finance minister in Netanyahu’s cabinet, argued (correctly) that the root of the conflict was competing claims to the same land from two distinct national groups. But, unlike his centrist peers, Smotrich claimed that these ambitions were incommensurable: that no territorial compromise could ever be reached between Israelis and Palestinians. In such a zero-sum conflict, one side has to win and the other has to lose.
The key to Israel winning such a total victory, he wrote, is simple: Break the Palestinians’ spirit.
“Terrorism derives from hope — a hope to weaken us,” Smotrich argued. “The statement that the Arab yearning for national expression in the Land of Israel cannot be ‘repressed’ is incorrect.”
Doing this, he continued, begins by annexing the West Bank and rapidly expanding Jewish settlements there. Once Israel has declared its intention to never let that land go, and created realities on the ground that make its withdrawal unimaginable, the Palestinians will reconcile themselves to the new reality — accept a second-class form of citizenship, leave voluntarily, or attempt violent resistance and be crushed.
Smotrich has used his time in Netanyahu’s cabinet to try to implement this plan — working both to de facto annex the West Bank and to rapidly expand Jewish settlement.
Intertwined in all of this was the basic idea that Netanyahu was “Mr. Security,” and whatever his other faults, ethical and otherwise, he would at least keep Israelis safe. But he has failed miserably even at this, as his West Bank policies caused predictable unrest which required a heavy military presence to manage. That left the border with Gaza undermanned and made the stunning slaughter at the hands of Hamas possible.
Failure on this level is all-encompassing, and I haven’t even mentioned the chaos and division Netanyahu has caused with his attacks on the Israeli judiciary which badly distracted the country and left it vulnerable. And to little other purpose than to help him avoid accountability for his criminal behavior.
All of this has been wrong from the beginning, and Israelis were wrong to vote for it and to enable it. They realize now that they misplaced their trust, but to what degree they understand the comprehensiveness of the error, I do not know.
I think it’s critically important to understand that Netanyahu wanted Gaza to be run by Hamas. This was a critical component of his plan to avoid having to make any territorial concessions for peace. He wanted Hamas strong and well-funded. And he thought he could protect Israel from the threat of Hamas even as his other policies gave them oxygen.
Whatever Israel does now to try to recover from these mistakes, it must do with new leadership.