Israel's flag flying atop Masada.
Israel's flag flying atop Masada.

Column: A Future for Israel?

“Palestinians Must Have Hope for a Brighter Future,” urges a New York Times headline. It tops a Thanksgiving Day opinion piece authored by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Hope for what? To kill more Jews? What about hope for the Jewish people?

The hostage exchange between Israel and Hamas was planned for Thanksgiving before it was postponed to Friday. I wondered if it would ever happen, just as I wondered if the October 7 tragedy could somehow be transformed into a peace pact between Israel and the Palestinians.

I was somewhat distracted by Thanksgiving dinner north of Allentown, Pa., reunited relatives and their friends. It was a very warm and welcoming occasion. All of us hugged one another as we left the house, but there would be fewer or no holiday hugs for many families 5,400 miles east of us. Apparently, some Israeli families celebrate Thanksgiving.

Like everyone else, I wondered what the future holds for Israel, the Palestinians and other countries in the Middle East.

Yes, Palestinians should have hope to improve their lives, for those who are serious about peace. Israelis must also “have hope for a brighter future.” Besides the 1,200 in southern Israel who were murdered by Hamas, how many Israeli soldiers will survive the current ground operation in Gaza?

What will happen in the end? Is there a future for Israel? For the Jewish people?

The set of agreements for hostage exchanges was decided by two entities which promise to destroy one another as soon as possible, yet they are making incremental deals through a third party to trade innocent hostages for imprisoned terrorists. First, four days of exchanges, then an additional two days.

Sometime in the weeks ahead, Hamas will run out of women, children and even male civilians to return to Israel, and Israel will only have hundreds of terrorists left to release from its prisons. What does either side do then?

The Hamas raid proves that a dangerous segment of Arabs seeks Israel’s destruction. I recognize that there are decent Arabs who can support a Jewish state. Times columnist Thomas Friedman affirmed this in his Sunday piece mostly devoted to reporting how Israeli Arabs risked their own lives on October 7 to save Jews and others.

Trouble is, extremists like Hamas terrorists control the agenda. They can reopen the military conflict on a dime. As a Hamas spokesman recently said, as quoted by Sanders, “I hope that the state of war with Israel will become permanent, on all the borders, and the Arab world will stand with us.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is adamant in resuming the war. President Biden seeks to avoid more warfare. Netanyahu fervently believes that Hamas, if allowed to survive, will commit other October 7s and much worse. Biden fears that a continuation of the war could escalate and spread further around the region.

They are both right. Hamas needs to be eliminated because it will surely organize more attacks, and any military confrontation has the potential to touch off wider conflicts. How do we reconcile the two perspectives?

If Israel prevails, who runs Gaza?

Presidential hopeful Chris Christie told a pro-Israel group in New Hampshire on November 17 that other Arab countries like Egypt or Jordan have no desire to govern Gaza. Therefore, the former Republican governor of New Jersey added, this means that nobody knows how Gaza will operate if and when Hamas is dismantled.

Sanders, an independent representing Vermont, blames Israel in large part for pre-bombing conditions in Gaza, stating in his Times column, “Israel has done nothing in recent years to give hope for a peaceful settlement – maintaining the blockade of Gaza, deepening the daily humiliations of occupation in the West Bank, and largely ignoring the horrendous living conditions facing Palestinians.”

Done nothing? The Palestinians rejected an Israeli plan for an independent state in 2000; Israel completely left Gaza in 2005; and Hamas seized Gaza in 2007. Without blockading Gaza, how else can Israel prevent weapons smuggling into Gaza? How else could Israel help Gazans without rooting out Hamas, as it was attempting to achieve a few weeks ago?

What Netanyahu’s government is doing in the West Bank is a matter of dispute, but Israeli voters almost steadily elected right-wing parliaments after being repulsed by Palestinian actions.

Citing “indiscriminate bombing,” Sanders writes, “Israel cannot bomb an entire neighborhood to take out one Hamas target…it must dramatically change its tactics to minimize civilian harm.” Rather, Israel must choose between protecting Israel and avoiding civilian deaths in Gaza. It is a horrible decision for any reasonable person to make. It is sickening to visualize a split-screen of dead and injured Gazans against a potential invasion of another Israeli village.

Meanwhile, how does Israel “minimize civilian harm?”

If Israel must govern Gaza, even on a temporary basis, how will that work? They have just killed a reported 14,000 Palestinians, even if in self-defense and if the body count is far lower than that. Israeli inhabitants known as “settlers” are accused of repeatedly attacking Palestinians in the West Bank. Why would any of the Palestinians cooperate with Israel?

Sanders also insists that “if Palestinians are to have any hope for a decent future, there must be a commitment to broad peace talks to advance a two-state solution in the wake of this war.”

The senator worded that as if it is a new idea. As mentioned above, Israel tried that and dropped the proposed state into Yasser Arafat’s lap before he rejected it. Will this commitment end the violence or will the Palestinians throw it in Israel’s face once again?

Creation of an independent Palestinian state, write both Sanders and Friedman, will hinge on a more credible Palestinian Authority, not the corrupt, clueless authority that is now in control.

(Preliminary) “steps will show that peace can deliver for the Palestinian people,” Sanders writes, “hopefully giving the Palestinian Authority the legitimacy it needs to assume administrative control of Gaza.”

Adds Friedman in Wednesday’s Times, “Any two-state solution down the road is impossible without a credible, legitimate Palestinian Authority that Israel trusts to govern a post-Hamas Gaza and a West Bank. But that doesn’t require only Israeli assent, it also requires Palestinians to get their act together. Are they up it?”

If history is any guide, not a chance. I hope I am wrong.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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