NEW YORK, Dec 22 (IPS) – Benjamin Netanyahu must go. Under the guise of judicial reform, Netanyahu has undermined the rule of law and divided the country. He is toxic to Arab states, even those which have signed the Abraham Accords. Netanyahu has become an impediment to Israel’s democratic development and regional relations.
Israel needs a new government committed to peace and a cabinet that champions reconciliation. Perpetual war plays into the hands of Hamas. It placates Jewish hardliners who oppose the national aspirations of Palestinians. War also serves Netanyahu by distracting voters and delaying accountability for his government’s intelligence failures on October 7.
It took up to ten hours for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to react to Hamas’ invasion. Known for its security and intelligence services, Israel was caught flat-footed. Panicked residents of kibbutzim cowered in safe rooms, while 1,200 Israelis were killed, butchered in their homes and on the grounds of the Nova Music Festival. Hundreds were taken hostage by Hamas, gang-raped and turned into sexual slaves. One hundred and thirty remain in captivity.
It is impossible to reconcile Israel’s objectives. Israel cannot eradicate Hamas and free hostages captive in the subterranean world of Gaza’s tunnel network. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin just visited Jerusalem to discuss priorities and scaling back Israel’s offensive.
In the fog of war, the IDF killed three Israeli hostages last week displaying a white flag and speaking in Hebrew. Shooting people, even Hamas members who surrender, violates the laws of war and Israel’s military code. Exhausted and trigger happy, the incident is under investigation. The Israeli army chief of staff and the intelligence chief issued apologies. Netanyahu prevaricated, delaying his meeting with hostage families.
The incident caused outrage across Israel, raising questions about Israel’s conduct of the war. The Hamas Ministry of Health claims that 20,000 Palestinian civilians have died as a result of IDF activities. Hostage families are demanding an investigation.
There is a growing clamor to bring the hostages home. Hostage families are also demanding a plan to end the war. They have generally been supportive of Netanyahu’s response, but they are wavering. They believe that continued action in Gaza risks the lives of the remaining 130 hostages. The bungled operation has brought Israeli institutions – the IDF, Shin Bet and Mossad – into disrepute.
Even President Joe Biden, Israel’s biggest backer, criticized the IDF for its “indiscriminate bombing.” France, Germany and Britain are also fed up and have demanded a “sustainable ceasefire.”
Netanyahu said there will be a time and place for an inquiry into the Hamas attack and Israel’s response. He believes that the longer it takes for an inquiry, the more the passions of hostage families will be mollified.
Israel’s slow grinding war with Hamas must stop. Israel was justified in launching a reprisal after October 7, especially as details of the brutality came to light. Two months later, the IDF seems to be flailing about. Israel has been characterized as the aggressor and has lost the moral high ground. For sure, Israel has every right to defend itself. But what started as calculated counterterrorism now seems more like rage and revenge.
Can Hamas even be defeated? Hamas is more than an organization. It is a movement. For every Hamas terrorist that Israel kills, more Palestinian militants are waiting in the wings.
It’s time for a new approach. An interim government overseen by the Palestinian Authority should be established and make plans for an eventual Palestinian state living side-by-side at peace with Israel.
Indiscriminate bombing is counterproductive. A more surgical approach would differentiate between Hamas and Gazans, addressing claims of collective punishment.
Internationally mediated talks would ensue when the hostages are freed. Palestinians need a national horizon to separate themselves from the clutches of Hamas.
Israeli elections would likely repudiate Netanyahu and lead to the creation of a peace cabinet, putting Israel back on track as a democracy that respects minority rights and values good neighborly relations.
It is unimaginable that Netanyahu can survive his putrid performance. Prosecutors are waiting to charge Netanyahu with corruption. Israelis can debate the details of government formation for months, but polling suggests that regime change is something that Israelis agree on now.
David Phillips is an Adjunct Professor at the Security Studies Program of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.
IPS UN Bureau
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