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Israel Closes in on Hamas but Faces a Quagmire

posted on: Nov 17, 2023

Photo: Wiki Commons

By: Ghassan Michel Rubeiz / Arab America Contributing Writer

In Foreign Policy, Hisham Melhem captures the framing of the Gaza war, on both sides of the conflict:

Some ranked Hamas’s butchery with the Holocaust, a shocking trivialization of the greatest crime against the Jews in modern times. Some on the other side denied that Hamas killed hundreds of civilians in cold blood and proceeded to call it resistance. Many Western governments, led by the United States, supported and even embraced wholeheartedly Israel’s vow to exact absolute revenge, an unconditional support that came to haunt them later when the extent of the retribution reached biblical proportions.

Hisham Melhem, Foreign Policy, November 12, 2023

The consequences of the Gaza war are alarming and raise fundamental questions:

  • Does Israel have the “right to defend itself”, without recognizing the rights of civilian Palestinians to be free, or even to stay on their land and survive?  
  • Is it fair for the Israel Defense Forces to destroy Gaza in order to “dismantle” Hamas and “rescue” their hostages?
  • Does Prime Minister Netanyahu’s intention to re-occupy Gaza reveal a familiar pattern of colonization?

The Right to Self-Defense

The White House never misses an opportunity to say that “Israel has the right to defend itself” in response to Hamas’ ruthless attack. President Biden’s unconditional support of Israel has made things worse for Palestinians, and in the long run for Israelis as well.

The grim statistics are displayed daily on the public screen. So far, the death toll in Gaza exceeds 11,200, mostly civilians; over one million are displaced; many houses, hospitals, and places of worship are destroyed; water, electricity, fuel, and food are absent, or in short supply. Ignoring rising levels of human suffering, established international standards of human rights, and growing threats to US–Arab relations, Washington continues to support Israel militarily and diplomatically. Without sufficient concern for the rights of Palestinians, Washington ignores state violence, while gently cautioning Israel to “respect” international standards of warfare. Israel and the White House have ignored the contextual elements that fuel this conflict: the 56-year occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem; the 16-year siege of Gaza; the expansion of Israeli settlements and the resulting ethnic cleansing.

The Day After

Israel’s proclaimed war objectives are twofold: to destroy Hamas and to rescue the 240 hostages. It is nearly impossible to succeed in both. The closer Hamas fighters reach their point of desperation, the higher the risk for the hostages. The more realistic way for Israel to rescue the captives would be an immediate swap for Palestinian political prisoners. But Netanyahu knows that a peaceful approach to the hostage crisis will lead him to face suppressed public pressure for his resignation. The safety of hostages is competing with the fate of the Prime Minister.

Regardless of how this war ends the continuity of Islamic resistance is inevitable. The longevity of Islamic resistance will not be curtailed by turning its fighters into “martyrs”. The continuity of Hamas does not necessarily reflect popularity. After suffering all this death and destruction, Palestinians will be no less demanding of their rights for liberation and statehood. The future leadership of Palestine may, or may not, be Hamas – like. When Palestinians are allowed to elect their leaders democratically, Islamic representation would probably be limited. Jihadi politics is often associated with environmental conditions of despair.

Netanyahu-Biden Policy Rift

Having lost credibility for failing to protect his nation on October 7, the prime minister should have resigned immediately. Now he faces a quagmire. He has waged a war with no clear direction or plan for the future. On October 12, he surprised many by declaring his intent to “secure” Gaza after the war. By claiming the right to re-occupy Gaza, he is challenging the White House policy on Palestine. President Biden has assured the Arab world that Gaza will be managed by the Palestinians, and it will be better connected (than before) with the West Bank.

It is too early to assess the significance of this policy rift between Tel- Aviv and Washington. If Netanyahu gets his way to rule over a devastated and angry population, will he drag Israel into political quicksand?

The U.S. Under Pressure from Arab Partners

The Arab communities, regardless of their political differences, are upset and humiliated, as they watch daily Gazans being treated as subhuman. In a conference convened on October 11 by Saudi – Arabia, the Arab and Islamic states issued a statement calling for an immediate ceasefire and the return of all hostages. More importantly, the statement described Israel’s indiscriminate campaign against Hamas as war crimes.

The Palestinians and the wider Arab and Muslim world are furious about the U.S. complicity in this war, a complicity that enables an inhumane and short-sighted-Israeli policy. Over the past six weeks, Washington has lost much of its status as a partner in the Arab world, where it has a large military presence, oversees massive business deals, and shepherds the controversial Abraham Accords.

Turning a Crisis into an Opportunity

After weeks of air, sea, and ground attacks on Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces assert that they have made great progress in defeating Hamas. In reality, it is too early to reach this conclusion.  Assuming that Israel is closing in effectively on Hamas, the IDF seems to have no clear idea what to do next.

It is difficult to erase Hamas from the map in this or any future war. This grassroots body can only be weakened from within, in the process of electoral competition, reform, and mass education in Palestinian society.

This is not to praise Hamas or condone its cruel attack on October 7. As an autocracy, Hamas will never be able to liberate Palestine. Similarly, the prevailing maximalist ideology in Israeli society will not provide the Jewish people full security and freedom.

Both nations need a constitution based on human rights and a vision of coexistence.

International intervention is urgently needed to end this crisis before it expands into a regional war that engulfs the entire Middle East and shakes the stability of the globe. 

Ghassan Rubeiz is the former Middle East Secretary of the World Council of Churches. Earlier he taught psychology and social work in his country of birth, Lebanon, and later in the United States, where he currently lives. For the past twenty years, he has contributed to political commentary and delivered occasional public talks on subjects related to peace, justice, and interfaith. You can reach him at

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab America. The reproduction of this article is permissible with proper credit to Arab America and the author.

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