Photo: INSS

"We need a lot of time"

Former Israeli chief negotiator and brigadier general Udi Dekel on why Israel can defeat Hamas and why Germany – together with pragmatic Arab states – can play a stronger diplomatic role in resolving the Middle East conflict.

Körber-Stiftung: Mr Dekel, Israel has been at war with Hamas for nine months now. More than a hundred hostages are still being held by the terrorist organization. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is disastrous. Is Israel in a position of strength or in a position of weakness right now?

That is hard to answer. We are basically managing the situation. But we understand that the reality that existed before October 7 will not return in the future. In this case, Israel is in a strong position, because Israel can impose its vision of the future.

What are the military objectives now?

The first is to ensure the return of the Israeli hostages. Second, to destroy the military and governmental capabilities of Hamas. We are not giving Hamas the freedom to control Gaza as it did before October 7. Third, we want to create a new political reality in Gaza in which Hamas will not be able to regain its control and power. That is the main priority now.

Why does Hamas not release the hostages?

The main goal of Hamas now is to survive. To survive, they need the hostages in their hands, because this is the insurance that they need to ensure their continued existence. This means that we are in a deadlock.

Many experts say it is impossible to defeat Hamas militarily. Mainly because of the very well developed tunnel system. Can Israel really win against Hamas?

Yes, but we need a lot of time. We succeed in dismantling Hamas’s military wing. But we cannot destroy all the terror cells or all the people who are ready to carry out terror attacks. The main idea is not giving the terrorists the opportunity to build up their capabilities and terror infrastructure.

You say that Israel needs time. But isn’t the country possibly embarking on a mission that it cannot sustain in the long term? Like the United States in Afghanistan?

You can’t compare the situation between the United States and the Taliban and the situation between us and the Palestinians. The United States withdrew from Afghanistan and went home. But where should we go? The only option is to find a way to coexist with the Palestinians. The Palestinians have the right of self-determination, which Israel has to accept. But the people of Israel cannot see a way in which Hamas is still a political actor after October 7.

What does that have to do with the atmosphere in Israel?

Every night when we watch television or open social media, what do we see? We see stories, movies and pictures of October 7. Somebody is keeping Israel on October 7 trauma every day. It is unbelievable.

On October 7, Hamas attacked Israel, and killed and kidnapped Israelis. Does the Israeli government also bear some responsibility for not being able to stop Hamas from doing this?

We made a big mistake when we thought that we could contain the situation with Hamas. We thought that Hamas had some responsibility as an organization that controls Gaza and takes care of the people of Gaza. But after October 7 we understand that this was a big mistake because we gave Hamas the ability to build up its military power and to do what it did.

Let us think about the future. Why do we hear little about the political scenarios after the war?

The problem is that the government of Israel does not put on the table what is its desired political end state. They do not to look to the future; they only look to the current and next stage. Their strategy is: First destroy Hamas, and then come to us with ideas of what to do the day after.

You proposed to build a task force together with the United States and pragmatic Arab states that revives and reforms the Palestinian Authority, and helps it establish civilian control of the Gaza Strip. Why?

We understand that we do not have a better option than the return of the Palestinian Authority after reforms to take over Gaza. If the Palestinian Authority returns to Gaza, it must do so with extensive assistance from the pragmatic Arab countries and a rehabilitation package so that the Gazan public will see blessing and hope under the control of the Palestinian Authority. In this case, the Palestinian Authority also needs the support of Germany and the European countries in how to do its job better. And it needs financial support from Germany.

Norway, Ireland and Spain have announced the official recognition of a Palestinian state. Should Germany do the same?

The Germans have stood by Israel all the way, and we appreciate that very much. But should the narrative of the Palestinians in the future be that they achieved an independent Palestinian state because of October 7? Hamas wants to collapse the state of Israel with its barbaric actions, and that is why Israel cannot accept Hamas as a legitimate actor in political activity.

Our Berlin Pulse survey shows that the German public prefers international restraint when it comes to international crises. And among those who say they favour more international engagement a majority want that engagement to be diplomatic.

I understand that. I don’t want Germany to send troops. But Germany should support the creation of a new coalition that tries to create stability and the conditions for a political process between Israel and Palestine. But do not just say we have to negotiate. To promote an arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians, a multilateral approach is required.

Thank you for your time, Mr Dekel.

The Berlin Pulse – Express Edition

In cooperation with Table.Media, The Berlin Pulse Express Edition combines the foreign policy attitudes of Germans with expectations of Germany from abroad.