Changing Israel’s self-destructive course

Israel is on a dangerously self-destructive course.  The brutality of the Gaza campaign is antagonizing allies and making it difficult for regional players to continue normalizing relations.  The prospects for a durable peace are dimming at the same time that the policy of military supremacy that provided a modicum of security over the past two decades looks increasingly unsustainable. 

Netanyahu clearly deserves much of the blame for what is happening, but it is important to recognize that he is acting with the support of many, likely most, Israelis. 

Why is this?  What accounts for the Israeli public’s support for a self-destructive policy?  One factor is that Israeli television doesn’t show pictures of dead and wounded Gazans and bombed-out neighborhoods.  Another more intractable cause is that Israelis are acting out of anger over the October 7 attack and are simply unwilling to think about making peace.  This has been an ongoing problem since the intifada.  Like the Hatfields and McCoys, the Israelis and Palestinians are caught in a cycle of violence and revenge that is self-perpetuating. 

Any change in the current equilibrium will require pressure from third parties, notably the United States.  Unfortunately the United States has maintained the fiction that peace must be negotiated between two parties that are much more interested in killing each other than in burying the hatchet.

In addition to bringing outside pressure to bear, the United States needs to work to shape Israeli public opinion.  Recent stories highlighting the potential failure of the Iron Dome system in the event of an attack by Hezbollah need to get lots of airplay.  This is a vulnerability that may well get worse as weapons evolve. 

Critics of the Netanyahu government tend to focus on moral criticism of the war in Gaza, but moral arguments will not sway members of the Netanyahu coalition.  Americans and left of center Israelis need to focus on arguments that will appeal to the fearful and angry Israeli majority.  This means telling them loudly and clearly that their actions are self-defeating and endangering the viability of Israel.