U.S. President Joe Biden must immediately instruct Israel to stop its bombing of Gaza, declare a ceasefire and help it negotiate a peaceful solution with the Palestinians. He can and should use the weapons and money that the U.S. gives Israel as persuasive levers.
Otherwise, there shall be blood on his hands as he endorsed Israel’s drastic tactics retaliating against Hamas’s invasion of Israel on Oct. 7 that slaughtered 1,200 mostly Israeli men, women and children.
Biden must stop playing nice with Israel. He should know that urging restraint or saying no to Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, will be taken as a yes, as it has thus far.
My unwavering support for Israel notwithstanding, Biden must do this now. Furthermore, Biden, as well as the leaders of West European countries such as Britain, France and Germany, should not let themselves be played by Netanyahu’s demand that Israeli forces stay in Gaza after the war’s end to assure Israel’s security. This is a Machiavellian ploy to help Netanyahu stay in power, despite the wish of most Israelis to see him go.
Since the Hamas invasion, the Israeli Defense Forces has killed more than 11,000 men, women and children in the Gaza Strip, where many of the approximately 20,000 Hamas fighters are located, and leveled many Gazan neighborhoods.
The scope and savagery of such killing by both groups have made both sides hateful and distrustful of each other, unable to see other solutions.
Hamas was convinced that killing Israelis was the only way to draw the attention of Israel and the world to the plight of Palestinians and their need for self-determination. Judging by public opinion polls showing strong support for Palestinians, the fear and uncertainty Hamas had sown among many Israelis and more than 200 hostages still held in Gaza, Hamas has been successful. Regrettably, the war has also increased antisemitic incidents, demonstrations and proclamations, even in many American colleges and universities such as New York University, Cornell University, Columbia University and Stanford University.
Likewise, Israelis became determined to wipe out Hamas from the face of the Earth. Israelis I have known for many years, some peaceful and level-headed, have become galvanized around this goal after the Hamas invasion. And because Hamas fighters are embedded among civilian Palestinians and manage some of their operations from hospitals, they conclude that Gaza must be turned into rubbles.
“They must be eradicated so we can feel safe again,” Israelis told me, often using “they” to refer both to Hamas and to Palestinians interchangeably. One added, “We gave them work and free movement privileges and look what they have done!”
This widespread opinion emboldened Israel. Its army bombed Gaza relentlessly, Netanyahu expressed the need for the Israel Defense Forces to stay in the Gaza Strip, and now some in his cabinet want to build new settlements in Gaza to provide additional security for Israel. This is morally wrong because the Palestinians have the right to self-determination. It is also suicidal for Israel, as its small population couldn’t possibly manage the large and growing Palestinian populace in the long run.
Many Israelis and their leaders say that Palestinians are “animals” who cannot be trusted to live in peace with Israel if they were to become a country. So dehumanized, it is easier and more acceptable to respond to the Hamas atrocities indiscriminately and disproportionally.
But this is wrong. For thousands of years, hundreds of thousands of Jews had lived in the Arabic, Muslim countries of the Middle East in relative peace and mutual respect, before migrating to Israel in the 1950s. This I know first hand. Jews and Muslims lived side by side, often working together and befriending each other.
The Western world should not become Israel’s accomplice by supporting or turning a blind eye to what Israel has been doing in Gaza in the past month. Britain, France, Germany and especially the Biden administration, must stop Israel’s brutal tactics in the Gaza Strip, for they have crossed the line of retaliation long ago. They must make Israel declare a ceasefire and seek negotiations with the Palestinians. While they may have convinced Israel to begin brief, rolling pauses in its attacks, these are woefully short of what’s needed.
Israel and the Palestinians must be made to realize that to live by the sword is to die by the sword and peace negotiation is a better path. Twice in the past — in the Oslo Agreement and the Abraham Accords — Israel and the Palestinians were close to a peace agreement. Now, the Gaza War may have provided the motivation to reach a new agreement.
No one is better suited and equipped to get Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiation table than Joe Biden.
Avraham Shama is a university professor and administrator (retired). He fought in the Six-Day War.
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Author: Avraham Shama, opinion contributor