Ezra Klein: Israel is giving Hamas what it wants


Israel’s 9/11 — that’s been the refrain. And I fear that analogy carries more truth than the people making it want it to. Because what was 9/11? It was an attack that drowned an entire country — our country, my country, America — in terror and in rage. It drove us mad with fear.

And in response, we shredded our own liberties. We invaded Afghanistan. We invaded Iraq. Our response to 9/11 led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. It made us weaker. It made us poorer. It made us hated around the world. We didn’t pull our forces out of Afghanistan until 2021, 20 years later. And when we left, we did so in humiliation and catastrophe and defeat, abandoning the country to the Taliban.

Our politics still haven’t recovered from the ravages of that era. It was, in large part, the invasion of Iraq that discredited the Republican Party’s leadership class, leading directly to the rise of Donald Trump. 9/11 created a permission structure in American politics to do incredibly stupid brutal things, and we are still paying the costs. Perhaps we always will be.

I think vengeance is a legitimate and even necessary goal here. It cannot be safe to murder Israeli civilians. But vengeance cannot be the only goal. Israelis, no less than Palestinians, deserve peace and security. Those need to be considerations, too. And that requires considering things.

The brutal facts of the occupation, the architecture of control, and humiliation, and checkpoints and work permits and blockades that Palestinians live under, it does not justify Hamas’s murders. But it helps explain Hamas’s strength, its persistent appeal to at least some of the Palestinian people. Hamas is built on Palestinian despair. And if you radically increase Palestinian fury and despair, if you create a new wave, a new generation of fathers who lost their sons, and brothers who lost their sisters, and people now dedicated to revenge, have you actually made Israel safer, or have you made Hamas or something like it stronger?

Hardliners feed on each other. Hamas’s political strength has been an excellent excuse for Netanyahu’s government to abandon even the pretense of a real peace process. If Hamas is on the other side of the table, then there can be no peace process because there is no partner for peace. Israel is right that it cannot make peace with Hamas, that Hamas’s actual aim is Israel’s eradication.

Hamas and its backers in Iran want this war. They fear the normalization of Israel’s relations with the rest of the Middle East. The misery of the Gazans is and always has been their strength/

We’ve spent decades testing the proposition of whether inflicting more punishment on the Palestinians will strengthen the moderates or the extremists in their midst. The answer is known.

If you loathe Hamas, and you should loathe Hamas, you should assume that the place they’re trying to lead us is not where we should be trying to go. If you don’t think Netanyahu’s rule has made Israel safer, or more united, or closer to a resolution of the fundamental threats that face it — and it hasn’t — you should not yourself be cowed into trusting his instincts in this moment. That’s a lesson Americans learned, or should have learned, from 9/11, the one we have to pass on now.

Terrorists want you to act in a haze of fury and fear. The only antidote is to open yourself to criticism and second-guessing.

There is no country in the world that would not hunt Hamas’s leaders to the ends of the Earth right now if their savagery had been visited upon them. And that is to say nothing of the hostages Hamas is still holding captive. But the idea that you’ll destroy Hamas this way, I doubt it, particularly if this becomes not just a generational trauma for ordinary Israelis, but also for Gazans, with thousands dead and who knows how many maimed and homeless and displaced.

The hardliners make each other stronger. Is it possible for the peacemakers to do the same?

Mitch W @MitchW