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Netanyahu’s ceasefire is meant to keep Gaza imprisoned

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Palestinians in Gaza should have been able to breathe a sigh of relief last week, as precarious ceasefire talks survived a two-day-long, heavy exchange of strikes that threatened to unleash yet another large-scale military assault by Israel.

Late on Tuesday, after the most intense bout of violence in four years, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas, the Islamic movement that rules Gaza, approved a long-term truce brokered by Egypt.

Both are keen to avoid triggering an explosion of popular anger in Gaza, the consequences of which would be difficult to predict or contain.

The tiny enclave is on life support, having endured three devastating and sustained attacks by Israel, as well as a suffocating blockade, over the past decade. Thousands of homes are in ruins, the water supply is nearly undrinkable, electricity in short supply, and unemployment sky-high.

But as is so often the case, the enclave’s immediate fate rests in the hands of Israeli politicians desperate to cast themselves as Israel’s warmonger-in-chief and thereby reap an electoral dividend.

Elections now loom large after Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s hawkish defense minister, resigned on Wednesday in the wake of the clashes. He accused Netanyahu of “capitulating to terror” in agreeing to the ceasefire.

Lieberman takes with him a handful of legislators, leaving the governing coalition with a razor-thin majority of one parliamentary seat. Rumors were rife over the weekend that another party, the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home, was on the brink of quitting the coalition.

In fact, Netanyahu recklessly triggered these events. He had smoothed the path to a truce earlier this month by easing the blockade. Fuel had been allowed into the enclave, as had $15 million in cash from Qatar to cover salaries owed to Gaza’s public-sector workers.

At this critical moment, Netanyahu agreed to a covert incursion by the Israeli army, deep into Gaza. When the soldiers were exposed, the ensuing firefight left seven Palestinians and an Israeli commander dead.

The two sides then upped the stakes: Hamas launched hundreds of rockets into Israel, while the Israeli military bombarded the enclave. The hostilities killed more than a dozen Palestinians.

Lieberman had reportedly expressed outrage over the transfer of Qatari money to Gaza, claiming it would be impossible to track how it was spent. The ceasefire proved the final straw.

A Palestinian offers sweets to protesters as they celebrate after Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced his resignation, in front of Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza City, November 14, 2018. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

Hamas leaders boasted that they had created a “political earthquake” with Lieberman’s resignation. But the shockwaves may not be so easily confined to Israel.

Strangely, Netanyahu now sounds like the most moderate voice in his cabinet. Fellow politicians are demanding Israel “restore its deterrence” – a euphemism for again laying waste to Gaza.

Naftali Bennett, the head of the settler Jewish Home party, denounced the ceasefire as “unacceptable” and demanded the vacant defense post.

There was flak, too, from Israel’s so-called left. The opposition Labour party leader Avi Gabbay called Netanyahu “weak,” while former prime minister Ehud Barak said he had “surrendered to Hamas under fire.”

Similar sentiments are shared by the public. Polls indicate 74 percent of Israelis favor a tougher approach.

Sderot, close to Gaza and targeted by rockets, erupted into angry protests. Placards bearing the slogan “Bibi Go Home” – using Netanyahu’s nickname – were evident for the first time in his party’s heartland.

With this kind of goading, an election in the offing, and corruption indictments hanging over his head, Netanyahu may find it difficult to resist raising the temperature in Gaza once again.

But he also has strong incentives to calm things down and shore up Hamas’s rule.

The suggestion by some commentators that Netanyahu has turned a new leaf as a “man of peace” could not be more misguided. What distinguishes Netanyahu from his cabinet is not his moderation, but that he has a cooler head than his far-right rivals.

He believes there are better ways than lashing out to achieve his core political aim: the undermining of the Palestinian national project. This was what he meant on Wednesday when he attacked critics for missing “the overall picture of Israel’s security”.

On a practical level, Netanyahu has listened to his generals, who warn that, if Israel provokes war with Hamas, it may find itself ill-equipped to cope with the fallout on two other fronts, in Lebanon and Syria.

But Netanyahu has still deeper concerns. As veteran Israeli military analyst Ben Caspit observed: “The only thing more dangerous to Netanyahu than getting tangled up in war is getting tangled up in peace.”

The Israeli army has responded to months of largely non-violent mass protests at Gaza’s perimeter fence by killing more than 170 Palestinian demonstrators and maiming thousands more.

The protests could turn into an uprising. Palestinians storming the fence that imprisons them is an eventuality the Israeli army is entirely unprepared for. Its only response would be to slaughter Palestinians en masse, or reoccupy Gaza directly.

Netanyahu would rather bolster Hamas, so it can keep a lid on the protests than face an international backlash and demands that he negotiate with the Palestinians.

Further, a ceasefire that keeps Hamas in power in Gaza also ensures that Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, can be kept out.

That was in part why Netanyahu, against his normal instincts, allowed the transfer of the Qatari money, which had been opposed by the Palestinian Authority. It is not just a fillip for Hamas, it is a slap in the face to Abbas.

A disunited Palestine, divided territorially and ideologically, is in no position to exert pressure on Netanyahu – either through Europe or the United Nations – to begin peace talks or concede Palestinian statehood.

That is all the more pressing, given that the White House insists that President Trump’s long-delayed peace plan will be unveiled within the next two months.

Leaks suggest that the U.S. may propose a separate “entity” in Gaza under Egyptian supervision and financed by Qatar. The ceasefire should be seen as a first step towards creating a pseudo-Palestinian state in Gaza along these lines.

Palestinians there are now caught between a rock and a hard place. Between vengeful hotheads such as Lieberman, who want more carnage in Gaza, and Netanyahu, who prefers to keep the Palestinians quiet and largely forgotten in their tiny prison.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi on November 18, 2018. 

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is

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10 Responses

  1. Nathan on November 20, 2018, 10:22 pm

    Jonathan Cook tells us that the Palestinians “are now caught between a rock and a hard place”. In other words, both the possibility of Israel’s going to war against Gaza and the possibility that Israel would prefer having a cease-fire with Hamas are equally bad news for the Palestinians. I would have thought that reasonable and concerned viewers of the conflict would be pleased that there is an agreement for a cease-fire, but apparently the anti-Israel world has a logic of its own. It seems obvious that it is impossible to express any satisfaction with Israel, so it has to be a “you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t” presentation of the events.

    I think that it would have been alright if Jonathan Cook had stated that he is relieved that a cease-fire was achieved. He can be pleased that war was avoided and still be firmly anti-Israel. No one would have thought that he has suddenly recognized the legitimacy of the state in which he has asked for and received citizenship. It would also be just fine if someone would suggest to the Palestinians to end the weekly demonstrations by the border fence. You can criticize the Palestinians for their self-defeating and pointless ideas, while (at the same time) you can still consider yourself to be anti-Israel.

    Anyway, since I’m not a member of the anti-Israel cult, I’m allowed to use the normal logic of concerned (and sane) people, so here it is: It’s good news that a cease-fire was agreed upon, and the weekly demonstrations at the border fence are self-defeating and pointless.

    Jonathan Cook tells us that it has been leaked that the US “may propose a separate entity in Gaza”. Let’s assume that this information is correct. Well, that’s the reality in front of our eyes. Gaza is a separate political entity (i.e. it is a state) with its own government, its own armed forces, its own legal system and its own foreign policy. Statehood is quite an impressive achievement, and the Gazans deserve a warm “mabruk” from us all.

    • Misterioso on November 21, 2018, 10:42 am

      @Nathan, et al

      In short, Netanyahu has finally realized that his ongoing slaughter of defenseless Palestinians in the Gaza Strip prison (i.e., “shooting fish in a barrel”) has accurately portrayed the entity known as “Israel” as a raging, murderous monster and caused its worldwide image, including the U.S., to plummet

      Hence, in essence, he is in reinstituting then PM Ariel Sharon’s chief advisor, Dov Weisglass’s 2004 “Disengagement Plan.” To quote Weisglass from an article published by Haaretz at the time: “‘The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,’ he said. ‘It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.’” (Top PM Aide: Gaza Plan Aims to Freeze the Peace Process, Ha’aretz, October 6, 2004)

      As correctly declared by Human Rights Watch in 2005, the Gaza Strip remains belligerently occupied by “Israel.”

      “Human Rights Watch, 2005: “…Israel will continue to be an Occupying Power [of the Gaza Strip] under international law and bound by the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention because it will retain effective control over the territory and over crucial aspects of civilian life. Israel will not be withdrawing and handing power over to a sovereign authority – indeed, the word ‘withdrawal’ does not appear in the [2005 disengagement] document at all… The IDF will retain control over Gaza’s borders, coastline, and airspace, and will reserve the right to enter Gaza at will. According to the Hague Regulations, ‘A territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised’. International jurisprudence has clarified that the mere repositioning of troops is not sufficient to relieve an occupier of its responsibilities if it retains its overall authority and the ability to reassert direct control at will.”

      Also: As declared by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC): “The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.” The ICRC thus unequivocally stated that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law embodied in the Geneva Conventions. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, ratified by Israel, bans collective punishment of a civilian population.

      “In practice, Gaza has become a huge, let me be blunt, concentration camp for right now 1,800,000 people” – Amira Hass, 2015, correspondent for Haaretz, speaking at the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University.

      Importantly, “Israel” has ignored repeated peace overtures from Hamas:
      On 16 June 2009, after meeting with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Ismail Haniya, prime minister of Hamas’s Gaza Strip government, announced that “If there is a real plan to resolve the Palestinian question on the basis of the creation of a Palestinian state within the borders of June 4, 1967 [i.e. 22% of historic Palestine] and with full sovereignty, we are in favour of it.” “Israel” ignored the offer.

      “‘We accept a Palestinian state on the borders of 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital, the release of Palestinian prisoners, and the resolution of the issue of refugees,’ Haniyeh said, referring to the year of Middle East war in which Israel captured East Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.” (Haaretz, December 1, 2010) No response from “Israel.” (By calling for a “resolution of the issue of refugees,” Haniyeh was in accordance with UNGA Res. 194, the 1947 Partition Plan, which calls for financial compensation as an option for the Palestinian refugees rather than their inalienable “Right of Return.”)

      In its revised Charter, April, 2017, Hamas again agreed to a Palestinian state based on the 4 June 1967 borders. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, “Israel” promptly rejected the Hamas overture instead of using it to open a dialogue.

      “Senior Hamas Official: ‘I Think We Can All Live Here in This Land – Muslims, Christians and Jews.’” (By Nir Gontarz. March 28, 2018, Haaretz.) No response from “Israel.”

    • bcg on November 21, 2018, 11:18 am

      @Nathan: what kind of state doesn’t have control over its own borders? What kind of state has no control over who comes in, who leaves, who has permission to go abroad?

      • Citizen on November 22, 2018, 11:21 am

        The USA?

    • Donald on November 21, 2018, 12:58 pm


      The role of concern troll is a difficult one. To make it truly convincing you have to be able to fake empathy for the people you care nothing about, but empathy is hard to fake. So you don’t understand why Gazans have anything to complain about if Israel only shoots protestors, as opposed to killing thousands. That lack of understanding is what makes your post so pointless.

      • Mooser on November 21, 2018, 2:56 pm

        “That lack of understanding is what makes your post so pointless.”

        And I have never understood what “Nathan” (and the ilk) expect to accomplish by making such a point of exhibiting that lack of understanding.

    • RoHa on November 21, 2018, 11:35 pm

      “Statehood is quite an impressive achievement, and the Gazans deserve a warm “mabruk” from us all.”

      But the Gazans don’t want statehood. They want to return to their historic homeland.

      Imposing statehood upon them is a denial of their right of self-determination.

  2. Kay24 on November 21, 2018, 6:49 am

    Good article Jonathan Cook. I think you nailed it. Netanyahu prefers the status quo, and these meaningless ceasefires are only temporary, meant to dupe the world, and the Palestinians may be spared from more bombing or sniper attacks, but NOTHING is resolved, they are in limbo, and the zionist nation can continue to steal more lands, to achieve what they wanted anyway – to make life so miserable, and the territories unlivable, that the Palestinians may perish, or flee to neighboring nations. These ceasefire agreements are simply a tiny bandaid over a toxic, festering wound. America and other western nations know this, but pretend to take Israel’s justifications and false narratives. Why else would they keep arming and sending aid to the criminals?

  3. Elizabeth Block on November 21, 2018, 11:13 am

    “covert incursion by the Israeli army, deep into Gaza”
    Really? Covert for the Israeli public. But I’m sure the Gazans knew.

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