The Politics Of War

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu linked the Hamas’ October 7 attack to the Holocaust and roared ‘Never again’, only those for whom Israel can do no wrong failed to recognise what Netanyahu had actually declared. This was that the ethnic cleansing of the Gaza Strip had begun.

Omar Atshan, a Palestinian prisoner released by Israel in exchange of hostages abducted by Hamas, hugs his mother.

A month ago, on Saturday October 28, Israel’s President Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel had opened a “new phase” in the war against Hamas by sending ground forces into Gaza and expanding its attacks from the ground, air and sea. It’s “very clear objective” he said, was to destroy Hamas once and for all. A past master at depicting every Israeli act of oppression as defence, he linked Hamas’ October 7 attack to the Holocaust and roared, “We always said, ‘Never again’. Never again is now.” Only those for whom Israel can do no wrong will fail to recognise what Netanyahu had actually declared. This was that the ethnic cleansing of Gaza had begun.

Four weeks later, this has been brutally confirmed. By then the Israeli army had killed 14,000 civilians in Gaza, including 9,000 women and children. Another estimated 2,000 or more persons had been entombed in the basements of multi-­storeyed buildings brought down upon them by Israel’s relentless bombing, and are now almost certainly dead. Israel has lost 398 soldiers so far, whom Netan­yahu’s government is calling ‘‘martyrs’’.

This is a high price to pay for a country whose people came there to escape the persecution they had suffered for close to two millennia in the Western world. But this war has cost Israel something else, something intangible but immeasurably more valuable. This is the last remnant of the vast reservoir of sympathy for Jews that had been generated in the West by the Holocaust.

On November 22, six weeks after the bombing of Gaza began, 68 percent of Americans were calling for a cease-fire, and 56 percent believed that Israel’s military response had gone “too far”. But these figures pale into insignificance before the disillusionment being felt in Israel, for on or around that date a survey of 550 Israelis by the Bar Ilan University carried out jointly with the opinion-polling company iPanel, found that less than 4 percent of Jewish Israelis considered Netanyahu to be a reliable source of information on the ongoing war against Hamas in Gaza. Most preferred to believe the daily briefings of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) spokesperson, General Daniel Hagari.

With every passing day the belief is growing stronger that Netanyahu’s days as prime minister are numbered. An opinion poll conducted a fortnight after the Hamas attack by the Israeli newspaper Maariv showed that if there was an election, the Likud party which is headed by Netanyahu, would win only 18 seats against the 40 it holds today.

This is the polar opposite of the world’s reaction after the 9/11 attack. Added to the mounting anger in the Arab and other Muslim nations that is now being openly displayed by its leaders, this has left heads of state like Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron—who had rushed to Tel Aviv to offer their condolences to Netanyahu and the Israeli people in the immediate aftermath of October 7—with egg on their faces.

Encroachment into the West Bank by a Netanyahu-led Israel has swallowed 61% of it into contiguous, settler-built colonies and their surrounding farms.

In a bid to limit the world’s growing revulsion against the slaughter in Gaza, Netanyahu has accepted a four-day cease-fire there. Hamas will almost certainly reciprocate this by releasing 50 hostages. If the hostages are found to have been well looked after, as was the old lady whom Hamas first released more than a fortnight ago, there is every likelihood that the cease-fire will get extended in exchange for the release of more hostages. But even if this process were to continue till all the hostages who are still alive after the Israeli bombing are released, what will Netanyahu do next? Will he send in IDF ground forces once more to hunt down and destroy Hamas, as he has sworn to do? Till November 19, the IDF had lost 383 soldiers of whom 13 had been killed in just the preceding week.

These figures show that even after bombing building after building to the ground, and using armoured vehicles against civilians, the IDF has not broken Hamas’ back. This is not surprising for it has been the experience of every army that has been forced to fight an enemy entrenched in an urban area—be it Grozny, Aleppo, Sarajevo or Berlin—that the only way to ‘win’, if it can be called that, is to bury it under the pile of rubble that used to be a city earlier.

Not surprisingly, therefore Macron, and leaders all over the world inclu­ding Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have now joined Biden in urging Israel to end the conflict by accepting a “two-state” solution to the Palestine issue. But the two-state solution which was first agreed to in principle by the Israeli government, Al Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organisa­tion (PLO) in 1993 as a prelude to the Oslo conferences, was rubbished by Netanyahu shortly after he became prime minister for the first time in 1996. By now, relentless encroachment into the West Bank by a Netanyahu-led Israel has swallowed 61 percent of it into contiguous, settler-built colonies and their surrounding farms.

In its recent, nearly consummated deal with Saudi Arabia, Israel had been asking for this to be increased to 87 percent of the West Bank to accommodate the settlers and new immigrants still pouring into the ‘‘Promised Land’’. But that is now a pipe dream that Israel can only achieve through further ethnic cleansing. With Biden having categorically and unhesitatingly endorsed Egypt’s decision not to allow Israel to chase the Palestinians of Gaza into the Sinai, that has become an impossible prospect.

I have pointed out elsewhere that the only solution that remains is to follow India’s example and unite  Israel with the West Bank and Gaza into a single, federal  ‘‘Union of Peoples’’, with Jerusalem as its national Capital and Tel Aviv, Ramallah and Gaza city as its State capitals. This will create fresh opportunities for all without taking away any rights from some. Israel’s immense industrial and scientific capabilities will then lead to a flowering of peace and prosperity in the eastern Levant such as the region has not known before. This will not prove easy for it will need time for the passions aroused by half a century of hate to subside. But it is the only way left to go.


(Views expressed are personal)

Prem Shankar Jha is a columnist and author residing in Delhi