Israel’s military assault on Gaza has so far killed more than 500 Palestinians and wounded more than 2000. Nearly 80% of these casualties have been civilians. Eighteen Israeli soldiers and two Israeli civilians have been killed.
So far, upwards of 1,400 Palestinian homes have been completely destroyed, damaged or left uninhabitable, including health facilities and ambulances. According to the Red Cross, the Israel Defence Force (IDF) has conducted “repeated bombings of water infrastructure” leaving “hundreds of thousands” of Palestinians in Gaza without water for days.”
On the pretext that Hamas has rejected Egypt’s proposed ceasefire, Israel is escalating “Operation Protective Edge” with plans for intensified airstrikes. Now Israel has launched its much-vaunted ground invasion, likely designed to collapse Gaza’s civilian infrastructure. On Tuesday, the IDF called on residents of eastern and northern Gaza – some 100,000 residents - to evacuate their homes.
The only conceivable objective of this total war on Gazan society, I believe, is the forced displacement and expulsion of the Palestinian people from their homes.
A hint at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s game-plan was revealed on day four of the military operation in a press conference. Speaking in Hebrew, Netanyahu “made explicitly clear that he could never, ever, countenance a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank.” While he is known to have previously indicated he is opposed to a single bi-national Israeli state which would include Palestinians, favoring instead a unilateral “separation” from the Palestinians, he now “made explicit that this could not extend to full Palestinian sovereignty.
“There cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan,” he said.
As observed by David Horovitz, founding editor of the Times of Israel: “Not relinquishing security control west of the Jordan, it should be emphasized, means not giving a Palestinian entity full sovereignty there. It means not acceding to Mahmoud Abbas’ demands, to Barack Obama’s demands, to the international community’s demands. This is not merely demanding a demilitarized Palestine… That sentence, quite simply, spells the end to the notion of Netanyahu consenting to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
Time and time again, Hamas’ rockets have served to play into the hands of Israel’s most militant factions in governmentDr. Nafeez Ahmed
In other words, Netanyahu’s vision is to consolidate Israel’s control over “Judae and Samaria” in the name of “security.”
Little has changed. In his 1995 book, A Place Under the Sun, Netanyahu described a Palestinian state as a danger to Zionism, and declared his belief in the Jewish right to a state that would not just incorporate the land of historic Palestine, but even potentially incorporate other Arab countries: “Jordan, for example, is part of the lands that constitute greater Israel,” he said.
“Separation” in this context does not mean a two-state solution at all. It seems it means the opposite – a greater Israel without Palestinians.
To be sure, this mentality is not isolated to the Israeli right. Earlier this year, the Knesset voted down the so-called ‘two-state solution’ bill that would have prohibited Israel from unilaterally annexing land in the West Bank and Gaza, only permitting land annexation with Palestinian approval in the context of a peace agreement leading to two states.
Israeli leaders, it seems, are neither interested in peace, nor a two-state solution. According to U.S. Middle East envoy Martin Indyk, Israel had deliberately “sabotaged” the peace talks by refusing to even consider a freeze on expanded settlement activity. Netanyahu, he said, “would not yield an inch” for peace. Although he blamed both sides for their intransigence in negotiations, he pointed out that Israel’s pro-settlement stance torpedoed negotiations on purpose.
That is why “Operation Protective Edge” has deliberately targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure. This is not simply a war on Hamas. It is a war on the very concept of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state, it seems.
Hamas: as much an enemy as Israel
Unfortunately, by continuing its indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel, Hamas has continued to prove itself as much of an enemy to the Palestinian people as the IDF. Time and time again, Hamas’ rockets have served to play into the hands of Israel’s most militant factions in government, providing the pretext needed for escalation.
Indeed, U.S. intelligence officials confirmed that from the late 1970s to the 80s, Israel had “directly and indirectly” financed Hamas as a counterweight to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) “to divide and dilute support” for the secular movement for self-determination. But there was another agenda. “The thinking on the part of some of the right-wing Israeli establishment was that Hamas and the others, if they gained control, would refuse to have any part of the peace process and would torpedo any agreements put in place,” said one U.S. government official. “Israel would still be the only democracy in the region for the United States to deal with.”
In 2001, Times of Israel columnist Ellis Shuman reported for the Israel Insider that former Knesset parliamentarian Michael Kleiner, leader of the far right Herut party who has just been elected president of the Supreme Court of Netanyahu’s Likud, “suggested replacing Arafat, even if it meant the Hamas would take his place. According to Kleiner, the entire world recognises the Hamas as a terrorist organisation so Israel’s continued efforts against a radical Palestinian leadership would not be condemned.”
That year, according to Ha’aretz, Silvan Shalom – then Israeli finance minister and current minister of energy and water – told the Cabinet that: “Between Hamas and Arafat, I prefer Hamas.” None of the ministers protested, noted Ha’aretz. Shalom went on to describe Arafat as “a terrorist in a diplomat’s suit, while the Hamas can be hit unmercifully. Everyone will understand who we’re dealing with, he implied, and there won’t be any international protests.”
As former Times Editor George Szamuely observed in New York Press magazine in 2002, Israel’s support for Hamas “even continued after the 1993 Oslo accords,” as suicide bombings inside Israel continued. Hamas, he remarked, “served Israel’s purpose admirably by suggesting to the American public that the conflict in the Middle East pitted democratic Israel against all-or-nothing fanatics who wanted to drive the Jews into the sea. Israel’s refusal to surrender conquered land and its continued building of settlements in violation of innumerable U.N. resolutions could then all be justified as perfectly reasonable responses to an implacable enemy.”
I believe that Israel has leapt on Hamas’ rejection of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire as justification to expand its war on Gaza. But the failure of the ceasefire proposal was a foregone conclusion. “We did not receive any official draft of this Egyptian proposal,” said a Hamas spokesman who complained that Cairo had not even consulted the group over the deal.
According to another senior Hamas source, Egyptian intermediaries had instead passed on secret messages to the group warning that Israel would “wipe out” one third of the Gaza Strip. The Egyptian army proceeded to aid Israel’s ensuing military attack by blowing up 29 tunnels under the country’s border with Gaza. It is therefore no surprise that Hamas believed the proposal was “not worth the ink that wrote it.”
Yet Hamas’ insistence on firing rockets into Israel plays into the hands of the Likud’s longstanding ambitions to permanently alter the facts on the ground in Gaza through extreme force. Given the vast military disparity between Hamas and the IDF – illustrated in the casualty figures – this is not a war. Rather, I view it as an attempt to expunge Palestinians from their ancestral homeland.
Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is a bestselling author, investigative journalist and international security scholar. He is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development in London, and author of A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization among other books. His work on international terrorism was officially used by the 9/11 Commission, among other government agencies. He writes for the Guardian on the geopolitics of environmental, energy and economic crises on his Earth insight blog. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed.