The true nature of the war between Israel and Hamas

The key to winning the three wars being fought simultaneously is a moderate, effective and legitimate Palestinian Authority that can replace Hamas in Gaza, be an active and credible partner for a two-state solution with Israel

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Netanyahu in the Knesset with Moshe Gafni, leader of the United Torah Judaism party, Photo: Reuters
Netanyahu in the Knesset with Moshe Gafni, leader of the United Torah Judaism party, Photo: Reuters

The reason why the war between Hamas and Israel can be difficult for foreigners to understand is that three wars are going on at the same time: a war between Israeli Jews and Palestinians exacerbated by a terrorist group, a war within Israeli and Palestinian society for the future, and a war between Iran and its representatives and America and its allies.

However, before we delve into those wars, the most important thing to remember about them is that there is one formula that can maximize the chances of the forces of decency prevailing in all three. I think that's the formula that President Joe Biden is pushing, even if he can't say it all publicly right now - and we should all be pushing it with him: that Hamas be defeated; that as many civilians as possible be spared in Gaza; that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his extremist allies be ousted; to return all hostages; that Iran be deterred; and that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank be strengthened again in partnership with moderate Arab states.

Particular attention should be paid to this last point: a renewed Palestinian Authority is the cornerstone for the triumph of the forces of moderation, coexistence and decency in all three wars. It is the cornerstone for the revival of the two-state solution. It is the cornerstone for creating a stable basis for the normalization of relations between Israel, Saudi Arabia and the wider Arab-Muslim world. And it is the cornerstone for creating an alliance between Israel, moderate Arabs, the United States and NATO that can weaken Iran and its proxies Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis - none of whom have good intentions.

Unfortunately, as Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel reported on Tuesday, Netanyahu is "blocked by the extreme right and the settlers, who are waging an all-out war against the idea of ​​any Palestinian Authority involvement in Gaza largely out of fear that the US and Saudi Arabia will take advantage of such a move to restart the political process and push for a two-state solution in a way that would require Israel to make concessions in the West Bank. So, Netanyahu, "under pressure from his political partners, banned any discussion of this option."

Protests in Amman in support of Palestinians in Gaza
Protests in Amman in support of Palestinians in Gazaphoto: Reuters

If Netanyahu is a prisoner of his political right, Biden should be very careful not to become Bibi's prisoner. That is no way to win these three wars at once.

The first and most obvious of the three is the latest round of the centuries-old battle between two indigenous peoples - the Jews and the Palestinians - over the same land, but now with a twist: This time the Palestinian side is not led by the Palestinian Authority, which since Oslo has been pushing for a two-state solution based on borders that existed before the 1967 war. It is led by Hamas, a militant Islamist organization dedicated to the eradication of any Jewish state.

On October 7, Hamas launched a war of destruction. The only maps he carried were not about the two-state solution, but about how to find the most people in Israeli kibbutzim and kill or kidnap as many as possible.

While I have no doubt that ending Hamas rule in Gaza - something that every Sunni Arab regime except Qatar is quietly cheering for - is necessary to give both Gazans and Israelis hope for a better future, the overall Israeli war effort will be delegitimized and become unsustainable if Israel it does so with much greater concern for Palestinian civilians. The Hamas invasion and the immediate Israeli counter-invasion are causing a humanitarian disaster in Gaza that only underscores how badly Israel needs a legitimate Palestinian partner to help govern Gaza the day after.

If Netanyahu is a prisoner of his political right, Biden should be very careful not to become Bibi's prisoner

The second war, closely related to the first, is a struggle within Palestinian and Israeli society over their long-term visions.

Hamas claims this is an ethnic/religious war between primarily Muslim Palestinians and Jews, and its goal is an Islamic state in all of Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. For Hamas, the winner takes all.

There is a reflection of Hamas' extremist views on the Israeli side. The Jewish supremacist settlers represented in Netanyahu's cabinet do not distinguish between Palestinians who have accepted Oslo and those who support Hamas. They see all Palestinians as descendants of the Amalekites. As the magazine "Mozaik" explained, the Amalekites were a tribe of desert robbers often mentioned in the Bible who inhabited today's northern Negev, near the Gaza Strip, and lived by plunder.

Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that some Jewish settlers just can't stop talking about the rebuilding of Gaza settlements. They want a great Israel from the river to the sea. Netanyahu has accepted these far-right parties and their plan to form his government, and now he cannot expel them without losing control of government.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in Ramallah
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in Ramallahphoto: Reuters

In every community, however, you also have those who see this war as a chapter in a political struggle between two nation-states, each with a distinct population that believes in the theory that war does not have to end with the winner taking all. They envisage a partition of the country into a Palestinian state with Muslims and Christians - and even Jews - in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, peacefully coexisting alongside the Israeli state with its own mix of Jews, Arabs and Druze.

Israel's war effort will be delegitimized and become unsustainable unless Israel does so with far greater concern for Palestinian civilians

Two-state proponents are currently on the defensive in both communities in their battle with one-state advocates. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the USA and all moderates to return the alternative model of two states. This will require a renewed Palestinian Authority that is free of corruption and textbook anti-Semitic incitement, and that has reliable governing and security forces. This is where countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, along with the US, should get involved immediately.

Any two-state solution going forward is impossible without a credible, legitimate Palestinian Authority that Israel trusts to govern Gaza and the West Bank after Hamas. But this not only requires Israeli consent, it also requires the Palestinians to organize themselves. Are they up to it?

Without it, victory in the third war is also impossible. That third war scares me the most.

It is a war between Iran and its proxies - Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and Shiite militias in Iraq - against America, Israel and the moderate Arab states of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE and Bahrain.

This war is not only about hegemony, raw power and energy sources, but also about values. Israel, at its best, and America, also at its best, represent the promotion of Western humanist concepts of women's empowerment, multi-ethnic democracy, pluralism, religious tolerance and the rule of law - which are a direct threat to Iran's misogynistic Islamist theocracy, which on a daily basis demonstrates its a reckless willingness to imprison or even kill Iranian women for not covering their hair sufficiently.

Any two-state solution is impossible without a credible, legitimate Palestinian Authority that Israel trusts to govern Gaza and the West Bank after Hamas.

Although the Arab allies of America and Israel are not democracies - and do not want to be - their leaders are moving away from the old model of building legitimacy through resistance - resistance to Israel, to America, Iran and the Shiites supported by Iran - and closer to building legitimacy in the empowerment of their people ( through education, skills and increasing environmental awareness) so that they can realize their full potential.

That is not on Iran's agenda. The dimension of raw power refers to who will be the hegemon, i.e. the alpha male in the region - Shiite Iran, linked to Russia, which is expanding its influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, or majority Sunni Saudi Arabia in a silent alliance with Bahrain, the UAE, Jordan , Egypt and Israel, all supported by America. In that third war, Iran's goal is to drive the United States out of the Middle East, to destroy Israel, and to intimidate America's Sunni Arab allies into subjugating them to its will.

In this war, America is projecting its power through our two aircraft carrier groups now stationed in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Iran opposes us with what I call "ground carriers" - a network of proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, the West Bank, Yemen and Iraq that serve as a platform for missile attacks on US forces and Israel that are just as deadly as they from our aircraft carriers.

Rafah in southern Gaza after the Israeli attack
Rafah in southern Gaza after the Israeli attackphoto: Reuters

This third war began to escalate on September 14, 2019, when Iran launched an audacious unprovoked drone attack on Abikaik and Kurais, two major Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities. Donald Trump's administration did nothing. "It was an attack on Saudi Arabia, it was not an attack on us," said Trump. On January 17, 2022, the pro-Iranian Houthi militia in Yemen attacked the United Arab Emirates with missiles and drones, causing a fire near Abu Dhabi Airport and explosions of fuel tanks that killed those people. Again, the US did not respond.

Therefore, it is not surprising that Hamas dared to launch a murderous attack on Israel's western border on October 7; shortly after Iran's proxy Hezbollah began daily rocket attacks along Israel's northern border; and the Houthis began launching drones at the southern part of Israel, also seizing one ship in the Red Sea and attacking two others.

I believe that the grip that Iran's Jew-hating clerical regime has on Israel from the west, north and south is an existential threat to Israel. All Iran needs is for Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis to fire a rocket at Israel once a day and tens of thousands of Israelis will refuse to return to their homes along the border areas that are under fire. The state will shrink - or maybe even worse.

Take for example the research of Israeli economist Dan Ben-David, who heads the Shoresh Institute for Socioeconomic Research at Tel Aviv University. In a country of nine million people where Orthodox Jews represent 21 percent of Israel's champions, and 23 percent are Israeli Arabs, who attend chronically underfunded public schools with insufficient staff, Ben David points out that "less than 400 people are responsible for this for Israel to remain part of the developed world”.

We are talking about leading Israeli researchers, scientists, technologists, developers and innovators who drive the economy and defense industry of this start-up country. Today, the vast majority are highly motivated and supportive of the Israeli government. However, if Israel cannot maintain stable borders or sea lanes, some of these 400 will emigrate.

"If the critical mass decides to leave, the consequences for Israel will be catastrophic," said Ben-David. "After all" 2017. 92 percent of total income tax revenue came from just 20 percent of adults" - with those 400.000 people responsible for creating the engine of wealth that generated that 92 percent.

Rafah in southern Gaza after the Israeli attack
Rafah in southern Gaza after the Israeli attackphoto: Reuters

If Iran gets away with this, its propensity to pressure rivals via its land carriers will only grow. Israel can put up a tough fight and is capable of striking deep into Iran. However, to finally break Iran's growing grip, Israel needs allies from the United States, NATO and moderate Arab states. And the United States, NATO and moderate Arab countries need Israel.

Israel and its US support cannot create a viable post-Hamas regional alliance or permanently stabilize Gaza while Benjamin Netanyahu rules as Israel's prime minister

However, such an alliance will not be realized if Netanyahu sticks to his policy of undermining the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank - essentially pushing Israel and its seven million Jews to indefinitely control the five million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Pro-American forces in the region and Joe Biden cannot and will not participate in this.

So I end where I started, only now I hope three things are perfectly clear.

1. The key to winning all three wars is a moderate, effective and legitimate Palestinian Authority that can replace Hamas in Gaza, be an active and credible partner for a two-state solution with Israel, and thus allow Saudi Arabia and other Arab Muslim states to justify normalizing relations with the Jewish state. state and isolate Iran and its supporters.

2. The biggest problem is Hamas and Netanyahu's far-right coalition who refuse to do anything to rebuild, let alone expand the role of the Palestinian Authority.

3. Israel and its American support cannot create a viable post-Hamas regional alliance or permanently stabilize Gaza while Benjamin Netanyahu rules as Israel's prime minister.

The author is a New York Times columnist. He is the winner of three Pulitzer Prizes. He wrote seven books, including From Beirut to Jerusalem, for which he won the National Literary Award

Prepared by: A.Š., NB

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