The most profound and fundamental cause of the failures we are reckoning with today is the “concept” of maintaining the occupation as if we can contain its harmful implications.
Since the horrible Shabbat of October 7, we have been inundated with resolute commentary about the collapse of the assumptions that had underpinned Israel’s conduct: that Hamas is deterred and that the inherent threat it poses could be “contained.” The common talking point now is that the “concept” has collapsed. Is this so?
The Hebrew term “conceptzia” is charged with Israel’s dire failure to correctly understand Egypt’s intention to launch a war against it on Yom Kippur in 1973. Against such a traumatic background, before eulogizing any specific “concept,” one must ask whether its purported collapse made way for a new policy. A “concept” – a perception and a set of assumptions from which a policy derives – is alive as long as decision-makers stick to the old policy. In our current situation, the actual root “concept,” as I will detail below, hasn’t collapsed at all. It continues to steer government policy.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long-term conduct reveals that he assumed that Hamas could be contained and deterred. This assumption served a deeper strategic concept: fostering division among the Palestinians while weakening the Palestinian Authority so that Israel could assert that it has no partner for a peace agreement. Such an agreement is undesirable from the point of view of the Israeli Right, because it would put an end to the quest for a “Greater Israel.”
Appearing before the commission of inquiry, once it convenes, Netanyahu can be expected to argue that it was not the “concept” that collapsed, but rather the way it was managed. He will contend that the fact that the IDF, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), and Israel’s intelligence apparatus failed does not mean that the “concept” is mistaken.
The occupation creates perpetual conflict
INDEED, IF the national soul-searching is reduced to clarifying whether the Hamas containment “concept” failed, or whether those charged with its management failed, we will have missed the most profound and fundamental cause of the failures we are reckoning with today: the “concept” of maintaining the occupation as if we can contain its harmful implications.
If we refrain from coming to grips with the futility of the strategy of maintaining the occupation, we will find that the lessons learned will be limited to how the old “concept” was mismanaged, and not the efficacy of abandoning it. And so, the lessons of the disaster will only translate into tactical measures where the deepening of Israel’s rule in the territories will be one of the most prominent of them. The occupation will become more brutal, and it will be conducted according to the same basic premise that led us to October 7 – that Israel can continue its occupation of another people endlessly.
As long as maintaining the occupation guides Israel’s actions, we can expect to meet increasingly violent Palestinian resistance, not to mention the risk of sliding into a binational reality that would diminish Israel’s Jewish character. Sometimes we will succeed in subduing the attacks and sometimes, unfortunately, we will fail. As severe as the damage we inflict on Hamas may be, it will not eliminate the infrastructure that enabled the growth of the murderous organization.
We find ourselves forced to “mow the lawn” repeatedly, knowing full well that the grass will continue to grow. The lawn may change names with each of Hamas’s successors. But make no mistake, the bloody cycle will repeat itself as long as we are guided by the “concept” that the occupation can be maintained, and its disastrous ramifications contained.
Hamas’s greatest threat is a credible peace process
TO DEFEAT the infrastructure that incubates Hamas and its ilk, an approach other than the failed idea of occupation must be found and advanced. A political settlement must be sought with the Palestinian camp that is ready for a historic compromise with Israel, the same camp whose people were thrown from the rooftops of Gaza by Hamas thugs.
The discourse with this camp must be sober and free of illusions about the nature of the Palestinian “peace camp.” It will never be made up of lovers of Zion, but its people understand that not accepting the reality of the existence of the State of Israel will only lead them to further national calamity.
Hamas considers the notion of a peace process its biggest threat. As the horizon of Palestinian independence that awaits at the end of a political process comes into view, Hamas ideology will become less attractive, and less relevant. The more the Palestinians enjoy economic prosperity, the more they will conclude that peace pays off.
The demise of Hamas, if it does happen, will create a historic opportunity for the restoration of the Palestinian camp that aspires to settle the conflict with Israel, restart a peace process that leads to a two-state solution, and that supports sustainable normalization of Israel’s relations with the Arab world.
The road will be long and gradual. It will require the Palestinian side to meet Israel’s strict security requirements and abide by rigorous performance tests. The process will also require an interim period in which the Gaza Strip will be transferred in stages from IDF control to an international force overseen by the United States. This force, in close coordination with Israel, will manage the security of Gaza and the enormous task of reconstruction.
In the distant past, the political divide in Israel revolved around the occupation and the future of the territories, but in recent years, the opposition parties to the Left of the Likud have been reluctant to hoist the banner of a political settlement with the Palestinians. They adopted the failed formula of “conflict management” and thereby assisted the adherents of the occupation in expanding the settlement enterprise and thwarting a two-state solution.
The Right is not about to change its conceptual motherboard; it does not want the occupation to end because it does not want to relinquish the vision of Greater Israel. But will opposition leaders be jolted from their complacency in the wake of the October 7 massacre and present a political initiative for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement? Will they say in a clear voice that the most significant strategic concept that has collapsed is not the containment of Hamas, but the continuation of the occupation?
The writer, a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, is a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute. His novel Toronto Junction was recently published by 2sfarim Publishing.
credit: TPS public