Passover is a celebration of liberation — which is why it’s time for Israel to end the war

Sursa foto:

It is unbearable to observe the Seder while more than 130 hostages remain in Gaza. And it’s clear that there’s only one way to get them out.

This Passover, some families of the 133 Israeli hostages who remain in Gaza — an increasing number of whom are believed to be dead — say they will forego the Seder out of despair and anger at what they see as their abandonment.

Their protest reflects a growing feeling around Israel that the Gaza war should end in exchange for the hostages’ release. Painful as such a seeming capitulation may be, more than six months after the Oct. 7 massacre when those captives were abducted, I agree the time has come.

Passover is, after all, about freedom and liberation. It is also a time for renewal, reflection and rebirth. There is an argument for giving these traditions special meaning by taking stock of a particularly terrible situation, and prioritizing community above all.

It is now quite clear — as many warned from the beginning — that there is an incompatibility between the goals of returning the hostages home and wiping out Hamas. Those who argued otherwise assumed that military pressure would force Hamas to release the abductees, despite their usefulness as human shields.

That strategy failed.

It has not worked because military pressure doesn’t just mean degrading Hamas militarily, but also doing enormous damage to Gaza’s civilians, whom Hamas uses as history’s greatest human fortification. That is not leverage, because the jihadi fanatics of Hamas promote a cult of “martyrdom.” They correctly calculated that Israel would be tarred and feathered around the world for thrashing Gaza; the mass civilian deaths have only served their cause.

And so, as more protesters worldwide have openly come to proclaim support for Hamas, Israel is being investigated for genocide at the International Court of Justice; some countries have declared arms embargos against it; and there is pressure on the irreplaceable United States to do the same.

Israel’s credit outlook has been downgraded; multiple countries, including the U.S., have placed financial and travel restrictions on radical West Bank settlers; and there are reports that the U.S. plans to sanction an entire military unit in the West Bank. Academic efforts related to Israel and cultural exchanges are encountering widespread informal boycotts; attacks on Jews are on the rise all over the world; and the Biden administration is openly calling for the ousting of Israel’s government — a shocking precedent for a democracy.

Accusing the world of wokeism, antisemitism or useful idiocy will not fix this. Too many innocents have died in Gaza for too little result. By Hamas numbers that Israel does not strenuously dispute, in addition to 13,000 armed Hamas “fighters,” some 20,000 civilians have been killed in Gaza, which is more than 20 times the number of civilians massacred on Oct. 7.

Hamas has never budged from its position that to gain the release of all the hostages, Israel must end the war and pull out — which would, of course, offer these criminals a victory narrative, despite severe battlefield losses. Hopes for at least a partial release in exchange for a temporary ceasefire have not materialized, as the group has set impossible terms.

Meanwhile, Israel has informally wound down the main part of the war without even getting compensated with a hostage release.

For at least three months, Israeli authorities have hesitated to launch a full-scale attack on the last Hamas redoubt in Rafah, the southern Gaza town where over 1.5 million Palestinians, most of them displaced, are thought to be huddling. The excuses are many: fear of a global backlash; concerns about inflaming matters regionally during Ramadan; ongoing hostage talks.

But the main impetus for the inertia has been the lack of a coherent plan for preventing a bloodbath — both among the civilians and of the remaining hostages, who are undoubtedly mostly there.

Still, Israel’s government continues to saber-rattle vis-à-vis Rafah. But the facts on the ground suggest a radically different story.The Israel Defense Forces has pulled its forces further north, effectively conceding the central Gaza Strip while depleting its military presence in the north to a minimum. The operation is looking less like a war, and more like counter-terrorism facing a forever-insurrection.

Qatar, which had been a primary mediator in talks between Israel and Hamas, and is the leading source of potential pressure on the terrorist group, which it has bankrolled for years, has pulled out of the hostage talks. That puts pressure mainly on Israel, because almost half the remaining hostages are already feared dead.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s highly unpopular government faces a terrible situation. It has a major credibility problem because it depends for survival on far-right parties, which appear to be straight-jacketing the prime minister. They are largely understood to be the reason why Netanyahu has refused to contemplate turning control of Gaza over to the Palestinian Authority — the only plausible goal that would reestablish some global support for Israel, and an aim much of Israel’s security establishment is clamoring for.

Polls show over 70 percent of Israelis want new elections. They are disgusted with both the breakdown of Oct. 7 and the failures that followed, are furious at Netanyahu’s refusal to accent any accountability, and are increasingly realizing that electing fanatics and incompetents will only lead to fanaticism and incompetence.

It makes sense, at this point, for Israel to prioritize the hostages, and accept a deal ensuring their full release in exchange for a pullout.

It would be so very appropriate to make this pivot around Passover. This is among the most personal of Jewish holidays — a time for celebrating with family and community, emphasizing the importance of unity and solidarity, and fostering a sense of belonging and connection. In that environment, it is excruciating to think of the hostages, after almost 200 days, still festering in Gaza tunnels.

Ending the war is not a simple proposition. Israel will need to make crystal clear to the world and the region that there will be a zero-tolerance policy toward any further aggression from Gaza. And in exchange for its withdrawal, Israel should be rewarded with a long-delayed normalization deal with Saudi Arabia as part of a regional Sunni-Israeli-Western strategic alliance confronting Iran. Israel must receive overpowering Western support for its demand that the Iranian proxy Hezbollah militia pull significantly back from the Lebanese border. Sanctions against Iran should be ramped up to the maximum, with the goal of regime change.

The world should also understand that because of what happened in Gaza — the 2007 Hamas takeover followed by years of aggression culminating in the Oct. 7 abomination — Israel cannot engage in a two-state process in the immediate wake of this war. But Israel must also understand that it must keep the door open to an eventual partition — and this means not adding to the self-defeating settlement project beyond the effective West Bank border created by its Security Barrier.

Sure, all of this may seem like a fantasy. But so does the Exodus from Egypt. This Passover, here’s wishing Israel moves from the bondage of its strategic failures to the freedom of new hopes and dreams.

The US says Israel should dump Bibi. That’s kind of amazing


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