Whatever it is, they’re against it.
Western powers seem to have embraced the opposite of the famous story in which the Israelites accepted the burden of the Torah sight unseen—na’aseh v’nishmah, they said: We will do and (then) we will hear (what it is). Israel’s decisions get the reverse: Antony Blinken & Co. are against it, and no they don’t need to hear what it is.
They are even troubled by plans that disprove the original plan they were troubled by. Example: A bunch of coalition cowboys on Israel’s right have pushed for allowing Israeli settlements in Gaza. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly, this is not going to happen. But Western governments continue to take the bait set out by right-wingers who like to poke diplomats in the eye.
On Sunday night, pro-Gaza-resettlement agitators held a conference in Jerusalem so they could annoy European foreign ministers. It worked. The UK Foreign Ministry pronounced itself “alarmed.” France insisted that the Israeli government must “punish this kind of rhetoric,” which is a very French thing to say about speech. The Biden administration was “troubled” by the whole thing. “This rhetoric is incendiary and irresponsible, and we take the prime minister at his word when he says that Israel does not intend to reoccupy Gaza,” the administration’s statement said.
The statement acknowledged that the Israeli government has been very clear that resettling Gaza is not going to happen and that no one at the conference speaks for the government. You know how else we know this isn’t going to happen? Because of the other thing the Biden administration is complaining about.
After the tragic death of IDF troops carrying out demolitions just inside Gaza last week, their particular task received wide attention. The soldiers were part of an effort to build a buffer zone about a half-mile wide (wider in some areas, narrower in others) on the Gaza side of the border, enlarging the existing buffer zone with a temporary extension. There was already a buffer zone in place, but it was not easily enforceable. What is needed, essentially, is a buffer zone for a buffer zone—Israel isn’t going to mow down anyone who approaches the warning track, so it needs a way to anticipate them and stop them before they get there. Widening the existing buffer zone, and enacting a no-farming rule for it, is the way to do that, at least temporarily.
Case in point: the Wall Street Journal reported that while “soldiers were working, militants twice appeared out of underground tunnels and fired rocket-propelled grenades at the armored bulldozers they were using to clear the area.”
Meanwhile, reports the Washington Post, “The United States has been vocally opposed to the creation of a buffer zone.”
The folks who are worried about Israel resettling Gaza and those upset by the buffer zone should talk to each other. Do they think Israel is going to put settlers on the other side of no-man’s land next to a fence with early warning systems and remote-fired machine guns? When someone builds a moat is your first concern expansionism?
The extension of the buffer zone might be temporary, but it is painfully obvious that, after the discovery of the tunnel system that approaches the border, the area has to be cleared. Israel didn’t force Hamas to build attack tunnels; that was a choice. As was this war, which Hamas launched and promised to repeat. For a million obvious reasons, Israel is not going to expand the buffer zone into Israeli territory instead, a suggestion that should not be dignified with engagement even to knock it down.
A half-mile extension of the buffer zone, at least until it can be cleared of tunnels, mines, and other surprises, should be welcomed. Nonviolent preventative measures should be embraced. Securing an area where Palestinians and Israelis live relatively close to one another should be uncontroversial. And on top of all that, it forecloses the idea that Israel will reoccupy and resettle the Gaza Strip.
Western officials should be happy about this. And maybe they will be, if they ever take their fingers out of their ears.