Clueless in Gaza

Clueless in Gaza

Netanyahu earlier this month at a Holocaust Remembrance Day event. (Reuters)
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu avoids giving interviews to domestic media outlets, as accountability and transparency have never been his forte. He does not like the scrutiny that comes when facing probing journalists who might, in their audacity, ask him difficult questions. Why has he not taken responsibility for his failure to defend Israelis on Oct. 7? Why, more than seven months into a war to “destroy Hamas,” are the organization and its leaders still capable of fighting against a much larger and better-equipped army, and are now returning to places that were evacuated by Israel?
How can he justify the killing of so many noncombatants in Gaza? How can he explain the current state of international isolation that Israel finds itself in, especially considering the initial circumstances of this war? And then there is the question of all questions: What is his plan for the “day after?” All of these are legitimate concerns that Netanyahu avoids addressing either for the sake of convenience or, in the case of what the future might hold for Gaza and Israel’s relations with the Palestinians more generally, because he is devoid of an adequate answer.
Instead, he gives interviews to selected American media networks, preferably those that will give him as easy a ride as the situation allows. He then relies on the natural sympathy of the interviewer, and his own unparalleled manipulative prowess in twisting matters and concocting a reality in which he and Israel are always the victims, always moral, and eventually victorious.
It might therefore have been because of the relaxed nature of his interview with Dr. Phil McGraw, a clinical psychologist by trade on whose American TV show Netanyahu appeared this week, that he for the first time opened up a little and admitted some culpability for the failures of Oct. 7 — not personally, mind you, but he was prepared to claim collective responsibility and generously share the blame for the calamity with his Cabinet colleagues.
It is not only the case that Netanyahu has his own version of the past and the present, regardless of how detached it is from reality, but equally, and more disturbingly, there is his vision for the future — or rather, the lack of one.
Asked by Dr. Phil about “the day after” the war, his response reflected a foggy mind and wishful thinking, with no strategic clarity. After seven months of horrific bloodshed, it is not too much to expect some coherence when it comes to Gaza and not the vague answer he gave. He said: “We’ll probably have to have some kind of civilian administration by Gazans who are not committed to our destruction, possibly with the aid of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and other countries that I think want to see stability and peace.”
A few days later he said that “talk about the day after (the war), while Hamas is still intact, is (pointless).”

From Day 1 of this conflict, the absence of any serious scenario-building within the Israeli government or the country’s various security organizations regarding the short- and long-term political objectives of the war, beyond the mantra of “total victory,” was obvious.
What we are witnessing instead is Israel entering into yet another never-ending war, with no exit strategy, that will inevitably lead to an Israeli military presence in the Gazan enclave for the foreseeable future, embroiled in guerrilla warfare with Hamas and other Palestinian militant factions, with no political horizon.

The only possible solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a political one that brings an end to the occupation.

Yossi Mekelberg

We are already seeing in some parts of Gaza previously declared by Israel to be clear of Hamas forces, and which therefore had a considerably reduced Israeli military presence, that Hamas militants are returning, as is the Israeli army and, with them, further clashes.
Netanyahu’s US TV interview earned an instant rebuke from the UAE’s Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, who put him firmly in his place by declaring categorically that the UAE will not “participate in the civil administration of the Gaza Strip, which is under Israeli occupation.”
It is reasonable to conclude that this is also the position of the other countries Netanyahu expects to help Israel reconstruct the Strip. Because this time, unlike in previous rounds of hostilities, unless there is a historic compromise with the Palestinians that leads to a viable and stable peace, donor countries will be reluctant to invest time, energy, and money in rebuilding the enclave, only to see it destroyed again within a few years.
In its frustration at the lack of any Israeli strategy to end the war and establish authentic governance in the Gaza Strip, the UAE has found unlikely allies in Israel in the form of Defense Minister Yoav Galant and the nation’s military commanders, who are equally frustrated by the situation and have become increasingly vocal about it.
The chief of staff of the Israeli military, Herzi Halevi, reportedly tore into the prime minister during a recent security discussion, upbraiding Netanyahu for his utter failure to come up with a “day after” strategy for who will rule Gaza when the war ends. Military leaders rightly accuse the government of having no diplomatic plan for establishing a governing body in the Strip, consequently forcing the army to launch repeated campaigns against Hamas with no decisive outcome.
This meeting of minds between the international community and the Israeli military establishment derives from a clearer view that the only possible solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a political one that brings an end to the occupation. By the same token, military force can only serve to prolong the conflict and, in the case of the war in Gaza, unnecessarily extend a Netanyahu premiership that has no support within his own country, let alone abroad.
Every single day that the war continues without moving any closer to a peaceful political solution in which Gaza is just one component, albeit a very significant one, is a disaster for the people in the territory, and Palestinians in general, but also for Israel and its international standing.
Netanyahu’s insistence, for example, that a further Israeli offensive in Gaza will go ahead has already led to Washington withholding at least some weapon supplies, and Egypt, which is directly affected by what is taking place in Gaza, announced last week that it would support South Africa’s ongoing lawsuit in the International Court of Justice that accuses Israel of genocide in Gaza.
This is Netanyahu’s legacy: failure to defend Israel when it needed it most; conducting a war with no achievable objective in mind; creating the conditions for Israel, its politicians and military personnel to be accused of war crimes; and having no grasp of how to bring this war to an end in a way that serves as a springboard toward peace with the Palestinians and rebuilding formal and informal ties with regional powers.
For a split second, Dr. Phil managed to get Netanyahu to make some progress in taking responsibility for all this. But neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians, or any other regional powers, have the time to wait and see whether this session of media therapy might lead to Netanyahu’s full rehabilitation. This he should do as a private citizen.

  • Yossi Mekelberg is a professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the Middle East and North Africa Program at international affairs think tank Chatham House. X: @YMekelberg
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