LFI statement on the invasion of Rafah

The butchery against Israeli civilians unleashed by Hamas on 7 October left the Jewish state with no good choices.

After years of terror attacks and periodic barrages of rockets and mortars, Hamas’ massacre in southern Israel proved definitively that the Israeli people would never have safety and security so long as the terrorists’ military and political infrastructure were left intact in Gaza.

The cost of Hamas’ decision to attack Israel has been borne not just by the Israeli people but by so many innocent Palestinian civilians. Hamas embedded its fighters and weaponry among the civilian population, including schools and hospitals, deliberately using them as human shields. The resulting loss of life and dire humanitarian situation is utterly tragic; Israel must do more to alleviate the humanitarian crisis and ease the plight of the Palestinian people. As we have consistently argued, like any democracy engaged in a conflict, Israel has a responsibility to abide by international law and to minimise civilian casualties.

We now urgently need an end to the fighting and a permanent and sustainable ceasefire in Gaza. This requires:

  • Hamas must be disarmed and have no role in the future governance of Gaza.
  • All the Israeli hostages must be immediately released and indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel cease.
  • Palestinian civilians must be protected and post-war security and order established in Gaza.
  • There must be a massive and immediate increase in humanitarian aid and routes to ensure its safe distribution, and an international Marshall Plan for the rebuilding of Gaza.
  • Gaza and the West Bank must be led by a reformed and revitalised Palestinian Authority.

It is against these tests that any full-scale Israeli military operation in Rafah must be judged.

The challenges and choices confronting Israel’s leaders are unenviable. Hamas’ four remaining divisions and leader Yahya Sinwar are entrenched in Rafah, and the terror group continues to reject Israel’s offers of a ceasefire deal.

Nonetheless, the Israeli government does have a choice – one that President Biden has forged and one which is in the long-term best interests of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

A large-scale invasion of Rafah would be a huge mistake, Israel should instead surgically target Hamas’ leadership and forces. Even if Israel is able to evacuate the majority of the civilian population from the city, it would inevitably deepen the humanitarian crisis and compound the suffering of the Palestinian people.

Israel will also pay a heavy price should it go into Rafah. It will take Biden’s plan – which encompasses the normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia; an Arab peacekeeping force following an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza; and a US-led security alliance against the menace posed by Iran and its proxies – off the table.

It will leave Israel alone facing responsibility for Gaza’s future. Israel will likely either have to reoccupy Gaza on a long-term basis – something which the Israeli people and security establishment have no desire to do – or face a failed state on its doorstep; a breeding ground in which Hamas will reemerge. Both outcomes would be terrible for the people of Gaza.

To meet the military objectives the Israeli government has set the IDF – to drive Hamas permanently from Gaza – requires the kind of post-war planning which the US so palpably failed to undertake before it deposed Saddam Hussein. By engaging with the Arab world, Biden’s plan provides a route to post-war stability and reconstruction in Gaza, and therefore security for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Crucially, it also offers the opportunity to tackle the malign influence of Iran and the very real danger it poses to Israel and the wider region.

The Biden plan necessarily involves a commitment by the Israeli government to work with the PA towards a viable, demilitarised and independent Palestinian state. That, too, is in the best interests of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. LFI remains convinced that a two-state solution is the only way to preserve Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state; ensure the right to self-determination of both Israelis and Palestinians; and provide Israel with safe, secure and recognised borders.

Benjamin Netanyahu lacks the political strength to accept the trade-offs involved in accepting the Biden plan. The far-right partners on which his coalition rests are ideologically opposed to what the US has to offer and appear to have abandoned the hostages to their fate.

Thankfully, Israeli leaders such as Benny Gantz, a member of the war cabinet, and opposition leader Yair Lapid recognise the danger of this political vacuum. Referring to two far-right ministers, Lapid rightly said on social media last week: “The government needs to choose: Return the hostages alive, or Ben Gvir and Smotrich. Relations with the Americans or Ben Gvir and Smotrich. An agreement with the Saudis or Ben Gvir and Smotrich. The security of Israel or Ben Gvir and Smotrich.” Many Israelis – who continue to take to the streets in their thousands to call for the hostages’ release and protest against the government’s handling of the war – agree.

Instead of invading Rafah, Israel should adopt a more limited approach, which surgically targets Hamas’ leadership and forces, and embrace the potentially historic opportunities which President Biden has so wisely offered.