No End in Sight for Gaza War

There is no obvious better state of the peace acceptable to both parties.

Flags of Israel and Palestine painted on the concrete wall with soldier shadow. Gaza and Israel conflict

Reuters explains in some detail, “What’s in the three-phase ceasefire deal Hamas backs, but Israel does not?

PHASE ONE

– 42-day ceasefire period

– Hamas freeing 33 Israeli hostages, alive or dead, in return for Israel releasing 30 children and women for each released Israeli hostage, based on lists provided by Hamas according to the earliest date of detention.

– Starting from the first day of the ceasefire, the entry of intensive and sufficient quantities of humanitarian aid, relief materials, and fuel (600 trucks per day, including 50 fuel trucks, of which 300 are for the north), including the fuel necessary for operating the power plant, trade, and equipment needed for rubble removal, rehabilitation and operation of hospitals, health centres and bakeries in all areas of the Gaza Strip, and the continuation of this in all stages of the agreement.

– Hamas will release three Israeli hostages on the third day of the agreement, and then release three more hostages every seven days, prioritising women if possible, including civilians and conscripts.

– In the sixth week, Hamas will release all remaining civilian hostages covered by this phase. In exchange, Israel will release the agreed number of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, according to the lists that will be provided by Hamas.

– Israel partially withdraws troops from Gaza and allows the free movement of Palestinians from south to north Gaza.

– Cessation of military flights over the Gaza Strip will take place for 10 hours per day and 12 hours on the day of releasing the hostages and prisoners.

– On the third day after releasing the first Palestinian prisoners, the Israeli forces will completely withdraw from al-Rashid street in northern Gaza, and all military sites will be dismantled.

– On the 22nd day of the first phase, Israeli forces will withdraw from the centre of the strip, east of Salah al-Din road to an area near the Israeli border.

PHASE TWO

– Another 42-day period that features an agreement to restore a “sustainable calm” to Gaza, language that an official briefed on the talks said Hamas and Israel had agreed in order to take discussion of a “permanent ceasefire” off the table.

– The complete withdrawal of most Israeli troops from Gaza.

– Hamas releases Israeli reservists and some soldiers in return for Israel releasing Palestinians from jail.

PHASE THREE

– The completion of exchanging bodies and starting the implementation of reconstruction according to the plan overseen by Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations.

– Ending the complete blockade on the Gaza Strip.

– Start of the implementation of a 3-5 year plan for reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, including homes, civilian facilities and infrastructure, and compensation for all those affected, under the supervision of a number of countries and organisations including Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations.

The deal strikes me as laughably one-sided. It gives Israel the hostages criminally abducted by Hamas back very slowly in exchange for massive numbers of prisoners of war, a very long respite, and gobs of assistance. It essentially gives Hamas everything it wants—rewarding its crimes—while Israel eventually gets back its hostages, quite possibly dead. It does nothing to dismantle Hamas. Why on earth would Israel agree to that?

Frankly, any deal that doesn’t return all of the hostages on Day 1 is a non-starter.

Steven Erlanger details the domestic politics of this for the NYT (“With a Gaza Cease-Fire in the Balance, Netanyahu Maneuvers to Keep Power“):

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, is known as a man who likes to play for time and postpone big decisions. But he may not be able to do that much longer.

Domestically, his coalition partners on the far right threaten to break up the government if he agrees to a cease-fire and does not try to clear Hamas out of Rafah, in southern Gaza.

Militarily, the strategic logic is to complete the dismantling of Hamas by taking Rafah and controlling the border with Egypt. But diplomatically, his allies, especially the United States, are pushing him to agree on a cease-fire, and skip Rafah and the potential civilian casualties a large-scale operation would cause.

So Mr. Netanyahu is now negotiating and maneuvering on several fronts at once, all of which have a significant effect on the conduct of the war and his own future as prime minister.

His recent warnings to Palestinians in parts of Rafah to move to areas Israel has designated as safe, followed late Monday night by the Israeli military’s seizure of the Gazan side of the Egyptian border, signaled to his far-right government coalition, to Hamas and to the Biden administration that he would continue to prioritize Israel’s security interests. More important, Israel’s more narrow war cabinet, which includes senior opposition figures, backed those decisions.

The seizure of the Rafah crossing to Egypt, to try to complete Israel’s security control of Gaza’s borders, has, for now, avoided a large-scale and contentious military operation in Rafah itself, which is filled with displaced civilians. It may signal that Israel is preparing at long last to agree to at least a temporary cease-fire in Gaza, even as the outcome of those negotiations remains uncertain.

Aside from the hostage families, there is essentially no Jewish group in Israel pushing for an end to the war short of the utter annihilation of Hamas. Even the left-most parties share that goal—however unrealistic it may be.

Israeli military officials and analysts emphasize that cutting off the smuggling of arms and equipment from Egypt through the tunnels under Rafah is strategically more important to Israel than the Hamas fighters left in Rafah.

Despite Egyptian denials of extensive smuggling into Gaza, Israeli officials believe that much of the extraordinary arsenal and the building supplies that Hamas accumulated in Gaza came through tunnels from Egypt.

“If we end the war without blocking the tunnels, we would enable Hamas or any other terrorist organization in the Strip to rebuild their military capacities,” said Kobi Michael of the Institute for National Security Studies, a research group in Tel Aviv.

Nitzan Nuriel, a reserve brigadier general and former director of the counterterrorism bureau of the Israeli National Security Council, worked with Mr. Netanyahu for several years. “Rafah is important not because of the four Hamas battalions that are still there,” he said. “Rafah is important because the message to the Palestinians who live in Gaza is that Hamas will not be able to control Gaza for good.”

Otherwise, he said, Gazans would “stay afraid of Hamas and therefore will cooperate with Hamas.”

Even a modest operation in Rafah “fits several of Netanyahu’s goals simultaneously,” said Natan Sachs, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Like many Israeli officials, including those who want a cease-fire deal now, Mr. Sachs said, “Netanyahu genuinely believes an operation in Rafah is central to Israel’s overall goals — not merely in going after the remaining Hamas forces, but in cutting off their ability to resupply via smuggling through the Egyptian border.”

The military operation “also puts pressure on Hamas to relent on some of its more expansive demands in the cease-fire negotiations,” Mr. Sachs said.

Pretty much across the board, October 7 was seen as an existential crisis. A return to the status quo ante, in which Hamas is capable of murdering Israelis whenever they choose, is not an acceptable outcome.

The external pressures, while understandable, are just unrealistic given that reality.

Mr. Netanyahu is under enormous pressure diplomatically — from allies like Washington and Berlin, from the United Nations, from the European Union and from regional Sunni Arab states — to avoid a major operation in Rafah.

They want him to allow in much more humanitarian aid to Gaza and agree to a deal with Hamas that could, at least, promise what the current draft text calls a “sustainable calm,” rather than a permanent cease-fire.

But such a deal still would not resolve the fundamental divide between Israel and Hamas over how to conclude the conflict.

Hamas wants the war to end now, with the withdrawal of all Israeli troops from Gaza and the release of all hostages in exchange for a large number of Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

Such an outcome would essentially reward Hamas for October 7. It’s just not going to happen.

The problem remains what it has been from the outset: there’s no obvious endstate that leads to a better state of the peace. Even if it were somehow possible to kill every single Hamas operative, it wouldn’t necessarily end the terrorist threat. And the killing of tens of thousands of Palestinian noncombatants will almost surely create another generation of volunteers.

Nor is there a plausible diplomatic solution that yields a “sustainable calm.” A two-state solution is a fantasy. Not only do the Israelis and Palestinians want the same capital city and historic landmarks but there just isn’t a large enough parcel of land available to sustain the entire Palestinian diaspora. And, even if there were and we could convince the political leadership of the Palestinians and the Jews alike to come to an agreement that resettles people in their respective new states, the extremists will continue to have a veto power by killing innocents and restarting the war.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    I should think the man who propped up Hamas and withdrew forces from the border to bolster illegal land seizures elsewhere, is not someone who prioritizes his country’s interests.

    Aside from the hostage families, there is essentially no Jewish group in Israel pushing for an end to the war short of the utter annihilation of Hamas.

    The first thing one should do when setting up military objectives, is to make sure these are in the realm of possibility.

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  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    The problem remains what it has been from the outset: there’s no obvious endstate that leads to a better state of the peace. Even if it were somehow possible to kill every single Hamas operative, it wouldn’t necessarily end the terrorist threat. And the killing of tens of thousands of Palestinian noncombatants will almost surely create another generation of volunteers.

    Nor is there a plausible diplomatic solution that yields a “sustainable calm.” A two-state solution is a fantasy. Not only do the Israelis and Palestinians want the same capital city and historic landmarks but there just isn’t a large enough parcel of land available to sustain the entire Palestinian diaspora. And, even if there were and we could convince the political leadership of the Palestinians and the Jews alike to come to an agreement that resettles people in their respective new states, the extremists will continue to have a veto power by killing innocents and restarting the war.

    Yep. That about sums it up.

    The easy hack for understanding the Middle East is to find the most cynical position, and you’ll have a 99% chance of being right. The 1% is for Sadat.

    Thomas Friedman (I know) floated an idea a couple months ago, suggesting that MBS could do a Sadat – go to Israel, speak at the Knesset, offer to finance a two state solution and guarantee Israel’s security. Which might actually have worked in theory. In reality MBS does not give a rat’s ass for Gaza or Palestinians in general, neither does anyone else in the Middle East. Even Hezbollah is busy baking sourdough. Egypt? Jordan? Hello?

    You know who else DGAF about Palestinians? The fabulously rich Hamas ‘leaders’ enjoying spa treatments at five star hotels in Qatar while their people starve. Yes, send up the mezze platter with the caviar and a bottle of Dom.

    I think what we are seeing here is a rather amazing re-alignment: Israel+KSA+UAE contra Iran, with the US playing a less important role than in the past, less central than American college kids think. We’re only there to keep the oil tankers sailing and to occasionally tut-tut in our well-meaning way.

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  3. Gustopher says:

    Pretty much across the board, October 7 was seen as an existential crisis. A return to the status quo ante, in which Hamas is capable of murdering Israelis whenever they choose, is not an acceptable outcome.

    Let’s not forget that Israel had been capable of murdering Palestinians whenever they choose under that status quo. And frequently did, while “mowing the lawn”.

    I also think the notion of an existential threat coming from the occupied territories a bit absurd. Only one of the two actually exists as a state. If October 7th was an existential threat justifying this level of response by Israel, then Palestinians are justified in killining any number of Palestinians for everything before October 7th, and everything after October 7th.

    Such an outcome would essentially reward Hamas for October 7. It’s just not going to happen.

    This type of attitude needs to be dropped before there can be peace. Not dropped by Dr. Joyner in particular, but by enough people in Israel and Palestine.

    Nor is there a plausible diplomatic solution that yields a “sustainable calm.” A two-state solution is a fantasy.

    If the semi-plausible diplomatic solutions are all rejected before consideration because they would reward Hamas, then it leaves Hamas (or Hamas 2.0, or whatever comes next) no real alternative other than stepping up attacks into Israel proper.

    If Israel’s actions are inevitable, then so are the Palestinians’ actions. They would need to create enough pain inside Israel to change what is considered plausible.

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  4. EddieInCA says:

    @Gustopher:

    If October 7th was an existential threat justifying this level of response by Israel, then Palestinians are justified in killining any number of Palestinians for everything before October 7th, and everything after October 7th.

    That’s exactly what Hamas is doing. I know it was a typo, but accurate. Just not in the way you intended.

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  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:

    If Israel’s actions are inevitable, then so are the Palestinians’ actions.

    Yes, it was inevitable that Hamas leaders safe in Qatar would order an attack on Israeli concert-goers and commit every atrocity they could think of. I mean, what was the alternative? It’s not like Hamas leaders could stop stealing the foreign aid, and using the rest to build up military forces that could only bring down destruction. It’s not as if they could have said, “You know what? What if we had actual elections, and a representative government decided how to spend all the money coming in?”

    That’s unpossible. They had no alternative to rape and mutilation. No alternative to using their own people as human shields.

    Jesus Christ, Gus.

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  6. Scott says:

    Frankly, any deal that doesn’t return all of the hostages on Day 1 is a non-starter.

    Don’t know how many times this lesson has to be learned: You don’t negotiate with terrorists. The minute the hostages were given value in a negotiation was the minute Israel lost its advantage.

    I still don’t see an end game here that will provide a permanent solution. Maybe another 20 year temporary solution is the only one.

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  7. DK says:

    There is no obvious better state of the peace acceptable to both parties.

    So in that case…how’s Ukraine’s defense going? How’s Trump’s trial going?

    Is RFK the Minor’s brain worm okay? Will any more sane Republicans besides Geoff Duncan be endorsing Biden this week?

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  8. Gustopher says:

    @EddieInCA: The only typo I see is “killining”. I don’t know what killining is, or whether Hamas is engaging in any of it.

    I do, however, stand by my belief that IF Israel’s response to October 7th — bringing massive force to civilian populations — is justified, then any killing of any Israeli by Palestinians is justified because of previous actions of Israel. But I thought that was clear enough that it was obviously not a typo.

    Note the “if”. I reject the premise that the Israeli response is justified.

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  9. Gustopher says:

    A two-state solution is a fantasy.

    There are only a couple of broad options that can be stable: two-state, one-state, genocide, ethnic cleansing and some form of gilded reservation system with enough perks that the people on the reservations don’t mind.

    I think we should all reject genocide.

    Ethnic cleansing is iffy, and gets a bad rap, but I don’t think it’s ever been tried using carrots rather than sticks. It would be a new mistake, rather than repeating old mistakes.

    Wealthy people are a lot more welcome than poor refugees, so there might be a way to buy out the majority of the Palestinians and resettle them in another country. I suggest doing the same with the Israelis (and offer a Dakota, if that helps, or a fast path to US citizenship)

    Not only do the Israelis and Palestinians want the same capital city and historic landmarks

    I’m open to blowing up the landmarks and handing each side about half the bricks.

    there just isn’t a large enough parcel of land available to sustain the entire Palestinian diaspora.

    Not with all those Jewish people there. And the Palestinians are breeding faster than the Israeli Jews. A two-state solution would require either resettling some of the illegal settlements, or a whole lot of subsidies.

    And, even if there were and we could convince the political leadership of the Palestinians and the Jews alike to come to an agreement that resettles people in their respective new states, the extremists will continue to have a veto power by killing innocents and restarting the war.

    Extremists continue to have veto power over whether you buy an electric or gas car. They could set fire to you and your family at any moment.* We’ve kept our Greens mollified with enough hope for the future that they aren’t engaging in eco-terrorism despite their belief that gas powered cars are an existential threat.

    And the same has to happen with the extremists on both sides of the Israel-Palestine kerfluffle. Get them into the political system, with enough hope for a path forward that they don’t have to resort to violence.

    I would say that the first step is to not create a new generation of extremists, but that’s pretty much done, and that the sins of the past will drag on a bit in any solution, and people there will have to be a little bit tougher and not actually give the extremists that veto, even when there are attacks. Treat them as police matters rather than military matters.

    ——

    Alternately, if there is no way to peace, we should just get out of there, or arm both sides and tell them to get on with it.

    ——
    *: for the record, I do not support setting Dr. Joyner or his family on fire, all other things being equal.

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  10. Kathy says:

    I’ll summon the ghost of Winston and say: the two state solution is the worst solution, except for all the others.

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  11. James Joyner says:

    @Kathy:

    I’ll summon the ghost of Winston and say: the two state solution is the worst solution, except for all the others.

    Theoretically, I see no alternative. Practically, I see no way to get there.

    Post October 7, even the leftist parties in Israel have no appetite for a Palestinian homeland, which they will see as rewarding Hamas for the atrocities.

    And, even if we get the Jews on board, Hamas is far and away the dominant leadership faction for the Palestinians and they continue to want to kill all the Jews and take over the place from the river to the sea.

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  12. EddieInCA says:

    @Gustopher:

    Oh. Okay. So you meant to say..

    justifying this level of response by Israel, then Palestinians are justified in killining any number of Palestinians for everything before October 7th, and everything after October 7th.

    Bold added by me. So you’re okay with Palestinians killing Palestinians because of 10/7. Good to know.

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  13. Eusebio says:

    Per the NYT piece, “officials believe that much of the extraordinary arsenal and the building supplies that Hamas accumulated in Gaza came through tunnels from Egypt”, and sources such as yesterday’s Times of Israel say the IDF has taken control of “the Palestinian side of the Rafah Crossing on the Egypt border, in what the military called a ‘pinpoint operation’ against the Hamas terror group”, which was aimed at pressuring Hamas to accept a deal.

    This seems like a logical response to the Oct 7 attacks, but why now? Since “cutting off the smuggling of arms and equipment from Egypt through the tunnels under Rafah is strategically more important to Israel than the Hamas fighters left in Rafah”, why is this happening 7 months later? Remember that only 8 weeks into the IDF operation there had been enough civilian destruction for Mr. Biden himself to call it “indiscriminate bombing”.

    While Israel needs to defend itself and respond to terrorist attacks, the prosecution of this campaign has been… many things, I’ll just say it’s been frustrating. Civilian necessities such as water were cut off 7 months ago. Yet only now a key objective of securing a portion of the Gaza perimeter, along part of the 12-km Egypt-Gaza border through which Hamas was able to smuggle supplies, has been achieved.

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  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    @EddieInCA:

    @Gustopher’s position is that he can’t think of any solution but, ‘a pox on both sides,’ which is somehow prompted by his concern for the children of Gaza.

    @DK’s position is, ‘I will construct and then do battle with straw men.’

    It’s like watching me try to opine on the Riemann Hypothesis.

    When your only metric is good and evil the Middle East is just not going to be your thing.

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  15. Kathy says:

    This link, aside from presenting a truly execrable poor excuse for a human being, lists polls taken in Israel, which indicate a respectable majority sees the return of the remaining hostages as being of more value than continuing the war in Gaza.

    Here’s the relevant portion:

    A series of polls in recent days, including for the Israel Democracy Institute, has found that 56% of the Jewish public believe that a deal to secure the release of hostages should take top priority, compared with a third who believe that an offensive against Rafah should be the government’s main focus.

    A poll for Israel’s Channel 13 tells a similar story of scepticism in the Israel public, with 52% believing a Rafah operation will not deliver victory against Hamas, compared with 30% who believe it will. Perhaps most striking, however, is a poll by rightwing newspaper Israel Hayom, which found that 28% thought the “preferred victory picture” would represent the hostages’ release, while 17% chose an image representing the destruction of Hamas.

    I’d say Bibi is still fighting to 1) preserve his PM position that shields him from criminal liabilities, and 2) is fighting so inhumanely to appease the extremists in his coalition.

    Meantime, the Israeli public at large seems to agree victory over Hamas, or eradication of same, is not a realistic goal.

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  16. DrDaveT says:

    It gives Israel the hostages criminally abducted by Hamas back very slowly in exchange for massive numbers of prisoners of war

    I didn’t see any mention of “prisoners of war” in the Reuters description. They mentioned Israel releasing women and children currently held, and Palestinian prisoners currently in Israeli jails. I would be surprised if many of those are “prisoners of war” in the sense of “captured enemy combatants.”

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  17. Slugger says:

    I’m in touch with one family on the Israeli right wing. They are settlers in the West Bank, without my approval, and have two children in the IDF. They want victory >>>peace. I’m reporting this to illuminate that people on the ground over there don’t care what the commentators on this site, students in tents on American campuses, or even Joe Biden think. I don’t know any Palestinians, but I doubt that they disdain militancy. You and I can chat, but change will have to come from the antagonists in this mess.

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  18. Gustopher says:

    @EddieInCA: ah, I was distracted from one typo by the other more obvious typo.

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  19. dazedandconfused says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Just a technicality, but there are serious questions whether or not the “leadership” in Qatar was in Sinwar’s loop for the 10/7 op. They seem to be out of the loop in the negotiations too. Likewise there are a lot of indications Hizballah and Iran were surprised by it as well.

    I would speculate that once Sinwar’s pelt is nailed to a wall Israel will consider the war against Hamas as won. The money-people in Qatar never had control of the military wing but have been fatally undermined by them. That part will melt away when they are out of money, and there will be precious little of that coming in now.

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  20. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: No, my position is that these people need to live together or next to each other*, and that Israel creating generational trauma does not aid this goal.

    And, yes, killing 35,000 people directly, blowing up most of the homes, creating famine, and attacking the people in Israeli designated safe zones creates generational trauma.

    My plan, such as it is, starts with DO NOT MAKE IT WORSE.

    Generational trauma will make efforts to get to a stable, less violent status quo (peace may be too much to ask) much harder.

    (Have I ranted about the Field of Blackbirds recently? 1389, Serbian Prince and most of his army is killed in a battle that effectively stops Ottoman expansion into Europe, it becomes part of the founding myth of Serbia and is then weaponized to justify the genocide** of Bosnian Muslims 500 years later, and Kosovo Muslims two years after that)

    This attack on the civilian population in Gaza will not make Israel safer long term. It creates a bunch of lost cause revanchists who will pass that down for generations.

    (See the Southern US, and our current politics for a less genocidal example)

    Hamas killing 1200 Israelis was not great either. But, I put a lot more responsibility on the party that controls the situation — Israel. An oppressed people (or their duly not-elected terrorist government that is propped up and funded by the oppressive regime to keep the oppressed people in different regions divided) pushing back against oppression gets a lot more leeway.

    ——

    *: I don’t care whether they live with each other or next to each other.

    **: I know, it’s not genocide if it doesn’t happen to Jews or something.

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  21. Dawn says:

    It seems to me there are indeed two sides here: Israel is civilized and has all the rights to do as it pleases, and Hamas (and other militants) are barbaric and must be punished as brutally as possible.

    Only Israel has the right to fear ethnic cleansing and genocide. So, naturally, only Israel has the right to “defend itself” by executing a harsh and unjust military occupation with the sole goal of eradicating Palestinian culture, aspirations, possessions, and civilians: Constant and intrusive surveillance, night raids and destruction of homes, farms and businesses, churches and mosques, and cultural buildings such as community centers, libraries, and museums, the killing of civilians who dare to peacefully organize demonstrations and march in protest, or who throw rocks and molotov cocktails against the occupier. In Gaza, a strict and cruel blockade of sufficient food, water, fuel, electricity, and medical supplies – against which the tunnel system had originally been used to counteract – as well as interdiction against any attempt to bypass the blockade for humanitarian purposes.

    For the same hoary reason, only Israel has the right to ignore the international rights of an occupied people: The right to private property; the right against unlawful detention or imprisonment without charges or trial or legal representation; the right against collective punishment; the right against dispossession of their homes and land; the right against ‘population transfer’ with expulsion to make way for illegal annexation and the settlement on land with non-native civilians who are protected by the same military occupiers and who are permitted to exact violence, destruction, and death on the occupied people.

    An occupied people have the international right to armed resistance against their occupier. They are not supposed to harm or kill civilians. Hence a problem: How to resist an occupier who has all the military might of a state actor with plenty of outside sources of assistance? How to resist without harming or killing civilians in an asymmetric war? How to mentally and emotionally determine whether or not civilians are fair game if the other party has no such qualms? Right or wrong, justly or unjustly, an armed resistance will do what it feels it has to do to mitigate the inequality of forces and abilities. I hate terrorism, the killing of civilians, the fear and anxiety embedded in a people’s very being. I can, however, understand it in terms of the Israeli occupation; the Palestinian have long lived in fear and anxiety, and the killing of their people.

    Morality is a non-issue for the parties involved. Israel has been no more civilized, or less barbaric, than Hamas in its goals and how it has operated for many decades, and very much so in this latest iteration of the war.

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  22. Raoul says:

    A permanent ceasefire is necessary because the IDF does not know how to conduct urban warfare and there is nothing to suggest they will learn. More warfare means the death of thousands of children, women and elderly while barely putting a dent in Hamas.

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  23. Andy says:

    The problem remains what it has been from the outset: there’s no obvious endstate that leads to a better state of the peace. Even if it were somehow possible to kill every single Hamas operative, it wouldn’t necessarily end the terrorist threat. And the killing of tens of thousands of Palestinian noncombatants will almost surely create another generation of volunteers.

    At the same time, we have a pretty good idea of what more Hamas will get.

    And on the contrary, the theory that killing thousands of noncombatants surely only creates more is only sometimes true. It certainly WILL be true if the war ends and Hamas remains in power. There are lots of interviews of Hamas leaders openly talking about breeding martyrs for future conflicts. Unfortunately, that is looking increasingly likely.

    You’ve got to give credit to Hamas for an effective defensive sacrificial strategy, their tunnel networks have worked well enough for them to only lose about 3/4 of their fighters. But most of all, their information operations campaign has been brilliant, abetted by fifth columnists in the west, which Israel was never able to effectively counter and had strategic effects. Part of it is there is just a lot of people in the world who hate Jews, but Israel hasn’t done itself any favors by two decades of generating ill will with its actions in the West Bank and failing to stem the racist elements of the right-wing. And even though there is a unity government and decisions about the war are made by the war cabinet, you still see everyone talk about Bibi all the time, even those who know that Bibi isn’t solely calling the shots. It probably wasn’t politically possible, but Israeli politicians and elites should have seen how toxic he was and forced him to resign immediately after 10/7 to take him away as a focus.

    Anyway, the current situation has been at an impasse for quite some time. I see the Rafah operation primarily working to break the impasse and put pressure on Hamas at the negotiating table. It doesn’t look to me like Israel has mobilized for a decisive operation in Rafah. I think the War Cabinet sees the writing on the wall, intends to take the crossing points with Egypt, destroy the Hamas infrastructure there, and further isolate the remaining pockets of Hamas fighters. This will also take away most of Hamas’ ability to control and divert incoming aid. So my guess is that Israel is looking to make a deal with Hamas but needs to make some progress in Rafah not only because domestic political opinion would demand it, but also because it’s the only tool Israel really has at this point to get Hamas to soften its demands and accept a ceasefire much closer to Israel’s terms.

    If Biden wasn’t hamstrung by domestic politics here from his left flank, he could put pressure on Hamas too, but instead, he has to do the opposite and put pressure on Israel, which only signals to Hamas to harden its position. If Biden right now could instead signal the opposite, that might get Hamas to settle for survival.

    @DrDaveT:

    I didn’t see any mention of “prisoners of war” in the Reuters description. They mentioned Israel releasing women and children currently held, and Palestinian prisoners currently in Israeli jails. I would be surprised if many of those are “prisoners of war” in the sense of “captured enemy combatants.”

    Hamas doesn’t follow the rules of war including treating soldiers as POW’s. Israel considers Hamas to be a terrorist group, so captured fighters are treated as criminals.

    Additionally, Hamas usually demands the release of Palestinians (not just from Gaza) who have murdered Jews or committed other crimes against Jews or Israel that it considers to be part of or adjacent to its cause. Some have been committed by women and minors ranging from murder to arson.

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  24. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    It certainly WILL be true if the war ends and Hamas remains in power.

    Or Hamas 2.0. Or any of the groups that will come from this fiasco.

    There is no way any group of Palestinian moderates who are willing to work with the Israeli government will have any legitimacy with the people of Gaza at least in the short term — they would be viewed as well meaning useful idiots at best.

    Israel can’t unbomb Gaza and resurrect those 35,000 dead, but they can stop continuing to make it worse.

    If they know where Hamas leadership is, go kill them. I doubt it would make any difference at this point, but at least it would point the war in the right direction.

    If Biden wasn’t hamstrung by domestic politics here from his left flank, he could put pressure on Hamas too,

    There’s roughly no one that has any objection to Biden putting pressure on Hamas. You might find a few, but it’s an incredibly small number.

    If Biden killed the leaders of Hamas (presumably through intermediaries like our military, but if he wants to go himself and personally kill them, I guess that’s fine) no one would strongly object.

    The assumption that anyone opposed to Israel killing large numbers of civilians and laying waste to civilian infrastructure is pro-Hamas is silly, and suggests that you get your news from liars and/or lunatics.

    Even many of the American antisemites hate Hamas. Even the lefty American antisemites. Hamas is just not popular in the US.

    You’ve got to give credit to Hamas for an effective defensive sacrificial strategy, their tunnel networks have worked well enough for them to only lose about 3/4 of their fighters.

    Where are you getting that 3/4 number from?

    Ballparking it, I recall reading that Hamas had 20,000 fighters at the beginning of the conflict. Which makes 3/4 15,000, which would mean that just under half of the Palestinians killed would be legitimate military targets. This seems to be at odds with most reporting.

    But most of all, their information operations campaign has been brilliant, abetted by fifth columnists in the west, which Israel was never able to effectively counter and had strategic effects. Part of it is there is just a lot of people in the world who hate Jews, but Israel hasn’t done itself any favors by two decades of generating ill will with its actions in the West Bank and failing to stem the racist elements of the right-wing.

    I’m not going to claim that this hasn’t given the antisemites a moment to crawl out from under their rocks and bask in the sun, but it’s a mistake to assume that most or even a large part of the opposition stems from antisemitism. People, especially in the US, hate Arabs too.

    Further, a rise in antisemitism and antisemetic hate crimes is a very easily foreseen consequence of Israel’s attack on the civilian populations. If that attack made any kind of sense with long term security, it might have been a reasonable tradeoff, but since it doesn’t, I’ll lay a decent bit of that blame on Israel (with a larger helping of blame on the antisemites committing hate crimes, of course). It’s one more way that this assault is not making Israel more secure (and is endangering Jews worldwide).

    And even though there is a unity government and decisions about the war are made by the war cabinet, you still see everyone talk about Bibi all the time, even those who know that Bibi isn’t solely calling the shots.

    Dude, people don’t understand how our own government works, let along one far away. Bibi is shorthand for the Israeli government — a more honest shorthand than using our president as a shorthand for the government here, as the parliamentary system means you can’t have a divided government.

    This is a bit like “if you don’t know the difference between a bump stock and a fully automatic rifle you can have no informed opinion on whether schoolchildren should be riddled with bullet holes”

    Also, do you know who wanted this war more than Bibi? Hamas. The same Hamas who will sign onto a police deal that they know Israel won’t. Bibi (and the Israeli government at large) is playing into Hamas’ hands.

    Maybe they shouldn’t do that.

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  25. Raoul says:

    Something tells me some people who post here were probably for the Iraqi war and probably believed that we were six months away from success. Something also tells me that those same people were against a total withdrawal from Afghanistan. Typically, though not all including our gracious host here, people who serve in the military only know one thing, which too fight, and is the reason we don’t put them in charge of diplomacy. If someone says that a majority of Hamas fighters have been killed, you know they are making things up because no one knows. They say patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel but I do not know what you call people who make stuff up and throw insults for the cause of killing people. I do know that people that did that at the beginning of this century have their reputation in tatters today and are not worth listening too.

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  26. DK says:

    @Raoul:

    Something tells me some people who post here were probably for the Iraqi war

    Many Americans claim to support Israel but actually do not care all that much about Israelis, let alone know any; these Americans are motivated by clinging to their anti-anti-Israel (or anti-pro-Palestine) dogmas.

    I just don’t believe one can support Israel while waving away the pre- and post-Oct 7 incompetence of Netanyahu and his ilk. How can one claim to be Israel’s friend while waxing sanguine about Israel walking right into the same failures America did after 9/11? A friend will try to prevent you from repeating his errors.

    Bush/Cheney cheerleaders were fake patriots. Israel has a lot of fake friends, including but not limited to right wingers whose interest in Israel extends no further than Genesis and Exodus. And, of course, Putin-wannabe Netanyahu, who would strangle the hostages himself for personal gain without hesitation.

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  27. Modulo Myself says:

    Where are you getting that 3/4 number from?

    Why ask? None of these people make any sense. After reading a cog like Andy, you can understand why America has done so well in counterinsurgency wars. My reliable drug dealers in college would have been of more use. These dimwits talk about fifth columnists, and it’s just people watching the endless violence coming from the IDF and then observing the reactions from the most vacant and empty humans known to history and then drawing a conclusion or three.

    What’s insane is that Israel has won this conflict. It’s day 0 for keyboard commandoes in America. But Gaza is in ruins. ~30K dead, ~70k injured. Food shortages, hospitals gone, universities gone. Has the West Bank risen up? Nope. Have Arab leaders done anything but offer lip service to a two-state solution? Nope. Israel could call it a day and get the living hostages back and in a year or two this ‘existential crisis’ will have faded the same way 9/11 did.

    I get why some VIPs can’t agree. That’s the point of an ‘existential crisis’. Having an elite-ish education, this is what they teach you. Material concerns are not solutions for the existential. But an existential crisis where you end up in a cabana with a 24-year old yoga teacher instead of your wife and kids is way less pleasurable for normal people than getting off to how bad Hamas are. It really makes one wonder…

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  28. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    Hamas doesn’t follow the rules of war including treating soldiers as POW’s. Israel considers Hamas to be a terrorist group, so captured fighters are treated as criminals.

    1. Duh
    2. What does this have to do with my comment?

    I was merely pointing out that James’ use of the phrase “prisoners of war” was factually inaccurate when referring to the Palestinians held by Israel that would have been released under the terms of the agreement that was not, in fact, agreed to.

    Unless, of course, you feel that all Palestinian civilians are actually Hamas, are enemy combatants, are terrorists. Which seems to be the tacit assumption behind many of the comments here and elsewhere, and behind the actions of the Israeli government.

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  29. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    Israel can’t unbomb Gaza and resurrect those 35,000 dead, but they can stop continuing to make it worse.

    This is a good example of how effective the propaganda efforts have been – so many assume that all the Palestinians civilians killed whether it’s 35k or whatever number, were killed by Israel. While it’s certainly true that the majority of civilians deaths will be from Israel attacks, the nature of urban warfare and what we know of Hamas’ tactics show that a non-trivial number of civilians were killed by Hamas in the fighting, either caught in close-quarter engagements with Israeli forces, Hamas’ own use of inaccurate indirect fire weaponry, the use of high-failure rate rockets to attack Israel, many of which fell on Gazan civilians (the most famous example being the one that hit the parking lot at Al Shifa), to the many reports and videos of Hamas straight up killing civilians.

    There’s roughly no one that has any objection to Biden putting pressure on Hamas. You might find a few, but it’s an incredibly small number.

    The problem is that Biden hasn’t done any pressuring, at least not in public. It’s all on Israel. This sends the signal to Hamas that they have a strong hand and shouldn’t compromise. And that’s what they’ve done – in recent weeks, they’ve increased their negotiating demands. It’s one of the reasons Israel felt compelled to go into Rafah against Biden’s wishes because it doesn’t have any other tools to get Hamas to compromise on a deal.

    Ballparking it, I recall reading that Hamas had 20,000 fighters at the beginning of the conflict. Which makes 3/4 15,000, which would mean that just under half of the Palestinians killed would be legitimate military targets. This seems to be at odds with most reporting.

    When I say “lose” fighters, I’m not talking only about killed but total casualties that result in a loss of combat capability – wounded, captured, etc.

    For numbers, back in February, Hamas itself said it had 6k fighters killed at that point. That’s probably a low-ball figure. Israel has captured about 2k. The typical wounded-to-killed ratio is about 4-to-1, with half of those able to return to fighting quickly. So take whatever number of killed Hamas fighters you want to use, double it, and add that number for severely wounded (unable to fight), add the 2k for captured fighters, and that’s a very rough number of Hamas losses. If you want to take Hamas at their word with 6k killed, that’s 18-20k total casualties back in February.

    Now, some of those severely wounded will die, some will eventually heal and be able to return to fight, many will heal but not be able to fight. Hamas doesn’t have the robust systems of battlefield medicine, transport, and trauma care we and the Israeli’s have that result in high survival rates. Plus we don’t have a martyrdom complex.

    If you really want to get deeper into the weeds on this we can talk about what counts as a Hamas fighter. Unlike a terrorist group, Hamas operates like a government and has a military organization with military units, although they use the tactics of terrorists.

    This is, by the way, one reason that Hamas can be conventionally defeated. It is not an insurgency or an irregular force; its military wing is organized like a conventional military force with a conventional command structure from the brigade down to the squad level.
    Pre-war estimates for their total numbers vary. Like any conventionally organized force, however, not everyone is a “fighter.” Some are support elements – any military force has a tooth-to-tail ratio. Hamas also has a cadre of what you might call “reservists” – basically civilians who’ve received some military training. It’s not clear what’s happening with those people.

    I’m not going to claim that this hasn’t given the antisemites a moment to crawl out from under their rocks and bask in the sun, but it’s a mistake to assume that most or even a large part of the opposition stems from antisemitism.

    I think this is countered by how differently Israel and Jews are treated compared to other groups and nations. Israel receives the vast majority of UN General Assembly condemnations. You have countries that have and are currently engaged in undeniable genocide and ethnic cleansing that don’t get much interest at all by comparison. In the early days of Covid there was this moral panic that was racist to mention the lab leak theory because it might generate hostility and hate crimes toward Asian-Americans. Today, we have groups that openly support Hamas’ genocidal goals, and concerns about anti-Semitic attacks, stochastic terrorism, and the like are absent. The whole anti-zionist enterprise is explicitly one that denies self-determination for Jews and supports a kind of blood-and-soil nationalism for Palestinians. This is somehow considered normal and acceptable against Jews and the only Jewish state but would never be tolerated elsewhere.

    Taken together, it looks pretty much like the definition of structural racism to me, but of course, that term is never used for Jews or the only Jewish country, which kind of proves the point.

    Bibi is shorthand for the Israeli government — a more honest shorthand than using our president as a shorthand for the government here, as the parliamentary system means you can’t have a divided government.

    Well, people have not been using it as shorthand in many, many instances.

    Also, do you know who wanted this war more than Bibi? Hamas. The same Hamas who will sign onto a police deal that they know Israel won’t. Bibi (and the Israeli government at large) is playing into Hamas’ hands.

    Maybe they shouldn’t do that.

    Then what’s your alternative? So far, over the past many months, the only suggestions I’ve seen from you are fantasies – immaculate precision in urban warfare or Israeli capitulation. If you have some secret strategy that is somewhat realistic, then let’s hear about it.

    Personally, I’m with Michael – at this point, Israel has run out of time, defeating Hamas’ military forces in Gaza is no longer on the table. That means there will be some ceasefire, and the Palestinians in Gaza will continue to live in destitution under Hamas’ boot while they divert aid to rebuild for the next conflict. Israel is going to wall Gaza off to make sure another 10/7 will never happen again – it’s going to be like the border between North and South Korea. And in the future, Hamas will probably decide to take another bite of the apple and this whole process will repeat.

    @Raoul:

    Something tells me some people who post here were probably for the Iraqi war and probably believed that we were six months away from success. Something also tells me that those same people were against a total withdrawal from Afghanistan.

    The hosts and some of us have been here for two decades. If you want to know what we thought about something, don’t be a lazy passive-aggressive prick; either ask us directly or use the search function and look it up yourself.

    @Modulo Myself:

    Why ask? None of these people make any sense. After reading a cog like Andy, you can understand why America has done so well in counterinsurgency wars. My reliable drug dealers in college would have been of more use. These dimwits talk about fifth columnists, and it’s just people watching the endless violence coming from the IDF and then observing the reactions from the most vacant and empty humans known to history and then drawing a conclusion or three.

    Your comments are always entertaining!

    Let me explain it to you this way – I would probably be a lot more critical of the IDF and Israel if so many of the IDF’s and Israel’s critics weren’t constantly spouting Hamas talking points and have associated themselves with pro-Palestinian movements that are objectively anti-Israel and pro-Hamas and don’t make much, if any, effort to dissociate themselves from such groups or views. Those are, IMO, the fifth columnists. The people in masks hide their identity like Klansmen, praise 10/7, and chant Hamas slogans, along with their enablers.

    And maybe if you’d had done fewer drugs in college, you’d remember that I was always a critic of counterinsurgency, knew it would fail in Afghanistan as far back as 2008, argued against most of the liberals on this blog – maybe even you – that Obama’s Afghanistan surge would fail, but what the fuck do I know, I’m just a cog.

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  30. Raoul says:

    Andy, I thought profanity was beneath you, I thought wrong. Keep posting, nobody listens to you anyways. Your Hamas casualty numbers are quite arbitrary. The “surge” was neither a success or a failure, it was a drive to reach a political goal. I would ask you about getting out of Afghanistan but your opinions, apart from some tactical insights, are just meanderings. Here is a thought, if you cannot keep filth out of your mouth, don’t use it.

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  31. Andy says:

    @Raoul:

    I think it’s better to be direct than engage in the kinds of “something tells me” and “if someone says” and “they say” eliding that permeated your comment as if you think you’re fooling anyone with that pretense. No, everyone can see through the rhetorical subterfuge, and it pissed me off, and I called you out on it. It would be much more honest to address the people you disagree with directly. Not to mention the ignorant and frankly bigoted assertion that people in the military only know how to do one thing. Is the reverse also true – that people who haven’t been in the military don’t know shit about fighting and perhaps should leave that to those who do? What is your profession Raoul? Perhaps I can make some simplistic and uncharitable generalization about you by sweeping with that one big brush. Think for a minute about how annoying that would be.

    That said, I do apologize for calling you a prick – I agree it was uncalled for on my part.

    I would ask, however, that you try to grant a little grace and charity in return. I don’t mind disagreement, but I do get testy when people start putting words in my mouth, question my motivations, or assume my motivations. There’s no reason or need to do any of that because I’m right here and anyone can just ask me directly.

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  32. Raoul says:

    Fine, we will move on. I will certainly read your insights on conflict and I will continue with my rhetorical stylistic flourishes.

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  33. Dawn says:

    @Andy:

    Although late in this thread, this ‘woe is me’ type of crap needs to slide right into sewer.

    1. The number of resolutions against Israel pertains to Israel AS A MILITARY OCCUPIER of another people. Can you not understand the point? Israel has consistently ignored such resolutions – and international law – respecting the rights and security of the Palestinians. Hell, Israel has determined that the Palestinians in the West Bank have no right to gather rainwater nor the right to dig wells because Israel has failed to provide sufficient water supplies; in response to such ‘unofficial’ wells, Israel has gone so far as to fill them with various materials, including cement.

    Most of those resolutions merely repeat the infractions of international law that had been resolved before. And not all resolutions are related solely to Israel; several include the failures of another countries as well.

    2. Hamas is not calling for the genocide of the Israeli Jews; it is calling for the end of the Zionist project of eradicating the Palestinians from Palestine, and the end of Jewish supremacy over that land. Hamas knows as well as just about everyone on the planet that genocide is an impossible goal, even it was clear that this is what they’re calling for – and it’s not, although pro-Zionists cling to the supposition. As I alluded to earlier, what is clear is that Israel has been enacting a slow process of genocide of Palestinians, their culture, economy, and national aspirations – and I’m not even including the war on Gaza.

    3. Anti-Zionism is the anger and revulsion against the ideology of Jewish supremacy over land settled by outside Jews despite the presence and right to self-determination of the people who actually lived there, including the small but significant Jewish and Christian communities who’d been there for centuries. Since Israel is both a de facto and de jure state, the call is not for its erasure, but ending the unjust supremacy and land grabbing of and by its people, and both the recognition and realization of Palestinian physical and political autonomy.

    It is not the position that Jews don’t have a right to self-determination; it is the position that Palestinians do not that causes such fury against Israel and its supporters, including the United States and other Western governments.

    Except for communism, what other ideology is met with such violent reaction by people, organizations, and officials? What other calls against state violence and propaganda are met with reprehensible attempts to silence and censure? The anti-ideology of Zionism and the anti-violence of Israel’s policies and actions are not antisemitic; it is possible to separate the fact that it is Israeli Jews committing the atrocities and the virulent bigotry of antisemitism; many Palestinians are capable of doing so.

    I must also point out that many Jews opposed Zionism from the beginning and have continued to do so – and that many of those protesters are themselves Jewish. And one element they oppose is Israel’s demand that it speaks for all Jews, and that Judiasm includes Zionism. This is, unfortunately, the main reason for the current type of antisemitism we’ve been witnessing; the intentional conflation by Israel that criticism of its actions is now defined as antisemitism.

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  34. Modulo Myself says:

    @Andy:

    I’m curious—what exactly is a Hamas talking point? Please give some examples, and maybe explain where they’re coming from. Like is there a Hamas lobby like AIPAC out there with a staff issuing memos and doing seminars and expenses-paid junkets?

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  35. Andy says:

    @Raoul:

    Fair enough, I’ll try to refrain from my proclivity for profanity.

    @Modulo Myself:

    I’m curious—what exactly is a Hamas talking point?

    It seems that Dawn has come in at a perfect moment and saved me from a lot of typing, especially on point #2. Hamas is not calling for the genocide of Jews, only an endless number of 10/7’s until all the Jews are dead or until they all leave. So I guess Hamas will settle for ethnic cleansing after they tired of being murdered, raped and beheaded.

    I would also point you to pretty much anything the Palestinian college groups have tried to memory-hole over the last six months, like SJP and WOL, such as celebrating the aforementioned murdering and beheading as a great victory for the Palestinian cause. They, of course, repeat all the Hamas-isms. No biggie, right? It’s not just them, though; it’s tolerated in the circles that typically find racism where few can. Ironic.

    Just as a general point, I agree wholeheartedly with Chait, quoted below, that the pro-Palestinian movement in America has lost any moral high ground.

    The pro-Palestinian groups have chosen to embrace violent fundamentalist death cults as their allies. They have chosen to spurn compromise and coexistence. The gaping void of a humane, universalist, liberal movement to advocate for the cause of Palestinian freedom is their failure, and its fruit is the rancid antisemitism that, despite their feeble denials, has sprung up everywhere since October 7.

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  36. Modulo Myself says:

    @Andy:

    Here’s a brief summary of Hamas and their charter:

    In 2017, a revised Hamas manifesto included three departures from the 1988 charter, former U.S. diplomat Aaron David Miller told The Islamists. First, Hamas accepted the establishment of a Palestinian state separate from Israel —although only provisionally. Its statement on principles and policies said, “Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea. However, without compromising its rejection of the Zionist entity and without relinquishing any Palestinian rights, Hamas considers the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of the 4th of June 1967, with the return of the refugees and the displaced to their homes from which they were expelled, to be a formula of national consensus.” Second, it attempted to distinguish between Jews or Judaism and modern Zionism. Hamas said that its fight was against the “racist, aggressive, colonial and expansionist” Zionist project, Israel, but not against Judaism or Jews. The updated platform also lacked some of the anti-Semitic language of the 1988 charter. Third, the document did not reference the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, from which Hamas was originally an offshoot.

    If you said to me the semantics are bullshit and they want to wipe out Jewish people, I wouldn’t argue with you. It’s Hamas. I also find it hard to believe that this conflict stems from anti-semitism, which seems to be your belief. Rather it’s about Palestinians being displaced by Zionism/Israel and how to deal with that, if possible. So if you think that anti-semitism is the cause, then yes, everything that points to other causes can be reduced to a Hamas talking point.

    Overall, I think we are talking past each other. I can’t imagine what you could say to convince me and vice versa.

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  37. Andy says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    It’s not all anti-semitism. But it’s hard for me to distinguish the non-racist criticism from the racist criticism when so much of the Pro-Palestinian movement functions as Chait describes, with little effort made to dispel that characterization.

    And frankly, I don’t think it’s up to me to have to do the work to figure out if someone’s view of “from the river to the sea” or whatever aligns with Hamas or is some kind of kindler, gentler interpretation. If someone is going to use slogans and language used by anti-semites and genocidal terrorist groups, then it’s on them to explain how and why using those terms shouldn’t be taken as anti-semitic.

    For the same reason, if someone flies the Confederate flag, I’m going to assume they’re probably a racist or lean that way until proven otherwise, even though I understand there are real people out there who honestly think it means “heritage, not hate.”

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