Can Western Diplomacy Contain Netanyahu's Thirst For Revenge?
After extending its complete support to Israel in the wake of the October 7 attacks, the West has started to soften its stance and demand that the state follow international law. But there are scant signs that Israel will let up its all-out assault in Gaza.
PARIS — The West's major powers have a problem: their support for Israel — logical and justified after the horrors of the Hamas attack on October 7 — is being increasingly confronted by the scale and manner of the Israeli response in Gaza.
This has forced them into an uncomfortable stance, which is likely to turn even more uneasy when Israel launches its ground offensive.
A change in tone has certainly begun. On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Israel to "do everything possible to spare civilians". Paris reports that Emmanuel Macron told Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel must respect "international humanitarian law." The French President wrote this in black and white on his X/Twitter account.
But these diplomatic adjustments remain out of step with the way the Israeli army is acting — it has told over a million Palestinians to leave northern Gaza, ordered hospitals to evacuate their patients, cut off water and electricity, and carried out massive bombing in urban areas.
Not to mention incendiary statements coming from high-ranking Israeli officials: the Defense Minister has spoken of "human animals" when announcing reprisals, and Gideon Sa’ar, a minister without portfolio, has said openly that those who attacked Israel should lose territory.
The West supports Israel's right to defend itself. But no country should be allowed to disregard international humanitarian law, which condemns collective punishment. And this is what is happening in Gaza.
Caught between solidarity with a country struck by terrorism, and the difficulty of containing its response.
Over the past eight days, comparisons have often been made with the September 11, 2001 attack in the United States. While the shock triggered by both attacks can be compared, we must also be mindful of the potential risk involved in a post-9/11-style reaction – the war on terror that led Americans into the dead ends of Iraq and Afghanistan, into violating international law with the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo, into the invasion of Iraq without UN approval. Two disastrous decades for the United States and the world.
Western diplomacy is caught between legitimate empathy and solidarity with a country struck by terrorism, and the difficulty of containing its response.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their bilateral meeting at the Kirya, October 12, 2023 in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Too little, too late?
Israel, as we know, is not a country that allows itself to be influenced, and the wound of October 7 is so deep that nothing will stop its vengeance on Gaza. The White House seems to have weighed in Sunday to restore water supplies to the south of the Palestinian territory, and that's the extent of concession Israel is willing to make at the moment.
Not everyone is on the same wavelength, however, as can be seen in Europe. The trip to Israel by the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, is not going down well. An extraordinary European summit could be in the works to harmonize positions and paper over the messy disagreements within the EU.
The next few days will no doubt see European and American diplomacy clarify their positions on the events in Gaza. But it may be too little too late when it comes to avoiding casting the impression that Israeli suffering has weighed more heavily than that of the Palestinians.
We should be condemning terrorism and the plight of the Palestinians with equal force.
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