The Mother of All Opportunities

The immunity that Israel has enjoyed to date despite years of violating international law is coming to an end.  If it is to survive, Israel must make sure that the Netanyahu reign comes to an end first.

Entrenched in the Israeli narrative on the conflict in the Middle East is the belief that, as Abba Eban put it following the 1973 Geneva Conference, “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” The list of opportunities the Palestinians allegedly missed easily rolls off Israeli tongues, from the rejection of the Partition Plan through the failure of the Oslo process, the Olmert-Abbas talks, the Kerry mission, and the refusal to engage on the Trump plan. Also often cited is the disengagement from Gaza, which the right wing presents as a lost chance at independence rather than what it really was: confinement in an open-air prison.

While developing this myth of Palestinians as chronic naysayers who bear sole responsibility for their plight, successive Israeli Governments perfected the art of saying “yes… but.” Thus, Ariel Sharon said yes to the Bush roadmap, the first explicit US commitment to the two-state solution, but attached 14 reservations. In his famous Bar-Ilan speech of 2009, Prime Minister Netanyahu said yes to a future Palestinian state but added only if Israel receives guarantees that it will be demilitarized and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. He later said yes to the Trump “Peace to Prosperity” plan but added that it can move forward only if the Palestinians are “genuinely prepared to make peace with the Jewish state” and if they agree to abide by all the conditions put forward in the plan.

Since he resumed office after toppling the Bennett-Lapid government, however, Netanyahu appears to have lost his mastery of walking between the raindrops. Desperate to keep his coalition intact, Netanyahu is giving in to the demands of his ultraright Ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich and is issuing unequivocal statements that leave no room to doubt that he is about to miss the mother of all opportunities.

International Awakening

The concept that the Israel-Palestine conflict is a bilateral issue that can wait for the two parties to exhibit the will to resolve it was debunked by the horrific Hamas attack on October 7 and the ensuing war on Gaza. The Houthi attacks on maritime traffic in the Red Sea are child’s play when compared with the global dimensions the conflict could take on if it remains unchecked. Thus, the international calls for a cease-fire are driven not only by recognition of the urgent need to end the death and devastation in Gaza and by concern for the fate of the Israeli hostages but also by the awareness of the need to keep the fighting from spreading to other fronts.  Furthermore, the growing calls for recognition of Palestinian statehood come from the understanding that Middle East stability is a global imperative and the realization that it will not be achieved as long as the occupation continues.

Against the backdrop of the Hamas atrocities and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, it feels somewhat irreverent to cite John F. Kennedy’s observation that every crisis also represents an opportunity. Nonetheless, the world’s awakening to the urgent need for action to end the Israeli occupation and enable the Palestinian people to exercise the right of self-determination while also recognizing Israel’s need to combat terrorist groups bent on its destruction set the stage for a push of the reset button and a new approach to negotiations.  This time, recognition of the State of Palestine will be the prologue rather than the epilogue, the two parties will be joined by US, European, and Arab representatives who will be active participants, and the talks will be framed by terms of reference that include the objectives and a timetable, leaving it to Israel and Palestine to fill in the blanks.

Aside from the changed approach to the negotiations, the opportunity presented by what is being called “the Biden Doctrine” lies in its comprehensive vision, which looks at relations between all the countries of the region and foresees broad global security alliances. Israel would benefit not only from an end to the conflict with the Palestinians but also from the coveted normalization of relations with Saudi Arabia and from an alliance of partners in the struggle against Iran and its proxies in the region.

Accountability on the Agenda

It is to this that Netanyahu is saying a resounding no, orchestrating both a government statement and a Knesset vote against unilateral recognition of the State of Palestine. His campaign against two states appears to be working at home, where a recent poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute showed that a majority of the Israeli public believes that the establishment of a Palestinian state would strengthen terrorism. When it comes to the international arena, however, Netanyahu’s no is falling on deaf ears.  The Palestinian people’s right to self-determination in a sovereign state is anchored in countless UN resolutions, and nowhere does it say that Israel has the right to confer or withhold it.

The world has turned a corner and accountability is on the agenda, as seen in the deliberations of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the occupation and on the accusation of genocide, in calls by UN experts for an arms embargo on Israel, in a Dutch court’s order to halt the export of F-35 fighter jet parts, to name just a few examples. Perhaps of greatest concern is the erosion in US support. Less than five months after hugging Netanyahu and conveying the message “you’re not alone” in person, President Biden called the Israeli prime minister a “bad fucking guy.” And it would appear that the announcement of plans to build 3,000 new settlement units in response to the terrorist attack on the road to Ma’ale Adumim drove Biden around the bend, resulting in Secretary of State Blinken’s statement that settlements are inconsistent with international law.

One should recall that back in June 2023, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller had said that the Biden administration would not be reversing the “Pompeo Doctrine,” according to which Israeli settlements are “not per se inconsistent with international law.” In a recent post on X (formerly Twitter), Middle East expert and former Ambassador Martin Indyk wrote that the US ship of state turns slowly, but it is turning and, he warns, “the confrontation is coming.”

Netanyahu’s “Day After” Plan

A few days ago, Netanyahu finally released his long-awaited “day after” plan, which turned out to be a tactical program for managing the conflict rather than resolving it.  The document begins with the statement that the IDF will continue the war until it has achieved its goals, making it clear that the author doesn’t expect “the day after” to be reached any time soon. The plan looks at Gaza in isolation, addressing issues related to the administration of the Strip and to Israel’s security interests, without taking a more strategic look at the future of the Palestinian territories as a whole, except for rejecting “international dictates” and “unilateral” moves toward a political solution.

Netanyahu and his wretched coalition partners are leading the country to the abyss. The “new Middle East” he promised in his speech to the 78th session of the UN General Assembly has turned out to be one in which approximately 1,200 Israelis were massacred in one day, more than 130 Israelis are being held captive in Gaza, some 200,000 Israelis have been internally displaced, the number of Gazans killed is rapidly approaching 30,000, some two-thirds of the population of Gaza have been internally displaced, and the Gaza Strip has become largely unlivable.

Only Elections Can Save Us

This is a defining moment for the State of Israel. Its international standing is plummeting, and it is slowly turning into a pariah state. This downward trajectory will not be reversed as long as Netanyahu remains in power. Elections while at war? Absolutely! The fact that our fate lies in the hands of the man responsible for the outbreak of the war and whose decision-making is tarnished by personal interests shows just how urgent it is to hold elections now. We must wrench the power to steer the state at this critical juncture from Netanyahu’s hands. It’s time for Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot to return to the opposition and offer the international community a reasonable political alternative with whom it can engage. It’s time for the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets to stop the government’s judicial upheaval to start marching in even larger numbers to stop the existential threat posed by the current government.  And it’s time for “a few good men” from the Likud to demonstrate that it’s not the entire party that is morally bankrupt by voting nonconfidence together with the opposition.

The international community, led by the United States, is currently prepared to help shepherd the Israelis and Palestinians toward a better future.  Cynics may argue that it is driven by expedient self-interests rather than lofty universal values, but the motivation is irrelevant. Israel is facing what may be the last opportunity to resolve the conflict diplomatically.  If it turns its back on these efforts, they will be redirected toward improving the lot of the Palestinians on the one hand and sanctioning Israel on the other.  The free ride that Israel has enjoyed is coming to an end. If we are to save ourselves, we must ensure that the Netanyahu reign comes to an end first.

This piece originally appeared in the Times of Israel. Opinions expressed in TTN blog posts do not necessarily reflect the views of TTN’s staff. Comments are welcome at The Third Narrative Facebook page.