As evidence of Israeli war crimes mounts in Gaza, Netanyahu’s latest escalation will only add to his country’s increasing international pariah status.
Just over 24 hours after reports emerged that Israel and the Palestinians – with American urging – had reached a deal to gradually end the Gaza blockade, Israel began targeting the very people with whom it had been indirectly negotiating. Following a reported assassination attempt on Hamas military wing leader Mohammed Deif, which instead killed his wife and young child, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said she would “always support the targeted killings of terror leaders,” adding unequivocally: “I do not negotiate with Hamas.”
But Israel’s about-face doesn’t add up. Ultimately, the indirect talks in Cairo have always been with Hamas, and though they have been tense from the get-go, preceding periods of calm – the most recent lasting six days, and interrupted first by last Friday’s Israeli fire at residential areas in Khan Younis – have yielded hope for a long-term truce. When that hope dimmed, the ensuing violence fell within predictable, if no less horrifying, parameters – Gaza’s resistance fired rockets, and Israel’s military bombed what it termed “terror targets.” But this time those “targets” are not the facilities – hospitals, schools, factories – Israel has struck over the past six weeks; they are individual Hamas leaders.
The move suggests a zero-sum Israeli strategy aimed at “eliminating” any of the people capable of forging a way out of the current confrontation. This strategy was tried in 2012 when Israel assassinated top Hamas negotiator Ahmad Jabari, prompting Hamas retaliation and a nine-day Israeli assault that cost the lives of more than 400 Palestinians. Given that operation’s failure to achieve Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stated aim of crushing Hamas’ military capability, one wonders what the rationale behind Israel’s current round of assassinations could be.
If 2012 is any gauge, one answer might be that Israel hopes to dismantle Hamas entirely, re-installing the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority in Gaza. But there are no signs that any of the Palestinian factions negotiating in Cairo have broken rank, and PA chief Mahmoud Abbas has yet to withdraw his support for Hamas’s demands. Meanwhile, Israel continues to hold hostage members of the West Bank-based Palestinian Legislative Council, and last night issued, for the first time since the mid-1980s, “internal deportation” orders to Palestinian parliamentarian Khalida Jarrar.
By undermining their leadership on two fronts, Netanyahu seems to be picking a fight directly with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. In the latter he has now killed more than 2,000, including most recently members of the Dalu family, who lost five women and four children in an Israeli airstrike during the 2012 assault. This time, Israeli jets reportedly unleashed five missiles on the Dalu home, leaving no doubt that Netanyahu has crossed his own Rubicon in Gaza.
Yet with Israeli troops once again amassing on the Gaza border, Netanyahu has spent all of the pretenses he manufactured for a ground operation. His military planners have declared the much-ballyhooed tunnels destroyed or incapacitated. His tank commanders have leveled virtually every major population center along Gaza’s northern, eastern and southern borders. And these areas have been all but emptied of their Palestinian inhabitants, leaving more than a quarter of Gaza’s population displaced.
All of this comes at a price – in Palestinian lives and corresponding world condemnation – that Israelis seem not to recognize. As they continue to grant Netanyahu overwhelming support, they fail to question why, for example, his government barred access to Gaza for researchers from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. As evidence of Israeli war crimes mount in Gaza, Netanyahu’s latest escalation will only add to his country’s increasing international pariah status. And that, ultimately, will force Israel’s defeat on both fronts of Netanyahu’s war – with or without Hamas at the negotiating table.
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