When the strategy to displace Gazans was revealed
We have experienced a handful of days of respite from the killing machine. However, between the optimism regarding a further extension of this temporary pause and the pessimism in anticipation of a more cruel and horrific round of bloodshed, negotiators are seeking to make progress and pretenders are making pretenses. Thus, if there are any tentative conclusions to be made, they include the following.
Firstly, despite their haughty attitudes, both Israel and Hamas have lost and won points. From the Israeli perspective, its war machine was caught off guard in various places by what happened on Oct. 7. In what was perhaps an attempt to compensate for this, Israel launched a vicious war of rumors that is aimed at riling up the public and inciting a war of displacement and extermination. However, these rumors have been shown to be untrue both locally and internationally.
Also, despite the effectiveness of Israel’s arms and the havoc it has wreaked on the innocent people of Gaza, it has so far been unable to achieve its declared objectives, foremost of which is the destruction of Hamas, its leaders, its doctrine and its affiliates.
As for the political calculations, opinion polls regularly conducted by the Israeli newspaper Maariv indicate that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approval rating has been declining, while his direct rival Benny Gantz is becoming increasingly popular. The latest polls (conducted on Nov. 15 and 16, with the results announced last Friday) show that 52 percent of Israeli voters now want to see Gantz head the government, compared to only 27 percent who continue to support Netanyahu. In terms of control of the Knesset and its 120 seats, the poll shows that, if elections were held today, the ruling right-wing extremist coalition led by Netanyahu and his Likud party would only win 41 seats and the opposition would win 79.
While Gantz’s National Unity party would independently secure 43 seats, Likud would not win more than 18. Moreover, according to the same Maariv poll, the party of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, one of the most extreme in Israel, would fail to reach the threshold needed to ensure parliamentary representation.
On the Palestinian side, a high cost has been paid for the moral and political setbacks suffered by Netanyahu and his ruling clique. While the people of Gaza are bearing the brunt of these costs, the Palestinians in the West Bank, especially in Jenin, Tulkarm and Nablus, have not been left unscathed, as armed Israeli settlers and occupation forces have killed hundreds.
More than 14,000 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip, including about 5,000 children. A large share of its inhabitants have been displaced. Large parts of Gaza’s cities and refugee camps have been destroyed and it has been split between north and south. All of these developments raise concerns.
Despite the effectiveness of Israel’s arms and the havoc it has wreaked, it has so far been unable to achieve its declared objectives.
Eyad Abu Shakra
Moreover, what has unfolded since Oct. 7 is much more than a reaction and far more horrific than vengeance. Adding insult to injury, global expressions of solidarity with Israel, under the pretext of its “right to self-defense,” have allowed Israeli lobbies in most Western countries to exploit the Oct. 7 operation and push for a “transfer” (i.e., the mass displacement of Palestinians).
The efforts of these lobbyists resemble those we saw in 2003, when Iraq was invaded following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. At that time, President George W. Bush’s American administration was aware that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s regime had nothing to do with the attacks. However, members of the administration, particularly the neoconservative Likudniks, drew up a plan to invade and occupy Iraq because the claim that it possessed weapons of mass destruction could be exploited to justify the occupation and regime change. This is exactly what happened.
As we all recall, the Iranian regime was the primary beneficiary of this occupation. Indeed, as soon as Baghdad fell into the hands of the American forces, Iraqi religious, political and militia leaders who had been exiled in Iran flocked back to the occupied Iraqi capital. It was not long before Paul Bremer, who headed the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, boasted of ending “centuries of Sunni rule” there.
The first thing Netanyahu told his audience after Oct. 7 was that Israel’s goal was to eliminate Hamas and “change the Middle East.” Once the Israeli military operation in Gaza began, right-wing ministers and politicians made statements threatening to displace the residents of the Gaza Strip to Egypt — and later distributing them to countries around the world. Others hinted at displacing West Bank residents and reviving the project for an “alternative homeland” in Jordan.
At the same time, Washington insisted on the need to limit the fighting to the Gaza Strip, claiming there was no evidence of Iranian involvement in the Hamas attack. While Tehran was happy to merely voice its support, Lebanese Hezbollah launched attacks that respected the “rules of engagement” acceptable to Israel. Tehran’s militias in Iraq and Yemen also “caused trouble” to reinforce Iran’s rhetorical support and maintain the facade of a so-called resistance axis.
Amid regional and international efforts to extend the truce, develop a formula for the future of the Gaza Strip and decide who will be in charge once Hamas is removed, leaders from Hamas and spokespersons for Tehran, including a Hezbollah official, continued to promote the narrative of “victory.” The official was quoted as saying: “Israel has fallen and we are closer to dear victory than ever, thanks to the fighters; we know what is happening in Palestine, and the Israeli army has tried and failed to solve the conflict militarily.”
Thus, between defining victories and waiting for deals, many have been exposed.
• Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. This column first appeared in Asharq Al-Awsat.