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Amid threats for more than a decade that Israel would destroy Hamas and rebuild Israel’s deterrence, in reality, the policy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his governments have been to keep a weakened Hamas in power. The primary reason for this policy is to ensure that in the eyes of the Israeli public there is no Palestinian partner for peace. Israel says that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas doesn’t speak on behalf of all of the Palestinians, so there’s no reason to deal with him, and Hamas rules Gaza and wants to destroy Israel, so Israel cannot deal with them; a perfect strategy that has worked for years. Abbas is discredited and Hamas continues to make fiery speeches that convince the world to designate them as a terrorist entity. Meanwhile, the occupation continues and deepens, and more than two million people in Gaza continue to live in squalor and in the walls of a huge prison.
The occupation digs in deeper in the West Bank and the settlers become emboldened and more violent, especially the so-called “young settlements,” a laundered word for settlements that are illegal even under Israeli law. The Trump administration, working hand-in-hand with Netanyahu, enabled the Israeli people to imagine that the Palestinian issue was no longer pressing and threatening. The Israel-US-Arab Gulf alliance against Iran removed almost all Arab pressure on Israel, and the revolving election disaster in Israel removed any discussion of real issues from the Israeli public discourse.
But al-Aqsa/The Temple Mount will never allow us to forget the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and continued attempts by Israel to remove Palestinians from their homes and their land, especially in Jerusalem, will always light the flames of violence in this conflict. That should be vividly clear to everyone this week. Nothing new happened this week. We have all seen it before. The only new element seems to be the ease at which Netanyahu and his closest allies, such as Public Security Minister Amir Ohana spill fuel on the fire that seems to be aimed at making it more difficult for Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett to form a government that will finally force Netanyahu out of power.
Netanyahu will never lie down and let another Israeli politician step on his fallen body. He is determined to prevent a different regime from emerging in this country, regardless of how many Israelis he puts at risk, or how many Palestinians are killed.
Hamas is always prepared to cooperate with Netanyahu. Their longevity in power is based on keeping Israel the ultimate enemy of the Palestinian people and of Islam itself. Mohammed Deif (I will just say that I believe that this man is more of a myth than a reality) will always provide the threatening words against Israel, Zionism and the Jews, and Netanyahu will respond in kind. “Israel will respond with great force. We won’t tolerate harm to our territory, capital, citizens, or soldiers. Whoever attacks us will pay a heavy price.” (May 10, 2021)
So Hamas shoots rockets. Israel bombs Gaza, always finding new targets to hit. On Monday evening, Israel announced that the Israel Air Force bombed a terrorist tunnel in Gaza. I ask, If Israel knew that there was a cross-border tunnel in Gaza and they knew its location, why didn’t they hit it until now? It is all part of a very deadly game that continues because we (on both sides) have no leaders who are statesmen, we have no real governance and there is absolutely no accountability.
THE LANGUAGE of threats feeds our peoples’ demand (Israelis and Palestinians) for revenge against the unending cycle of despair. How many times have we heard in the media, “We have patience, but we want the army to finish them once or for all?” How many times have we heard all of the retired (tiring) generals who fill the unending open studios of all of the TV channels tell us that we must rebuild deterrence so that Hamas understands the price of hitting us with their rockets?
On the Palestinian channels, how many times have we heard the bellicose speeches of politicians and spokespeople with their passionate expressions telling the Palestinian people what a heavy price the Zionists will pay for their crimes, while innocent Palestinians are paying with their lives? They are all playing out their scripted roles in this drama and we have all seen its “final” chapter over and over again. There is nothing new. Everyone plays their roles and no one challenges the absurdity of our ongoing calamity created by our own hands (and I mean by Israel and the Palestinians. This is a script written by both sides).
Our politicians are great speech-makers. Their words are harsh and their threats are poignant. We so much want to believe them. But this is not what we need. We don’t need more threats; they are empty and only bring us back to the same point we were at before the latest round of hit and hit-back began. These are not leaders.
I can understand military people who make threats. From leaders, true leaders, I expect and demand something else. It has been a generation since we heard the words of true statesmen in this conflict. Let’s recall the words of Yitzhak Rabin on September 13, 1993, at the ceremony for signed the Declaration of Principles of the Oslo peace process:
“Let me say to you, the Palestinians: We are destined to live together on the same soil, in the same land. We, the soldiers who have returned from battle stained with blood, we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes, we who have attended their funerals and cannot look into the eyes of their parents, we who have come from a land where parents bury their children, we who have fought against you, the Palestinians. We say to you today in a loud and a clear voice: Enough of blood and tears. Enough. We have no desire for revenge. We harbor no hatred toward you. We, like you, are people; people who want to build a home, to plant a tree, to love, to live side by side with you in dignity, in empathy, as human beings, as free men. We are today giving peace a chance, and saying again to you: Enough. Let us pray that a day will come when we all will say: Farewell to the arms.”
Even Yasser Arafat, whom Israel has fully demonized, said the following at the same Oslo agreement signing ceremony:
“Now as we stand on the threshold of this new historic era, let me address the people of Israel and their leaders, with whom we are meeting today for the first time, and let me assure them that the difficult decision we reached together was one that required great and exceptional courage…. Our people do not consider that exercising the right to self-determination could violate the rights of their neighbors or infringe on their security. Rather, putting an end to their feelings of being wronged and of having suffered an historic injustice is the strongest guarantee to achieve coexistence and openness between our two peoples and future generations. Our two peoples are awaiting today this historic hope, and they want to give peace a real chance.”
We need new leaders who can be statesmen. Lapid and Bennett, who will hopefully soon be the new leaders of Israel, and to whoever eventually succeeds Mahmoud Abbas – listen to the words of Rabin and Arafat. Find the leadership qualities that enable stepping out of the pre-scripted roles and change our history, instead of just falling into this cycle of absurdity.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press.