Long-term Truce or Another Gaza War?

This Haaretz article raises profound questions about the Israeli government’s decision to assassinate a leader of Hamas. It appeared on November 15. Haaretz is often called “the New York Times of Israel.” My own comments will follow the article, both on the realpolitik of today and on how Torah might address these issues.  — AW
  
Israeli peace activist: Hamas leader Jabari killed amid talks on long-term truce

Gershon Baskin, who helped mediate between Israel and Hamas in the deal to release Gilad Shalit, says Israel made a mistake that will cost the lives of ‘innocent people on both sides.’
   By Nir Hasson      |   Haaretz /    Nov.15, 2012 | 1:55 PM |  38
     
Hours before Hamas strongman Ahmed Jabari was assassinated, he received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel, which included mechanisms for maintaining the cease-fire in the case of a flare-up between Israel and the factions in the Gaza Strip. This, according to Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, who helped mediate between Israel and Hamas in the deal to release Gilad Shalit and has since then maintained a relationship with Hamas leaders.

Baskin told Haaretz on Thursday that senior officials in Israel knew about his contacts with Hamas and Egyptian intelligence aimed at formulating the permanent truce, but nevertheless approved the assassination.

“I think that they have made a strategic mistake,” Baskin said, an error “which will cost the lives of quite a number of innocent people on both sides.”
         
“This blood could have been spared. Those who made the decision must be judged by the voters, but to my regret they will get more votes because of this,” he added.

Baskin made Jabari’s acquaintance when he served as a mediator between David Meidin, Israel’s representative to the Shalit negotiations, and Jabari. “Jabari was the all-powerful man in charge. He always received the messages via a third party, Razi Hamad of Hamas, who called him Mister J.”
         
For months, Baskin sent daily messages in advance of the formulation of the deal. He kept the channel of communication with Gaza open even after the Shalit deal was completed.

According to Baskin, during the past two years Jabari internalized the realization that the rounds of hostilities with Israel were beneficial neither to Hamas nor to the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip and only caused suffering, and several times he acted to prevent firing by Hamas into Israel.        

He said that even when Hamas was pulled into participating in the launching of rockets, its rockets would always land in open spaces. “And that was intentional,” clarified Baskin.

In recent months Baskin was continuously in touch with Hamas officials and with Egyptian intelligence as well as with officials in Israel, whose names he refused to divulge. A few months ago Baskin showed Defense Minister Ehud Barak a draft of the agreement and on the basis of that draft an inter-ministry committee on the issue was established. The agreement was to have constituted a basis for a permanent truce between Israel and Hamas, which would prevent the repeated rounds of shooting.

 “In Israel,” Baskin said, “they decided not to decide, and in recent months I took the initiative to push it again.” In recent weeks he renewed contact with Hamas and with Egypt and just this week he was in Egypt and met with top people in the intelligence system and with a Hamas representative. He says he formed the impression that the pressure the Egyptians applied to the Palestinians to stop shooting was serious and sincere.
       

“He was in line to die, not an angel and not a righteous man of peace,” Baskin said of Jabari and of his feelings in the wake of the killing, “but his assassination also killed the possibility of achieving a truce and also the Egyptian mediators’ ability to function. After the assassination I spoke to the people in Israel angrily and they said to me: We’ve heard you and we are calling to ask if you have heard anything form the Egyptians or from Gaza.”
         
Since the assassination, Baskin has been in touch with the Egyptians but not with the Palestinians. According to him, the Egyptians are very cool-headed. They said it is necessary to let the fresh blood calm down. “The Egyptian intelligence people are doing what they are doing with the permission and authorization of the regime and apparently they very much believe in this work,” he says.
         
“I am mainly sad. This is sad for me. I am seeing people getting killed and that is what is making me sad. I tell myself that with every person who is killed we are engendering the next generation of haters and terrorists,” adds Baskin.

{Baskin is the co-founder and co-director of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information, founded in 1988, which describes itself as  “the only joint Israeli-Palestinian public policy think-tank in the world. It is devoted to developing practical solutions for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” — ED.}
 
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So far, the Haaretz article. What follows are my thoughts about these events— Rabbi Arthur Waskow.

The article says that although they knew about the discussions, the Israeli government “nevertheless” approved the assassination.

The question I think we need to ask is whether the Israeli government ordered the assassination not “nevertheless” but “therefore.” That is, did top Israeli officials choose another round of war with Gaza rather than a long-term truce? They certainly knew that killing Jabari would for sure bring on new rocket attacks, which to the Israeli public would then seem a legitimate reason for a new war in “self-defense.”

Why might the Netanyahu government have made this choice? With the caveat that there is no way to know for sure, without access to the inner governmental archives, let me put forward a hypothesis that seems at minimum plausible:
 
 At home, elections are looming, and the major focus of the emerging campaign, till last week, was the domestic social and economic crisis — not foreign policy. With that as the central issue, the pro-corporate, anti-poor-people, anti-middle-class policies of the Netanyahu government were vulnerable. A new Gaza War would shift the conversation and strengthen a government proclaiming “self-defensive war.”
 
Meanwhile, President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority was preparing to ask the UN General Assembly to recognize Palestine as a state with “observer” status, not full membership. This was almost certain to pass, thus increasing the prestige of the Palestinian cause. Moreover, Abbas had just publicly renounced the “right” of millions of Palestinian refugees to “return” within Israel itself, thereby easing one deep fear many Israelis hold about the possibility of a two-state peace. Instead of encouraging this step toward peace, Netanyahu pooh-poohed it.

In this atmosphere, a long-term truce with Hamas, the de facto government of Gaza, would make the achievement of a two-state peace much more likely. But the Netanyahu government does not want that.  It prefers the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the subjugation of Gaza.

Universal: 

Torah Portions: