Op-ed: Day 229 of the war

A fateful road not taken: Netanyahu seems set to spurn Saudi normalization

A deal would bolster coalition against Iran, could create viable alternative to Hamas in Gaza * Plus: Khan’s rush to injustice, Egypt’s failed mediation, and Ben Gvir’s brutality

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Tahani Alqahtani of Saudi Arabia, left, and Raz Hershko of Israel react after competing in their women's +78kg elimination round judo match at the 2020 Summer Olympics on July 30, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Tahani Alqahtani of Saudi Arabia, left, and Raz Hershko of Israel react after competing in their women's +78kg elimination round judo match at the 2020 Summer Olympics on July 30, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

This Editor’s Note was sent out earlier Wednesday in ToI’s weekly update email to members of the Times of Israel Community. To receive these Editor’s Notes as they’re released, join the ToI Community here

As the Biden administration makes clear it is closing in on a wide-ranging agreement with Saudi Arabia, the fear is that this may be a “road not taken” moment for Israel and that a fateful opportunity for normalization with Riyadh will be missed.

The Israel-Saudi element of a deal, the US has conveyed to Israel, requires an Israeli commitment — not to a Palestinian state at this stage, but to a credible “pathway” to Palestinian independence. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is apparently refusing to promise any such thing.

A Saudi-Israel normalization deal, in the American telling, would, among other benefits for Israel, enable the construction of a more potent regional coalition against Iran and improve the prospects of regional allies helping to create a viable alternative to Hamas in Gaza — steps that bolster central Israeli strategic interests.

But advancing any moves toward Palestinian statehood, and elevating the role of the Palestinian Authority, Netanyahu has publicly argued, would constitute a victory for terrorism, unthinkable in the wake of Hamas’s slaughter in southern Israel on October 7. The PA, far from a responsible alternative to Hamas, he asserts, is fundamentally no different, in that it strategically delegitimizes Israel and incites and rewards terrorism.

Potent though those arguments are, the fact is that the Israeli defense establishment partners with the PA in a long-term West Bank security arrangement. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, daring last week to openly challenge Netanyahu’s core policies for the second time in 14 months, said that the involvement of “Palestinian entities” backed by “international actors” constituted “the only path” ahead for the governance of postwar Gaza.

Furthermore, the international community is increasingly moving to unilaterally recognize Palestinian statehood, while isolating Israel. Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s advocacy of a two-state solution and a PA role in Gaza is publicly conditioned on significant reform of the PA, including its education system and its payments to terrorists and their families.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a weeklong trip aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East, in Al Ula, Saudi Arabia, Monday, Jan. 8, 2024. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool Photo via AP)

Time is potentially limited for a US-Saudi-Israel agreement by the US presidential elections. Netanyahu may believe that his smartest course is to wait out the Biden administration in the hope that Donald Trump will return to the presidency and offer unconditional support for him and his core coalition allies. It’s not at all clear that this would be the case.

And it may well be that Israel will have cause to deeply regret the missed opportunity — a chance for significant regional change that is not without complex challenges, but that may represent the least bad alternative for an Israel in crisis.

Karim Khan won’t let the facts get in the way of a prosecution

An advance team was almost literally about to board a plane to Israel, preparing for a visit by Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, when Khan appeared before the cameras on Monday to announce that he was asking the ICC judges for arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Gallant and three Hamas terror chiefs for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In fact, Khan, who visited in December and toured communities adjacent to Gaza where Hamas carried out its barbaric slaughter, had been seeking for quite some time to make a return visit. Because he also wanted to go to Gaza, however, Israel initially declined to facilitate his trip.

Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Karim Khan visits a Gaza border town attacked by Hamas, on December 3, 2023. (Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum)

Once the government relented, and Khan was, as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made clear on Monday, about to be given the opportunity “as early as next week, to discuss the investigation and hear from the Israeli government,” it seems unconscionable that Khan instead rushed to unveil his intended charges.

Blinken asserted that Khan’s decision called into question “the legitimacy and credibility of this investigation.” Indeed so.

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan (center) announces that he has requested arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh, May 20, 2024. (Courtesy International Criminal Court)

Despite the best efforts of the Netanyahu coalition last year, Israel does still retain a powerful and independent judiciary, which is capable of addressing war crimes allegations and, indeed, is in the process of hearing petitions demanding the entry into Gaza of more humanitarian aid.

Moreover, ongoing investigations by the Military Advocate General and by a separate investigative mechanism mentioned by Israel’s representatives in the “genocide” case against Israel at the International Court of Justice would seem to preclude ICC investigations and arrest warrants against IDF officers, and it seems incomprehensible that Khan would try to secure arrest warrants for war crimes against Netanyahu and Gallant until those Israeli investigations are concluded.

Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara on Wednesday issued a statement saying that her office and that of the state attorney “thoroughly examine any serious claim of violation of the law by any officials of the State of Israel, and enforce the law.” The legal system is also prepared to examine “any serious claim both in relation to matters of policy and in relation to individual cases.” Thus, the ICC “lacks any authority to conduct an investigation into [this] matter” and the request to the ICC to issue arrest warrants against the prime minister and defense minister “is without foundation.”

As he canceled his trip and rushed to seek the warrants, it was almost as though Khan did not want to be confronted with such inconvenient truths.

Egypt’s guaranteed-to-fail ceasefire gambit

As first reported by The Times of Israel’s Jacob Magid on Friday, it has now emerged that Egypt torpedoed the last effort to negotiate a hostage-truce deal — by, incredibly, presenting two different sets of proposals to Israel and Hamas, and not coordinating this guaranteed-to-fail gambit with its fellow American and Qatari mediators.

As I wrote two weeks ago, the version “accepted” by Hamas provides for a highly sophisticated and duplicitous process under which Gaza’s monstrous terror chiefs would obtain an end to the war against them, a guaranteed return to power, and the release by Israel of vast numbers of mass murderers to set the West Bank alight.

A still from footage showing the capture and abduction of Liri Albag, Karina Ariev, Agam Berger, Daniella Gilboa and Naama Levy at the Nahal Oz base on October 7, 2023 (The Hostages Families Forum)

If the document published by Hamas was indeed crafted solely by the Egyptians, then their role has not been foolish but, rather, treacherous. More likely is that it was “negotiated” between Egypt and Hamas, with the terror chiefs manipulating the Egyptian mediators.

The end result, tragically, was an ostensible Hamas offer that would not secure the release of most or even many of the hostages, and that therefore doomed this entire round of negotiations.

The minister brutalizing the police force

As National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has tightened his hold on the Israel Police and with outgoing Commissioner Kobi Shabtai a lame duck, the brutalization of the force is more apparent week by week. Uniformed cops at the various, relentless “free the hostages” and “elections now” demonstrations are often clearly no longer fulfilling their obligation to provide security at legitimate protests but, rather, attempting to constrict and deter them.

Gadi Kedem, who lost several of his family members during the October 7 massacre, arrives to file a complaint at a police station along with his wife after being attacked the previous day during a demonstration, in Tel Aviv, May 19, 2024 (Flash90)

Rarely does a demonstration pass these days without one or other relative of a hostage being hurt by cops. On Saturday night in Tel Aviv, Gadi Kedem, who lost six relatives on October 7, was allegedly beaten up at a demonstration by a known right-wing activist, and subsequently questioned under caution for his ostensible role in the incident. Ayala Metzger, whose father-in-law Yoram is held hostage, is now apparently routinely targeted by the cops.

Plainclothes officers infiltrate the protests, then suddenly whip out police baseball caps and arrest those around them. Protesters find themselves taken into custody simply because they happen to be standing next to one of the buses into which police shove alleged offenders. I know of an incident in which somebody who was not actually participating in a demonstration near Jaffa police station was dragged away by her hair, hands and feet cuffed, and held overnight.

This is what happens when ministerial authority over one of the most sensitive and important national systems is entrusted to a dangerous thug.

Security forces evacuate National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir during a protest for the release of hostages held by terror groups in Gaza, Jerusalem, April 24, 2024, following the release of a Hamas propaganda video by hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Hey, let’s target AP

Kudos, too, to Netanyahu for his far-sighted appointment as communications minister of Shlomo Karhi.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi arrives at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset, January 8, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Karhi is the media maven who on Tuesday ordered the seizure of a camera used by The Associated Press in Sderot to provide thousands of clients with livestream footage of northern Gaza. A law passed last month gave Karhi the authority to temporarily shut down Al Jazeera — a decision the government failed to explain, even though it had grounds to argue that the Qatari network was inciting violence inside Israel. Since Al Jazeera is one of the thousands of clients that shows AP’s footage, Karhi reasoned that the mighty US-based news agency should be targeted too.

Plainly, Karhi, who was ordered to reverse the decision hours later, was an inspired ministerial choice — if, that is, your goal is to ensure Israel’s government, fighting an uphill battle for this country’s very legitimacy and right to defend itself against Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, is to be perceived internationally as an enemy of basic media freedoms.

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