Will Netanyahu Seize The Moment? Nothing Like A Dream To Create The Future
22 August 2014
By Alon Ben-Meir
There is a growing consensus among Israelis and Arabs
that the Israel-Hamas war will end just like the 2009
and 2012 encounters. Hamas will declare victory by
pointing out the casualties and pain inflicted on the
Israelis and the likely limited relief it will obtain
from the crippling blockade. Israel will be satisfied
that Hamas' military capability and infrastructure is
destroyed or seriously degraded while leaving Hamas'
governing structure basically intact, as Netanyahu
prefers the lesser of two evils—a weakened Hamas
rather than the rise of a Jihadist authority in Gaza.
The status quo that existed before the war will
gradually be restored, Hamas will rebuild its
shattered forces, tunnels, and a new cache of rockets
with greater sophistication, and Israel will prepare
for the next round of fighting to keep Hamas at bay.
This scenario is sadder than sad; it projects
hopelessness about the prospect of a solution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict and disregards the
repeated heavy toll these mini-wars exact in
destruction, death of innocent civilians, and human
suffering, further deepening emotional scars and
making peace ever more elusive.
Can this appalling scenario be avoided? What would it
take, and by whom? The answer lies at the heart of two
Israel rightfully insists that Hamas must permanently
renounce violence and disavow its stated objective to
destroy Israel as a precondition to lifting the
blockade; Hamas demands the lifting of the blockade to
allow for the free flow of goods and travel as a
precondition to any enduring ceasefire. Both demands
are extraordinarily difficult to accept as neither is
prepared to concede without meeting the other's
Both sides have agreed in the past on ceasefires,
which met their objectives only in part.
Unfortunately, the lull in hostilities during those
periods was not utilized by either side to foster more
sustainable peaceful relations.
Although Israel and Hamas view each other as mortal
enemies, this war has forced them once again to
recognize that neither can destroy the other, and they
must now begin to moderate their religious or
ideological narratives, necessitated by the changing
circumstances. In reality, Israel can reoccupy Gaza
and topple Hamas, but Netanyahu does not want, and
wisely so, to assume the burden of administering the
Strip and caring for nearly two million Palestinians
without a viable exit strategy and without leaving
behind sustainable calm. Equally, Hamas realized that
firing over 3,000 rockets at Israel and its efforts to
kill or kidnap Israelis has had little effect.
The fundamental difference in this war, however, may
well change Israel's and Hamas' calculus:
Never before has Hamas been so strapped for funds and
isolated. Egypt destroyed the tunnels leading to Gaza,
virtually ending the flow of goods and depriving Hamas
from collecting taxes, and closed the Rafah border
crossing. Iran's financial aid was reduced to a
trickle, and the continuing Israeli blockade and the
lack of financial and political support from the Arab
states and the PA (with the exception of Qatar and
Turkey) added immeasurably to Hamas' woes.
All combined have left Hamas with no prospect of
improving the conditions of its despairing populace to
stem the growing public restiveness and discontent.
With little left to lose, Hamas ignited a new crisis
to shake up the status quo, hoping to change the
dynamic of the conflict from which it could benefit,
regardless of the risks involved.
Conversely, Netanyahu's popularity has soared; public
trust in his leadership has never been deeper. He has
understood the limits of what Israel can do and shown
restraint by rejecting calls from his right-wing
political partners to expand the war beyond his stated
objective—the destruction of the tunnels and Hamas'
The question for Netanyahu is whether he would be
willing to return to Gaza and "mow the lawn" again,
and if that would secure Israel's future despite the
lack of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
before he departs the political scene.
Netanyahu is a zealous ideologue who believes that
Israel is not an occupying power and that the entire
Holy Land, including the West Bank, is an inseparable
part of the Jews' existence and whose redemption is
intertwined with the redemption of their land.
With this deep conviction, can Netanyahu change his
position and take a historic leap of faith to work
toward ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
I disagree with those who suggest that Netanyahu will
never change his stripes. Many deeply ideological
leaders before him have unexpectedly risen to the
occasion to answer the call from their people and the
international community for a drastic change.
Former Israeli Prime Ministers Begin and Sharon, de
Klerk of South Africa, and Gorbachev of the former
Soviet Union are some prominent leaders who
unpredictably changed their political convictions and
direction; Netanyahu himself had unpredictably
accepted the Wye River Memorandum.
Netanyahu is a skilled and astute politician; he knows
how to rally the people around him, is not deterred by
obstacles, believes in himself, and is totally
dedicated to Israel's national security.
The time and circumstances in which he finds himself
now place his deep ideological conviction against the
unmitigated reality of the Palestinians. As a leader,
he now realizes that the condition in which he finds
himself provides him a pivotal moment in time that may
not be repeated to seek an end to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As John F. Kennedy once
said, "leadership and learning are indispensable to
The current 72-hour ceasefire provides an opportunity
for Netanyahu to demonstrate leadership, courage, and
vision, and shift the onus entirely on Hamas and those
countries critical of the blockade.
He should offer a complete lifting of the blockade in
phases over a period of time (two to three years),
provided that Hamas agrees to renounce violence and
demilitarize Gaza. Hamas must also agree to the
stationing of a robust international force to monitor
the borders and PA security forces to supervise the
crossings from Gaza into Israel and Egypt.
In addition, Hamas must adopt the Arab Peace
Initiative, which would mean implicitly recognizing
Israel and at the same time offering Hamas a
face-saving way out.
Whether or not Hamas agrees to this Initiative,
Netanyahu will emerge as a statesman who is ready to
strike a deal that the whole world would embrace while
achieving a remarkable feat without risking much,
radically changing the outlook for the resumption of
serious peace negotiations.
Ultimately, Israel's long-term national security rests
on ending the blockade and neutralizing the threat
from the West Bank in particular by negotiating with
any representative Palestinian government and ending
the occupation under mutually accepted terms.
Netanyahu has served as Prime Minister longer than any
of his predecessors, with the exception of Israel's
founder, David Ben-Gurion. Like any other leader,
Netanyahu is surely thinking about his legacy and
likely wants to be remembered as the prime minster who
led his people to a lasting peace, rather than leaving
Israel even more insecure and vulnerable.
Will Netanyahu seize the moment and give the next
generation of Israelis and Palestinians the greatest
gift—to live, grow and prosper together in peace?
Maybe I am a dreamer, but as Victor Hugo once
observed: "There is nothing like a dream to create the