Everything’s dark, and everyone’s angry. That’s the way it’s been since Saturday morning, when history repeated itself: Israel was again taken by surprise by its enemies, just like exactly 50 years ago on Yom Kippur. In the three weeks of that war, the IDF sustained terrible losses—more than 2,600 dead—but reversed the initial setbacks and defeated the Egyptian and Syrian attackers.
Israel is likely to “win” the war that Hamas started on Simchat Torah this past weekend, but the cost in human lives could be even worse than the 900-and-more that Israel suffered at the start. Who knows how many IDF soldiers may die in a mission to wipe out the radical Hamas regime and—somehow, if it’s conceivably possible—rescue some of the 150 or so Israelis and other Nationals who were kidnapped and are now hostages in mortal danger. Certainly innocent Palestinians in Gaza will be killed. But those victims are, tragically, collateral damage: it is truly not Israel’s intention to strike noncombatants.
War is always ugly, and in this one, the Israeli people are phosphorescently angry: white hot in their quest for revenge. Hamas must be punished for its inhuman brutality, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government would never be forgiven by voters if it were to back away from this highly difficult fight. Online videos, right alongside the ones that mourn the people who were killed and yearn for loved ones who were kidnapped, show an impressive surge of patriotism and determination. The same men and women who have been protesting Netanyahu’s government all year, thousands of them vowing that they would refuse to show up for reserve duty if the prime minister did not cancel his controversial judicial reform, are now united. They see that their enemy is not each other, but Palestinian radical killers who will never accept a Jewish state of Israel.
Netanyahu and IDF commanders have not hidden their goal: to kill as many Hamas fighters as possible, and to assassinate all the leaders of that Islamic movement. We should all hope and pray for the swift defeat of these brutal killers.
But then what? When Israel left Gaza in 2005, because Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided it was no longer worthwhile to have settlers and soldiers in the strip of Mediterranean shore captured from Egypt in 1967, Israel wasn’t too picky about who would govern the area. The Palestinian Authority (PA), led by Yasser Arafat’s successors after he died in 2004, tried to assume the mantle. But Hamas was on the rise, as a more religious and less corrupt alternative. Hamas won the local elections in 2006, and then a civil war broke out. Hamas violently ejected the PA, killing more than a few of Arafat’s al-Fatah men—and then dedicated itself to crossing the border into Israel and murdering as many Jews as possible.
Perhaps Israel, when leaving the Gaza Strip 18 years ago, should have handed the keys to somebody relatively reasonable. If the Israelis can succeed in the sure-to-be-bloody incursion into Gaza that seems certain, they will win themselves another chance to make better decisions.
On the other hand, there’s no assurance that if Israel conquers Gaza and its two million Palestinians, the IDF can smoothly transfer control to the Palestinian Authority. The PA, barely cooperating with Israel in the West Bank in recent years and extremely upset about aggressive Jewish settlers there, might refuse to play ball.
But if you offer the PA a seaport, perhaps a renewed dream of an operable airport, and the prospect of huge financial aid from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the European Union, and others, the old Fatah faction might well say “yes.” They will never thank Israel, but they would love to stage a Gaza comeback by returning to the Palestinian territory that threw them out.
Hamas was never a partner for peace, always rejecting the 1993 Oslo Accords and any degree of acknowledging Israel’s right to exist. Fatah, under Mahmoud Abbas, has barely kept hopes of a two-state solution alive—clearly blaming Netanyahu and especially his current right-wing coalition for killing the dream of Israel and Palestine side by side as independent, sovereign, respectful neighbors.
Yet it’s obvious that Fatah, running the PA based in Ramallah, is far more moderate than Hamas. So if—and it’s a big “if”—Israel can win the unremitting war that has begun against Hamas in Gaza, and neutralize Hamas as a threat both to Israel and to Fatah, the Israelis should hand the keys of Gaza to the PA. This should be coordinated with the United States, Europe, Egypt and whatever Arabian money centers are willing to step up to pay for potential stability.
In the wake of the atrocities against Israelis and the understandably extreme anger they generate, Israel has declared it won’t go back to the way things have been, simply boxing in Hamas and living with occasional rocket and mortar attacks. Israelis are determined to change the reality. Perhaps, once they get through the next few awful weeks or months, some long-term outcomes could be positive.
Dan Raviv is a longtime foreign correspondent for CBS News, a regular Moment contributor and the author of books about Israel including Spies Against Armageddon and Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance.
Top image: Medics transport an injured Palestinian child into Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City following an Israeli airstrike on October 11, 2023. Photo credit: Palestinian News & Information Agency (Wafa) in contract with APAimages. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.