If Israel wants peace, it must break away from Netanyahu’s ‘Clean Break’ doctrine 

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Israel’s conduct in Gaza arises from failed policy thinking and must change fast. It has no choice but to respond to the Oct. 7 attacks and eliminate the threat of Hamas, but it can’t afford to ignore the needs and perceptions of Palestinian civilians. Excessive militarism will increase suffering, provoke antisemitism and spread violence across the region. However, advancing a route to statehood with dignity and security for Palestinians will enhance Israel’s security. 

Once people come to believe that they have a better future with an insurgency than with a perceived colonial interloper, they will not align themselves with the interloper, no matter how much military force and injury is imposed on them. This is the lesson of Vietnam, Algeria and Afghanistan, and could even be drawn from the American Revolution. 

An understanding of this is explicit in a U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff publication “Counterinsurgency,” which calls for understanding grievances and applying a “mixture of political reform, reconciliation, popular mobilization, economic development, and governmental capacity building” to avoid driving occupied populations into the arms of insurgents. 

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party surely understands this. So why does it make no credible effort at building a better future for Palestinian people, knowing it serves only to align their interests more closely with Hamas? And why amid all the chaos strike Iran and aggravate the risk of wider war? Where does Israel’s policy of violent coercion rather than cooperation and an ever-widening reliance on military force come from? 

It actually has an identifiable source. In 1996, Netanyahu, then Likud party leader, commissioned the policy document “A Clean Break, A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” whose lead drafters were neo-conservatives Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, co-architects of the disastrous U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.  

In the document they asserted that Israel should “change the nature of its relations with the Palestinians, including upholding the right of hot pursuit for self defense into all Palestinian areas.” They argued for abandoning the Oslo Accords, the agreed roadmap to a Palestinian state, in favor of aggressive, preemptive military force in Palestine and regionally, aimed at undermining the Palestinian Liberation Organization and preventing a free, independent Palestine. “Clean Break” also called for overthrowing the governments of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. 

But those in power at the time, Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin and Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat, took a different path and worked for a just, secure peace for Israel and Palestine and the region. Rabin led the negotiations that resulted in the Oslo Accords. Both men were Nobel Peace Prize Laureates; both were assassinated by nationalist religious zealots. They were heroes who lived and died for peace. 

That will never be said of Netanyahu. A month before Rabin was killed, he walked at the head of a mock funeral procession with a fake black coffin, a kind of effigy of Rabin, and gave the keynote speech as the crowd chanted “Death to Rabin!” Now that Netanyahu is in power, the “Clean Break” doctrine, and the determination to preempt rather than help build a positive future for Palestine, is clearly playing out. It’s evident, for example, in Netanyahu’s appointment of Itamar Ben-Gvir as minister of national security, a zealot who was later convicted by Israeli courts for crimes of racism and terrorism. 

Today’s carnage in Gaza is the fruit of Perle and Feith’s discredited “Clean Break” doctrine, the same thinking that led to disaster in Iraq. Israel’s security now depends on getting off this disastrous course. 

Those who claim it’s antisemitic to criticize Likud policy have missed the point of Micah 6:8, which calls on Israel’s leaders to seek justice and show kindness, mercy and humility in political affairs. Criticizing Likkud’s “Clean Break” policy is not contrary to Israel’s best interests, Torah, or Jewish values and tradition. On the contrary, failing to speak out would be. 

Hamas must be isolated and ultimately defeated. But that can’t be achieved without a viable path to a two-state solution that gives hope to Palestinians. President Biden understands this. As his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan put it, “There’s so much anger and pain and so much uncertainty, it’s hard to imagine. But [a two-state solution] really is the only path that provides peace and security for all. And what is more, it is not impractical. It can be done.” 

It will require principled and sophisticated U.S. engagement and support of other nations with an interest in regional peace and stability: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain (which hosts the U.S. 5th Fleet), Qatar (home to a key U.S. airbase) and the Emirates. 

It will also require committed U.S. engagement with a recalcitrant Israel, including forceful criticism and withdrawal of U.S. support for Israel’s current policy. We need a new doctrine to influence Israel’s strategists in a constructive way. They can’t defeat Hamas by confirming the perception of the people of Gaza and the West Bank that Israel is their mortal enemy. To bring peace and security to Israel, Palestine and the whole region, it’s time to make a clean break from the failed “Clean Break” doctrine. 

Jonathan Granoff is president of the Global Security Institute, and senior adviser and representative to the United Nations of the Permanent Secretariat of the World Summits of Nobel Peace Laureates. He chairs the Task Force on Nuclear Nonproliferation of the International Law Section of the American Bar Association, and is a fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Science. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. 

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