Politically speaking, Netanyahu looks like a dead man walking.
What is clear is that Netanyahu’s new policy of eradicating Hamas has no chance of succeeding. Hamas has a military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, which commits terrorist acts when it targets Israeli civilians. Even if all its commanders are killed, they would be quickly replaced by new recruits and more militant ones. But Hamas is also a political party with institutions and a social movement with many branches such as a women’s association and a students’ association. It is part of the fabric of Palestinian society. What is more, Hamas is a set of ideas, including the idea of freedom and self-determination for the Palestinian people. Military force can decimate an organisation, but it cannot kill an idea.
With characteristic hubris, Netanyahu announced that he was determined to destroy Hamas not only to ensure his own country’s security but also to free the people of Gaza from Hamas’s tyranny. His indiscriminate use of force, however, does not weaken Hamas; it strengthens it. By relying on brute military force alone, he weakens those Palestinian leaders who advocate negotiations and believe that Palestinians need only behave nicely for the world to sit up and listen. Nor is Hamas identical to the Islamic State (IS) group, as Netanyahu and an ever-increasing number of his ministers keep claiming. IS is an organisation with a nihilist global agenda. Hamas, by contrast, is a regional organisation with a limited and legitimate political agenda.
On 2 June 1948, Sir John Troutbeck, a senior official in the UK Foreign Office, wrote a memo to Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin. He complained that by their support for the creation of Israel, the Americans helped to create a “gangster state with a thoroughly unscrupulous set of leaders”.
Whether Israel behaves like a gangster state is open to debate, but Netanyahu is without doubt a thoroughly unscrupulous leader. As he directed Israel’s 2023 assault on Gaza, Netanyahu was also on trial for three serious corruption charges, and he knew that if convicted, he might end up in prison. The imperative of personal political survival helped to shape his conduct of the war.
Yet Netanyahu’s motives for prolonging the war in Gaza went deeper than self-preservation. His life’s mission has been to defeat the Palestinian national movement and to prevent the emergence of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
He grew up in a fiercely nationalistic Jewish home. His father, Benzion Netanyahu, was the political secretary of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the spiritual father of the Israeli right and the chief architect of the strategy of the “iron wall.” In 1923, Jabotinsky published an article under the title “On the Iron Wall (We and the Arabs).” In it, he argued that the Zionist goal of an independent Jewish state in Palestine could only be achieved unilaterally and by military force. [Continue reading…]