Editorial: Netanyahu’s failures

Al-Ahram Weekly Editorial
Tuesday 7 May 2024

After seven months of Israel’s relentless and savage revenge war against the Palestinian people in Gaza, where nearly 35,000 people were killed and 80,000 others wounded, the vast majority innocent civilians, there is little room for optimism that the current, extremist Israeli government will heed the near unanimous international appeals not to commit another large-scale round of atrocities and insist on taking over the southern city of Rafah.


At the time of writing, the Israeli army has issued warnings to more than 100,000 Palestinians living in refugee camps in eastern Rafah to evacuate west to another densely populated area, known as Al-Mawasi, which lacks even the most basic infrastructure to host additional numbers, whether in terms of sanitation, food or water. Those miserable Palestinians have already been evacuated from their homes more than once since the Israeli army went on expanding its occupation of the Gaza Strip over the past seven months, inflicting total destruction on northern, middle and southern towns and cities.

The end result was that more than 1.3 people were squeezed in Rafah along the border with Egypt’s northern Sinai. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his extremist, IS-minded ministers such as Security Minister Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezaelil Smotritch, have been lying to the Israeli public, attempting to sell them the illusion that the success of this criminal military campaign between what is supposedly the most advanced army in the Middle East — and one that, since the war began, has received billions of dollars’ worth of arms and ammunitions from the United States alone — and a small, modestly funded militia, Hamas, hinges on the takeover of Rafah.

Netanyahu insists that levelling Rafah’s buildings the way the occupation has done elsewhere in Gaza is the only way to exert pressure on Hamas to surrender and forcibly free the remaining Israeli prisoners it has been holding since the daring 7 October attack on Israeli army posts and nearby settlements. Arguments that four Hamas battalions remain in Rafah, along with its top leaders, and that they must be destroyed in order to declare “victory” in the war sound laughable to the whole world, considering the experience of the past seven months. Every area the Israeli army has declared clean and under its total control, whether in northern, middle or southern Gaza such as Khan Younis, has later turned into a battleground once again, with Hamas fighters inflicting heavy losses on the Israeli army despite their primitive weapons.  

Moreover, only in a cartoon could Hamas’ wanted leaders sit idly by waiting for Israel to come and kill them. There is no need to mention the fate of the Israeli prisoners, many of whom have already been killed in Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of Palestinian buildings in Gaza. How might an invasion of Rafah, and the killing of thousands more Palestinians, keep those Israeli prisoners alive or bring them safely home?

The hostages’ families, scores of Israeli army and intelligence officials as well as Israel’s partner in this war, the Biden administration, have all warned Netanyahu against going ahead and invade Rafah, noting the reality that it could only cause additional suffering and loss of Palestinian lives, and would not achieve any of the declared goals of the war: destroying Hamas and freeing the Israeli prisoners.

The Israeli move on Monday, forcing residents of eastern Rafah to evacuate once again in preparation for a bloody invasion of the entire city, has been clearly aimed at sabotaging the intense negotiations that Egypt has been hosting for more than a week in the hope of reaching a lasting ceasefire agreement. Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition are clearly worried about being held accountable for the massive failures that led to the 7 October attack by Hamas the day the war stops.

Yet, for Egypt, the demand to halt the invasion of Rafah has several bases, topped with steadfast support for the rights of the Palestinian people, and resistance to any attempt to liquidate the Palestinian cause by forcing Palestinians to flee into northern Sinai and inflict a second Nakba. Moreover, the invasion of Rafah would be a dangerous violation of the 1979 Camp David Agreement between Egypt and Israel, which clearly prohibits the presence of Israeli or Egyptian army troops along the border. Any changes to the commitments made in the oldest peace treaty between Israel and the Arab world’s largest country would require the agreement of both countries. And Egypt’s answer to the possible presence of Israel’s army along its border is a big NO.

The foreign minister therefore issued a clear warning against Israel’s advance on Rafah, saying that such a move would cause massive humanitarian suffering among the more than 1.3 million Palestinians living in that area. Egypt called on Israel to practise maximum self-restraint and avoid further escalation at this extremely sensitive stage of ceasefire negotiations mediated by Egypt, Qatar and the United States.

One thing that should not be in doubt is that Egypt will never tire of pressing for a permanent ceasefire and taking all steps necessary to make sure that Israeli revenge wars against Gaza do not continue to take place once every few months or years, and that there should be a political path towards the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Yet this requires joint pressure on the current Israeli government by all concerned parties, topped by the United States. There is no other way to end this war, considering that the current Israeli government has made it abundantly clear that it prioritises its own survival over the stability of the entire region, or the long term interests of the Israeli people who must be aware of the extent to which the atrocities committed over the past seven months has turned their country into a pariah.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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