An Open Letter To Prime Minister Netanyahu


Artwork by Michael Anderson and Sam Ben-Meir

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:

The latest demonstration of Palestinians along the Gaza border with Israel that turned violent was no surprise to me or perhaps to a multitude of Israelis and Palestinians as well. This tragic confrontation that resulted in the death of 120 Palestinians was not the first and will not be the last. Israel has waged three wars against Hamas and countless retaliatory strikes, and yet nothing has fundamentally changed.

The sad thing is that nothing will change unless Israel accepts the reality that Hamas is the governing authority in Gaza, with whom you must come to terms to bring an end to this unabating tragedy. Your policy toward Gaza has and continues to be containment, but to what end? Hamas is a reality that you cannot change—yes, you can decapitate its leaders, but new leaders of the same ilk will rise.

These leaders may well be far more extremist, ready to make even greater sacrifices knowing that no matter how much force you use, you will never prevail in subjugating two million Palestinians indefinitely. They will rise time and again and die because for them, dying with honor is better than living in servitude at the mercy of what they view as a detestable power which has lost the last vestiges of moral accountability.

When was the last time you imagined the utter misery that the Palestinians are experiencing day in and day out? When was the last time that you tried to understand the psychological and emotional disposition of the Palestinians? Just think. More than 80 percent of the Palestinians are under the age of fifty and were born under the occupation, having never experienced a day of freedom.

Fifty years of hopelessness and despair. Fifty years of humiliation and submission. Fifty years of fear and uncertainty. Fifty years of deprivation, fifty years of dehumanization and degradation. Yes, fifty years of resentment, hatred, and loathing.

When they wake up, they feel hopeless. When they retire to sleep, helplessness sets in. They are living in fear and trepidation, with no better day on the horizon. For them, freedom is just another word. They do not see themselves as militants or terrorists, they see victims—victimized from the day they were born. Prisoners of time—prisoners of a bitter fate, caring less about who is right or who is wrong. They yearn for a normal life—life with dignity and pride.

You, Mr. Prime Minister, have skillfully brainwashed most Israelis to believe that every Palestinian is a terrorist, that Hamas is the incarnation of evil whose sole aim is the destruction of Israel. That Hamas is irredeemable, that they understand only the language of force. You deliberately want the conditions in Gaza to simmer to justify your extreme policies to keep Hamas at bay and the Israeli public living in fear.

You are a fearmonger, hungry for power, and sadly most Israelis fell into your trap. They became complacent, indifferent, and unmoved by the horror unfolding in front of their eyes, but at a loss how to explain to their children fifty years of occupation and deprivation with no end in sight. The killing of a 21-year-old Palestinian nurse symbolizes the dark side of the ongoing conflict. Despite her medical vest, to an Israeli sniper she was just another target who was killed trying to save the life of a fallen demonstrator.

It is time for reckoning, time to face the bitter reality—the reality of Hamas and two million Palestinians who are there and going nowhere. Your policies toward Hamas and the senseless killing of Palestinians has brought nothing but international condemnation. You are making Israel a pariah state, ruthless, self-absorbed, and immoral.

It is time to be realistic and face the truth, time to think about Israel’s future, time to change the dynamic of this struggle. It is time to chart a pathway that could bring an end to a consuming and debilitating conflict which is undermining Israel’s security and eroding its social fabric and moral foundation.

It is time to treat Gaza as a separate Palestinian entity—an entity with which Israel can, indeed must, live in peace as good neighbors, cooperating and thriving and progressing together. No, this is not a pipedream. There is not a single Palestinian in Gaza who believes that Israel can ever be destroyed. Every sworn Hamas member knows only too well that Israel is here to stay and that the quality of their life, long-term prosperity, and security depend on Israel.

It is time for every Israeli to also realize that as long as the Palestinians live under blockade, deprived of basic necessities, living in anguish and fear with little prospect of better days ahead, Israel will not know a day of real peace.

It is time to treat Hamas not as a terrorist organization but as a governing body in control of two million Palestinians. You repeatedly said that Israel does not negotiate with terrorists, but you have been negotiating with Hamas directly and indirectly. You have been supplying Gaza with electricity, fuel, building materials, and medical equipment, and allowing foreign powers to provide Hamas with an array of commodities and financial assistance.

You have quickly accepted Hamas’ offer of ceasefire because you wanted to focus on the Iranian threat. Remember this, as long as the conditions in Gaza do not improve, it is only a question of time when the next violent eruption will occur. The Iranian threat is a long-term threat, which of necessity requires addressing the combustible dire situation in Gaza—and in so doing you distance Hamas from Iran, rather than bringing them closer.

You have been demanding that Hamas must first surrender its cache of weapons before Israel lifts the blockade. Hamas rejected this demand because it is tantamount to surrender before they even start the negotiations. What is a right and necessary demand is that Hamas must first renounce violence and cease all hostilities (Hudna), which they will develop a vested interest in maintaining as long as they reap immediate and continuing benefits, creating an atmosphere of calm and mutual trust that could lead to peace.

A process of quid pro quo should be established, where a reduction or destruction of weapons by Hamas will be reciprocated by further easing of the blockade. Both sides need to agree on a negotiating process, the purpose of which is to first establish a permanent ceasefire, build trust, and finally bring about a gradual and complete lifting of the blockade. This will, over a few years, provide the foundation on which to build a permanent structure of peace where all other conflicting issues can be settled.

This is the most realistic approach, because unlike the West Bank, Israel does not want any part of Gaza nor does it want to establish a security apparatus in Gaza such as the one that exists in the West Bank. In fact, it’s in Israel’s best interest to deal with Gaza as a separate entity from the West Bank. In any case, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have little in common. They do not see eye-to-eye neither ideologically nor politically, and by separating them in the pursuit of peace, you would also facilitate negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

You as well as Hamas’s leaders are trapped in your old and tired narrative, blaming each other for the impasse and refusing to come to grips with reality. Indeed, the past cannot be put on trial, as neither Israel nor Hamas can right the wrongs of yesterday and must accept each other’s reality, as neither can wish it away.

You, Mr. Netanyahu, have a solemn responsibility to end this conflict because not a single Israeli or Palestinian should die in a blood-soaked conflict that has not and will never yield any tangible or lasting gain for either side.

You will either be remembered as the Prime Minster who made Israel a strong and prosperous powerhouse at peace with its Palestinians neighbors, or a power that lives by the gun plagued by moral decadence with an uncertain future. What legacy you leave behind is for you to decide.

A letter to Ismail Haniyeh and Yahya Sinwar is available here:

An Open Letter to Ismail Haniyeh and Yahya Sinwar

Dear M. Haniyeh and Sinwar;

I am writing this letter to you in the wake of the latest confrontation between Palestinian demonstrators and the Israeli military that tragically resulted in the death of 120 Palestinian youth. I maintain that all this bloody mayhem could have been avoided had you concluded long ago that the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rests on ending all violence and no longer perpetuating demands such as the right of return, knowing that this will never come to pass.

Time and circumstances have changed but you remain stuck in the past, unwilling to change your strategy. Sadly, you still believe that being militant and uncompromising is what will restore your rights, however misguided and unrealistic that may be, and regardless of the fact that your people are growing intensely unhappy with your leadership.

You must bear the responsibility for the deaths of so many because, notwithstanding Israel’s disproportionate and horrifying response, you knew that such a call for border protests would result in many demonstrators being killed. Your strategy toward Israel is bankrupt and has done nothing but severely damage the Palestinian cause while inflicting horrible pain and suffering on the multitude of young and old to no avail.

You find comfort in illusions of destroying Israel, but they are just that—illusions which have led you nowhere. You are besieged from the inside and outside, living on handouts with rampant and devastating unemployment, wide-spread poverty, hopelessness, and mutilating despair.

You have harnessed the Palestinians’ despair and instigated the youth to tear down the fence separating Gaza from Israel under the banner of the right of return. Whether the Palestinians have such a right or not is no longer relevant under the current state of affairs. No Israeli government, regardless of its political leanings, will allow the Palestinians to return en masse as this will obliterate the Jewish national identity of the state, which nearly all Israelis want to safeguard at all costs and under any circumstances.

Moreover, the right of return of the “Palestinian refugees” living in Gaza and the West Bank has been completely misinterpreted over the years. The Palestinians, however, chose to perpetuate the narrative of the right of return because they wanted to keep the issue of the refugees alive and justify their claim to the entirety of mandated Palestine.

Every Palestinian in Gaza is living in his own homeland, unless you consider Gaza not to be a part of Palestine. As such, the Palestinians in Gaza are not refugees by any definition. They are internally displaced, and the solution to their dismal situation lies in resettlement and/or compensation. What you have done is send your youth to death under the false banner of the right of return only to score public relation points.

You criminally mismanage your financial resources. Instead of building clinics, schools, industrial parks, infrastructure, and housing which are all desperately needed, you squandered over a hundred million dollars to build tunnels, buy and manufacture weapons, and train militias. Tell me, what end would this satisfy other than your hollow pride?

Yes, you can fire hundreds of rockets at Israel, and kidnap or kill a handful of Israelis. But you are not now and will never be able to win any military confrontation with Israel—only suffer terrible human and material losses, which you know well from past encounters with Israeli forces.

You cannot demand the lifting of the blockade and in the same breath call for Israel’s destruction. You cannot resort to the use of force and buy weapons, and expect Israel to ease access to and from Gaza.

You cannot inflame the public by spreading poisonous propaganda only to nurture hate toward Israel, and expect the Israelis to believe that you will ever be willing to coexist with them peacefully.

You cannot spend millions of dollars on military preparation while denying your own people basic necessities—food, drinking water, and healthcare—and blame it on the blockade.

You cannot claim to be victimized by Israel when in fact you have been passing that sense of victimhood from one generation to the next, subjecting your people to a life of indignity and despair.

You are corrupt not because you steal money, make shady deals, or live a lavish life at the expense of the poor. You are politically and ideologically corrupt because you continue to promote policies and an ideology that instigates violent resistance while making false promises that the day of salvation is near. However, the innocent – young and old – are paying the price.

The clock is not ticking in your favor. The Arab states have largely abandoned you. You are still labeled as a terrorist organization by Western powers. You are provided a meager assistance by Iran to battle Israel from the south, only to be exploited to serve Tehran’s own interests in its confrontation with Israel.

You are blockaded by a sister Arab state—Egypt—because of your continuing violent extremism and religious zealotry. You are supported by Turkey’s President Erdogan, but he is only using the Palestinians’ plight in Gaza to serve his own sinister agenda as the champion of Muslim causes.

You have stated on a number of occasions in the past that you are willing to establish a Palestinian state with borders based on the 1967 ceasefire line. Why not make this the official policy of Hamas?

You must accept Israel’s reality because there will never come a day when you will have the capacity to wage a war and win. Israel has and remains the mightiest regional power and any serious existential threat by any country will be suicidal.

What you must do now is take all the necessary measures to change the dynamic of the conflict and do so gradually but consistently to demonstrate to the entire international community that you intend to bring the conflict with Israel to an honorable end by taking the following measures:

Aim for the removal of the stigma of being a terrorist organization, especially by Western powers, by forsaking violence and pledging to work toward a two-state solution, which the West still strongly supports.

Stop your poisonous narrative against Israel, which plays directly into the hands of its right-wing political parties, allowing them to make a convincing argument that, notwithstanding your occasional overture in support of a two-state solution, you are committed to Israel’s destruction.

Engage in a process of reconciliation first to nurture trust which is sorely lacking, and leave to a later date solutions to the major conflicting issues, including the ultimate future of Jerusalem, the disposition of the settlements, and final borders.

End the futility of rehashing the past, which only misleads the public, reinforces wrong assumptions, raises false hope, and promotes hostilities instead of reducing tensions, suspicion, and distrust.

Terminate the building of tunnels and the procurement of weapons to save money to undertake scores of public projects, which will also demonstrate to the Israelis your seriousness to reach a just and sustainable peace accord for which your people have been yearning for decades.

Offer a better future to the new generation, who dream of freedom, of opportunities to grow, and of living a better and more productive life than their parents with pride.

In the end, Mr. Haniyeh and Mr. Sinwar, you and successive Israeli leaders have made many fatal mistakes by missing repeated opportunities to end the conflict and accept the inescapable reality that you are both condemned or decreed to coexist in one form or another.

Why not choose peace and amity now, instead of self-destructive policies that have done nothing but set back the Palestinian cause for two generations? There will be no prospect for better days unless you recognize that while illusions offer some temporary comfort, the Palestinian people are exhausted and no longer want to live and die by holding onto pipedreams.

A letter to Benjamin Netanyahu is available here:

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for
Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and
Middle Eastern studies.