“Any decision is better than no decision.”
I came to that conclusion decades ago, and it has never been more relevant than today in Israel.
Here are the dilemmas facing Israel, more than three months after Hamas terrorists invaded Israel, killing 1,200 while abducting, burning, raping and dismembering many others. These issues require decisions, and the sooner the better:
· Should Israel give top priority to saving the hostages or wiping out Hamas? Is it realistic to consider both as top priorities?
· If it’s wiping out Hamas, is that even possible now, and if not now, when?
· If it’s the hostages, how far should Israel go to win their release?
· In the framework of a proposal for “the day after” the war ends, should Israel endorse the concept of a Palestinian state, even as just a tactic?
First, a reality check: Despite a huge Gaza ground operation buttressed by the largest callup of Israeli army reserves in decades, Hamas is still alive and killing. That means Hamas still has the ability to fire rockets, attack Israeli soldiers, and govern parts of Gaza. It controls who gets those sought-after humanitarian supplies, and not surprisingly, Hamas and its forces are on top of the list. And while Israel has eliminated many Hamas commanders, its top echelon is still operating in and under Gaza and, of course, in Qatar.
Meanwhile, Israeli military operations have succeeded in rescuing exactly one hostage. Negotiations freed about 100 others. About 130 are still in Hamas hands, and it is unknown how many are still alive.
So the claim that the best way to free the hostages is to keep up the military pressure on Hamas has so far proven to be false.
That requires Israel to make a decision about that first item—hostages or “victory”? It appears that Israel can’t have both.
If it’s victory, how long can Israel maintain its counterattack on Hamas without wrecking its own economy, racking up untenable losses among its soldiers, and further alienating the majority of world observers who see the destruction in Gaza as more important than Israel’s security?
If it’s hostages, does that mean freeing thousands of terrorists in Israeli prisons, even the ones who carried out the Oct. 7 massacre inside Israel?
Constrained by internal politics, Israel’s government is unable or unwilling to make decisions about any of these issues. The cost is high, and it’s rising every day.
In the field, Israel’s military is starting to spin its wheels. Without clear instructions from its government about the main priorities and the end game, the military has to just keep doing what it’s doing without strategic planning. That could put soldiers in additional danger.
At home, parts of the government behave as if nothing changed on Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked across the border. They are adding to subsidies and expenditures for non-war related areas like yeshiva schools for the ultra-Orthodox Jews. At the same time, the government is cutting allocations for general education and dropping the ball when it comes to supporting the businesses and lives of army reservists who’ve been in Gaza fighting Hamas or in the North facing Hezbollah.
So let’s look at decisions that could be made, because the above problems are caused largely by a lack of decisions.
How about a decision that freeing the hostages is the top priority? That would enable Israel and its few supporters to double down on international pressure on Hamas to at least give an accounting of who’s alive and allow Red Cross visits. And it would free Israel’s government to take the initiative diplomatically.
Instead of waiting for the unsympathetic world to impose an unattractive arrangement, Israel could come forward with its own proposal.
Even if the government makes its decision today, it would have to get out in front of international initiatives already in the works. They include a cease-fire and a stage, sometime in the future, of Palestinian control of Gaza under what the US calls a “reconstituted” Palestinian Authority. Arab participation, especially vital Egyptian cooperation in putting an end to the massive Hamas arms smuggling enterprise across and under the Gaza-Egypt border, would require acquiescing to the idea of a Palestinian state.
Ideology aside, there’s little danger in endorsing those elements. If Israel takes the initiative, it can retain its right of self-defense when it comes to dealing with Hamas. Insisting on the need for a “reconstituted” Palestinian Authority gives Israel an effective veto over its participation, at least in the short term. Likewise, accepting the idea of a Palestinian state is meaningless—the Palestinians have turned down at least two Israeli offers of a state according to their own demands, so by now the “two-state” mantra is little more than lip service.
On the ground, Israel could make release of all the hostages a prerequisite for any other steps. Also, a cease-fire would have to be total and verifiable, and any Hamas violation would justify an Israeli response. Over the years, there hasn’t been a single cease-fire that Hamas hasn’t violated, so chances are Israel could resume its counter-offensive sooner than later.
On the other hand, choosing destruction of Hamas as the top priority means giving up on the chance of rescuing hostages alive. Even so, that would be a valid decision if the government decides so.
What is not valid is the constant drumbeat of bombastic pronouncements about what Israel won’t accept.
If the Israeli government is unable to make the necessary decisions, then it’s time to install a government that can, because the developments of recent weeks have proven once again:
“Any decision is better than no decision.”