How Netanyahu’s Right-Wing Critics See Israel’s Future

By admin Dec20,2023

According to opinion polls, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, is losing popularity, and voters want him to leave office after the war in Gaza ends—if not sooner. Netanyahu has faced widespread criticism for allowing the October 7th attacks to occur, and some members of his own Likud Party have argued that he is not fighting the war—which, according to the Gaza Health Ministry’s figures, has already killed nearly twenty thousand Palestinians in Gaza, forty per cent of whom were children—decisively enough. One of those members is Danny Danon, a Knesset member who has twice challenged Netanyahu for the Party’s leadership, and also served as Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations from 2015 until 2020. Danon is also a fierce opponent of a Palestinian state. (In a 2011 Op-Ed for the New York Times, he wrote that Netanyahu should “annex the Jewish communities of the West Bank, or as Israelis prefer to refer to our historic heartland, Judea and Samaria.”) The Times of Israel reported in early December that Danon is “gearing up to face Netanyahu once more.”

I recently spoke by phone with Danon. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed whether Israel is trying hard enough to reduce civilian casualties, what Danon’s vision for the West Bank and Gaza is, and whether the Israeli right will ever accept a Palestinian state.

How do you think the war is going right now?

Well, we knew from the beginning that it would be hard and long, and I think we have to be strong. We didn’t start the war and we are determined to achieve the goals of the war, which is eliminating Hamas and bringing back the hostages. I think the idea is to work very precisely with a lot of power, and we have to be patient and allow them to continue to complete the mission.

So you think that the Israel Defense Forces are being precise in how they’re carrying out their mission?

I think that the I.D.F. is working slowly in order to minimize casualties for the civilians in Gaza. With that approach, it takes us more time to maneuver, but, on the other hand, I think it brings the legitimacy to continue with the war as well.

You mentioned acting precisely to avoid civilian casualties. There’s been a lot of concern, recently, from the American government, that civilian casualties are too high and are extremely high compared with other wars. How do you understand that disparity?

I think we are very transparent with our colleagues in the U.S., and they are aware of the efforts we are making to minimize civilian casualties. It’s not easy. Hamas is hiding behind babies and families and we know we cannot trust Hamas figures; they exaggerate all the time. We move slowly. If you would’ve told me that seventy days after the massacre, we will be only where we are now, I would’ve told you it’s impossible because we have a strong military with strong capabilities. But, because of the situation and the urban population, we act very cautiously.

There’s been some criticism of Netanyahu, from people on the right of his Party and other ministers, that he’s not acting boldly enough. Do you share that criticism?

Well, I think the Prime Minister is handling the war effort with a lot of responsibility and there is a lot of pressure. I think that we gave a lot of support to the Palestinians. Some people are upset that we haven’t received the visitation of the Red Cross to our hostages [in Gaza]. We just opened a checkpoint into Gaza. We hear a lot about the humanitarian requests of the Palestinians, but we feel that the world is not paying enough attention to the humanitarian requests of the Israeli hostages and their families.

You could also argue that pretty much the entire Western world has given the green light to Israel to engage in this war, no?

No. We didn’t start this war. We had a ceasefire with Hamas until October 7th. I think the international community understands very clearly that we had no choice.

Do you personally feel a lot of care for the civilians in Gaza? Is that something that you worry about?

I regret the loss of life of any civilians, but the blame is on Hamas. The responsibility is on the shoulders of Hamas; they were the ones who initiated the fight and this act of terror. They are the ones who actually hide behind the population. And, by the way, they’re not fighting now; they are gangs of cowards. Every once in a while they pop out and they try to attack. But, if they’re so brave, I would expect them to stand up and fight with us, but that’s not the case.

Ten years ago, a soldier named Hadar Goldin was captured, and in the aftermath you said that if you don’t get the soldier back in a few hours, “We should start leveling Gaza.” Do you think that quotes like that make people think that the Israeli government doesn’t care enough about civilian casualties?

You have to look at what we’re actually doing in Gaza today, and we proved to the world that we actually take civilians into consideration. The fact is that we evacuated northern Gaza and we delayed the ground operation for weeks for that. It shows that we are serious about that.

I think when people saw the news last week that three Israeli hostages had been shot, mistakenly, by the I.D.F., many interpreted it as a sign that Israeli forces were aggressive with people that they thought were enemies, even if they didn’t have weapons.

We regret having a tragic incident. We didn’t expect to see any civilians there, and, in the past, there were many traps that Hamas used in order to capture the attention of our soldiers. So I cannot blame the soldiers. We will learn the lesson for the future, but we have very clear orders that we do not target civilians. Period.

You once suggested that for every rocket strike by Hamas, Israel should “retaliate by deleting a neighborhood in Gaza.” That sounds like a form of collective punishment, rather than doing everything to avoid civilian casualties.

From when is this quote that you are quoting now?

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