Credit where credit is due: A year ago, I wrote about Israel’s Deputy Minister of Defense, Dani Danon, that he is Israel’s “enemy within,” perhaps the most dangerous current threat to Israel and a star of Likud, the linchpin of the governing coalition. My favorite Danon quotes: He refers to “the mistake we made in 1967 by failing to annex all of the West Bank.” As to the Palestinians who live in the West Bank, they “would not have the option to become Israeli citizens, therefore averting the threat to the Jewish and democratic status of Israel by a growing Palestinian population.”
And now Prime Minister Netanyahu has fired Dani Danon. Fired him! The ostensible reason? Danon opposed Israel’s acceptance of the Egyptian-brokered cease fire that Netanyahu had accepted.
Netanyahu is not my favorite cup of tea; he tastes more like vinegar to me. But relative to some of the more strident voices in Israel’s top political echelon, including members of his own cabinet, he turns out – up to a point – to have a more grounded appreciation of Israel’s situation.
Which brings me to Israel’s ongoing incursion into Gaza. Alas, the matter is not quite so simple as we might wish. It is true that Israel cannot and ought not abide the rockets launched from Gaza into Israeli territory. But there is a context for the rockets, a context that goes beyond the persistent murderous recklessness of Hamas.
That context was laid out by Nathan Thrall in a striking New York Times OpEd essay on July 17, an essay accurately entitled “How the West Chose War in Gaza.” Thrall is a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, covering Gaza, Israel, Jordan and the West Bank. His argument hinges on his observation that “Israel and much of the international community placed a prohibitive set of obstacles in the way of the Palestinian ‘national consensus’ government that was formed in early June.” Thrall’s reading is that Hamas gave up official control of Gaza, transferring formal authority to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, and that it did so because if had become isolated and desperate. The reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the PLO would have put in place a new government in Gaza, a government without any Hamas member, with the Palestine leadership in Ramallah – the prime minister, the deputy prime ministers, the finance minister and foreign minister – serving Gaza as well. Most important, that government pledged nonviolence, adherence to past agreements and recognition of Israel.
But Israel was not satisfied that Hamas transferred authority to a government of pro-Western technocrats; it vehemently objected to any recognition of the shift, a shift that would almost surely have put an end to the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. And so we have what we have – a ground war in Gaza.
Might this not be a propitious time for Israel and the international community to propose a Marshall Plan for Gaza? The idea is not new, but has until now at most been a tantalizing fantasy, a tease. It calls to mind Tantalus, a Greek mythological figure famous for his eternal punishment: He was made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches, with the fruit ever eluding his grasp, and the water always receding before he could take a drink. Surely vast sums of money – and lives, too – could be saved were Gaza to destroy its rockets and opt for becoming a kind of Middle East Singapore. We know, from Israel’s experience when it occupied Gaza, how productive its agricultural potential is. We have yet to see how beguiling a tourist attraction it might be – beaches, perhaps casinos, too – were the conflict to end. Is it entirely irrelevant to note that Syria did, after all, give up its chemical weapons?
We spend so much time and energy experiencing and contemplating thorns that we tend to close down our hopes for honey. We know, to our regret, the bitter—but what of the sweet? (These images from the Hebrew song, Al Kol Eleh, by Naomi Shemer (she of Yerushalayim Shel Zahav). Or, in more conventional terms, can we at least now and then not think out of the box, think of transformation and not merely endless adaptation? Or is a tease all we’re looking for?