“Someday this war’s gonna end”

One of the great speeches in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” is made by Robert Duvall, playing a somewhat insane U.S. Army colonel in Vietnam. After delivering his oft-quoted “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” speech, he tells the young Martin Sheen that sadly, “someday this war’s gonna end”.

Someday the war in Gaza is going to end, and not a moment too soon. According to current rumours coming out of Israel, Netanyahu is telling his top officers that everything needs to be wrapped up before the start of Ramadan. In other words, regardless of what actually happens on the ground in southern Gaza, the Israelis will be declaring victory sometime in March.

They could have done so at any time in the last four months, saving countless thousands of lives of Palestinians and Israelis, and bringing home the Israeli hostages alive. That they have delayed for so long is unforgivable.

And when the war is over, we know a few things will almost certainly happen.

In Gaza, a much-weakened Hamas will continue to rule. Even if Israel succeeds in killing or capturing every single Hamas fighter, they have done almost nothing to destroy the organisation’s political leadership abroad. Hamas has clearly won the propaganda war, portraying the people of Gaza as innocent victims of an Israeli thirst for blood. Many Gazans will see the Hamas leaders as defiant heroes. Some — probably not many — will see Hamas the way Germans saw the Nazi leadership after the Second World War, as those responsible for the catastrophe.

At the moment it seems like the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, has no credibility in Gaza. Maybe the Hamas military leadership in Gaza, who reportedly have been the most enthusiastic about accepting the proposed cease-fire deal, will have learned something from the disaster they unleashed on 7 October. Maybe they will think twice about doing that again.

In Israel, we can expect something different. The latest public opinion polls show that Netanyahu’s coalition government will be defeated in the next elections. And not just defeated, but overwhelmingly rejected by Israeli voters. Likud, Netanyahu’s party, may receive fewer than 20 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. A government of the centre-left headed by Benny Gantz is more than likely. The “left” part of that coalition will be very small, as it looks like the Labour Party will not receive enough votes to enter the Knesset for the first time in its history. Meretz looks likely to win enough votes — barely — to get in. While it won’t be the government we’d like to see, it will be infinitely superior to the current one.

A chastened, bruised Hamas still running Gaza, and an Israeli government run by Gantz, who was happy to sit in coalition with Netanyahu, is not the best outcome. But it provides everyone with some breathing space, and a time to heal.

For the Palestinians, it’s time to think seriously about their future, about what they need to do to get the idea of two-state solution back on track. It’s almost impossible to imagine that happening without a real opposition to Hamas emerging.

As for the Israelis, the surviving hostages will come home, and Netanyahu will likely wind up in a prison cell. But they too need to learn some lessons from this war — among them, something which the Israeli left and peace camp has been saying for decades: there is no military solution to the conflict.

As we can already see how this is going to turn out, at least in the short run, it’s time to tell the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships that further fighting is pointless. They must end the war now. End it — and then let’s move on to the next chapter.

This article appears in today’s issue of Solidarity.