Harici: Daniel Levy – ‘Israel is not doing very well on the battlefield, that’s why the West ignores calls for a ceasefire’

Former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy told Harici that Israel is clearly not doing very well on the battlefield, that’s why the West is ignoring the majority of its own public opinion, which is in favour of an ‘immediate ceasefire’

Daniel Levy, a senior adviser to the government of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, was part of the Israeli team that attended the Taba summit with the Palestinians in 2001. He also participated in the second Oslo negotiations in 1995 with then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Between 2012 and 2016, Mr Levy served as Director for the Middle East and North Africa at the European Council on Foreign Relations. He is currently president of the New York-based think tank US/Middle East Project.

Interview by

Cross-posted from Harici


harici: In December, you wrote an article with Tony Karon for The Nation and claimed that Israel was losing this war. Then, in January, you penned for The New York Times and advised the US government for a ‘reset’ on Israel. We hear these voices more and more not only in the media, but also in the White House, however, the Biden Administration has been supporting Israel’s war against Gaza for months. Do you think the White House is suffering from an eclipse of reason when it comes to supporting Israel and ending the Gaza war?

Daniel Levy: Well, I think we have to understand that the US policy on this issue was wrong on October 6th. The problem didn’t begin after the militant attack inside Israel or after Israel responded by violating international law. It’s indiscriminate military campaign against the civilian population. So, the US failure of the Biden administration has deep roots, but American policy shortcomings overall have very deep roots.  On the one side, we shouldn’t be surprised that Biden and his administration are getting this so wrong. On the other side, I do think it’s reasonable for people to say “Ok, there is getting it wrong and then there’s 30.000 dead people, 12 and a half thousand, at least, dead children, mass destruction. The highest intensity of bombing, combined with the highest density of population concentration in the smallest area and America is still providing the arms, especially when the US is using it’s veto at the Security Council has been telling the whole world for two years.” International Law. International law… And now everyone can see and you can see this. Everyone can see something which we all knew, but we never had it bashed into our faces like this. American double standards, not serious about international law and this is now happening. It’s five months as Biden enters the more intense period of his reelection campaign and it’s hurting him. So, this level of malpractice does require an explanation. I think only part of the explanation is in the history of American policy failures when it comes to Israel because of the role Israel plays inside American domestic politics because of the role, in some ways, that Israel Plays an American mythology in terms of how it looks at the world because America sees it an ally and America  holds its allies to totally different standards to how it holds its adversaries. And I think the missing part of the explanation is that Biden himself lives in his own head in a reality where this is not Israel. “Israel doesn’t do these kinds of things.” So, he, himself, repeated lies that the Israeli propaganda machine had put out. The White house had to retract those. Whenever he speaks about this, he goes well with, I’ve known every leader before Golda Meir… Breaking news, Mr. President: “Golda Meir is not the Prime Minister of Israel.” He just fundamentally doesn’t get it, and I think as more and more of his team both his policy team and his political team as they go through what happened in Michigan in the Democrat primary. They see their polling numbers in the lead-ups the election. Look at the damage this is doing. They are unable to convince the President because Biden could, i’m not saying he could end it overnight, but he could end this. And the major thing is the provision of weapons to Israel. So, things appear quite deadlocked on the battlefield. It’s not going great for Israel obviously. Hamas is seeing a significant amount of its capacity being degraded, but they are showing resilience. The Israeli military is also tired, overstretched. So, we don’t yet see enough exhaustion. We don’t see enough pressure from inside Israel. We certainly don’t see enough pressure in the region and America is the one arming this. So, we do look to the change in the American policy and its incredibly slow.

When it comes to Palestine and Israel, the issue does not begin and end in Gaza. There are tons of illegal settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the so-called ‘low intensity war’ with Hezbollah is ongoing in south Lebanon, the occupied Golan Heights issue and hostilities with Syria, not to mention the new fronts with Yemen’s Houthis and Iraqis. Do you think the US government has a holistic approach to the Middle East right now to solve the crisis?

I think we make a real mistake when we look to America to solve the crisis. I think we have to wake up to a reality where America is just another global actor with its own interests, its own politics. It’s more powerful than others, but it is certainly no more benevolent than others. So, the idea that America will solve our problems that America is on the side of good… America is on the side of its reading of America or its on the side of the American news cycle. And if that means doing bombing raids in Yemen rather than getting Israel to end its horrific campaign of devastation plausibly genocide in Gaza, then America does the former. America has caused terrible destruction in this region. Why this West Asian, Middle East, North Africa part the world would look to America to solve its problems. It’s is a sickness of the region after everything that the American policy over the years has done.

Some think-tankers discuss that maybe China should be brought to the region as an actor to solve the problems. How do you take this idea?

I think there are different ways of looking at this. I think the way I would suggest we think about this is the American monopoly needs to be broken. The American monopoly needs to be broken. We are after all in a multipolar world where China is, its not emerging, its emerged. India is a significant actor. You have significant vectors of middle level powers. Some are uninhibited in things that they do. What South Africa has done regarding Gaza is more significant than anything America has done. So, we should recognize that if there’s going to be any progress in the future on Palestine and Israel, it will not come if America has a monopoly as the diplomatic broker. However, we should not be in a mindset where we say “OK, who else can solve our problems? China? Can you solve our problems?” China will act according to China’s interests. China has more interests in the region, has more interests globally, but it is not going to make the mistakes America made by taking these commitments and these mistakes on itself. Ultimately these are problems for the region to solve. And if the region is played off against each other, if we can play one actor against another, and of course not everyone is going to agree, but let’s be very clear. It’s a shame, its shameful that it was South Africa did the most significant meaningful action.

Why shameful? 

Because I think there are states in the region who should be taking this more seriously and doing more.

Are you pointing T Arabs because they did not do enough and signed the Abraham Records with Israel?

I think that’s certainly a question that they should be asked. Yes.  The Arab states who signed the Abraham accords certainly encouraged Israeli extremism. But even those who haven’t gone down that path of normalisation against the Palestinians. It’s not just you left the Palestinians a little on the side. You knew that the Israelis would use this against the Palestinians, and of course they have used this against the Palestinians and five months into what’s going on in Gaza, those relations have not been revisited. But you also have the other Arab states who have not. They have economic weight, they have influence wielded that influence to bring this to an end.

Can you name them?

We all know who they are. Look. People of different states have made some of the right comments, right? The statements have been OK, but they’ve not been backed up by action. They’ve not been backed up by action in terms of making cost, creating costs for those countries who are backing Israel. They’ve not been backed up by action in terms of challenging the prevention by Israel of getting humanitarian assistance in. We should be in a much bigger crisis of global relations. We are in a humanitarian crisis, we’re in a horrendous reality on the ground. But this is not fed into a crisis in global relations in the way it could have. And the question I would ask is how the states that have acted in this way, how this serves their long term interests? Because I think they are acting in ways that are very out of touch with their own publics. And I think that’s true for most states.

What are the political goals of Israel and the USA, and how do they differentiate now? Is it possible for Israel to lose its Arab friends if the war goes on in this direction? I mean, especially an attack on Rafah could be a red line for the Middle East? Egypt was raising against an operation to Rafah.

We mustn’t be naive about the nature of the regimes in the region and the extent to which they are answerable and accountable to their own publics or really not. I think what we can say with some confidence is that Israel has become a much more cumbersome, uncomfortable ally. For these states, it’s not become a country that you would want to get closer to in the region.

Do you mean ‘toxic’?

It’s become toxic to a significant degree. Now that doesn’t mean everyone’s going to burn their relations, but you move more cautiously. The other thing which is important is this hasn’t been a great show of strength by the Israeli Military. And I think one of the reasons that some of these relationships exist is the myth of Israeli military’s invincibility. Now when you’re having to kill so many kids, so many civilians. This doesn’t show military strength. What it shows is that you are scared to send your infantry in. When you’re conducting warfare in a crowded urban environment, you have a choice.: you can send in your infantry, you’re going to sustain more losses, but then you will both be more pinpointed. And crucially, you will cause less of a backlash amongst the civilian population. The more people you kill, the more you destroy, the more you weaken your own image, the more you guarantee more resistance in the future. And we see now Israel globally totally trashed it’s reputation. I think Israel has not done that in taking the kind of action it has taken. It has shown weakness and this is a very big deal and it’s not doing so well on the battlefield. The West is ignoring the majority of its own public opinion, which is in favor of an immediate ceasefire, that’s why. I think, this unfortunately speaks to a different issue which is a crisis in ‘western democracy’ in this era, which is very clear in this question, but it is clear in many other ways.

‘The crisis in Western democracy’. This is a big headline. Several European countries apply hard penalties for specific support to Gaza and those people who support it are called extremists.

It’s a big headline, yes, but it’s true. And you have many countries in which the clear majority of the public are pro-cease fire and countries are tying themselves in knots to avoid doing this. In the UK, you saw a vote in the parliament. Parliamentary system was on the brink of a major crisis. In the US, you see presidents going to struggle through his re-election. In Germany, you see crazy things. A Jewish filmmaker is being called by the Germans, by the grandchildren of Nazis, anti-Semitic for standing up for humanity. So, this is a Germany that’s gone, totally mad, and then a cultural minister who’s been threatened who has been called to resign, says when she applauded the two filmmakers, an Israeli and a Palestinian, at the festival, she was applauding only the Israeli. She wasn’t applauding the Palestinian; total lunacy. Germany looks like it is in total unraveling mode.

How do you see Benjamin Netanyahu’s future? If Donald Trump secures a win again, could Netanyahu consolidate its power? It seems like he is trying to play for time… Benny Gantz is a much more popular name now for Israeli constituency. Also, talking about the US elections, Trump is not much better option than Biden considering the Palestinian cause. What is your opinion?

Trump moved the Embassy to Jerusalem, Trump came forward with a plan for permanent apartheid. Of course, Trump is no friend of the Palestinians or of peace. Americans (who care about this cause) have no one to vote for.

I don’t think Netanyahu is thinking the US election in his mind, but I don’t think he’s working in eight months cycles. Netanyahu is trying to go from one month to the next. He is the man in court facing criminal charges. If he’s not Prime Minister, he is likely to be a prisoner. So, he has the strongest interest to remain prime minister. To remain Prime Minister, war helps him. So, in all the other calculations, we also have to factor in and acknowledge that the war is Netanyahu’s literal ‘get out of jail card’. “I stay out of jail as long as the war continues.” So, he has a strong interest in continuing the war. Of course, we should not be surprised that he will be happier with the Trump presidency. Even though Trump is unpredictable and has said some scathing things about Netanyahu. But people who want peace, want a ceasefire, at the moment have no one to vote for realistically in the American election. Netanyahu is weakened in Israel. Biden is hardly a big problem for Netanyahu. Because he does not challenge, he supported Netanyahu. He supported the Israeli war aims. So, he calls Netanyahu an as***ole. Big deal. That’s not being a leader, that’s being a child in a playground. Calling someone an as***ole when you’re giving them weapons. Back in Israel, the war is popular; Netanyahu is not. That’s an important distinction.

Due to the Israeli war crimes in Gaza we have increased our coverage from five to six days a week. We do not have the funds to do this, but felt that it was the only right thing to do. So if you have not already donated for this year, please do so now. To donate please go HERE.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.