Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said Israel must defeat Hamas and then focus on implementing a two-state solution, a longstanding diplomatic proposal to create an independent Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel.
“I think that we are on the better side of history and the real needs of the region, and I hope that we’ll be able to implement it in the future, but… only after winning this war,’ he said.
In an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, the former Israeli prime minister and former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff outlined the challenges an Israeli ground offensive in Gaza faces and explained what he believes should come after.
But implementing the two-state solution, he said, requires replacing Hamas, a militant group that Canada and other countries have designated a terrorist entity and which is dedicated to destroying Israel.
“And that’s a challenge.”
In his view, he told Stephenson the Palestinian Authority which currently governs the West Block would not be best-placed to govern in Gaza as well. He said one possibility could see other countries stepping in, either with U.S. leadership or a United Nations Security Council resolution enacted by the Arab League and paid for by Saudi Arabia.
The former prime minister said Israel’s current Netanyahu-led government would oppose such an initiative, as would Iran and the militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah that it backs.
But he said Middle East stability depends on it.
“There will be no normal life in the region if Hamas can stay in power after such a crime against humanity, a kind of a Daesh-like, barbarian slaughtering of innocent civilians,” he said, using the Arabic name for the terrorist organization Islamic State and referring to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack that Israeli authorities say killed 1,400 people in Israel.
Since the attack, Netanyahu has promised to destroy Hamas and on Saturday he announced Israel had begun its “second phase” of operations against the militant group, marked by Israeli tanks making overnight incursions into Gaza.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says Israeli air strikes have killed around 8,000 people for far.
Barak said the Israel forces face several constraints.
One, he said, is upholding international law and minimizing civilian casualties.
Another, he told Stephenson, is freeing the nearly 230 hostages Hamas (and Islamic Jihad, another militant group) have claimed they have.
Hamas has said it will not release hostages unless there is a ceasefire.
Barak said he believes many countries are working behind the scenes to secure one, though he said it would be irresponsible to provide further details. So far, leaders in the European Union, the U.S and Canada have called for a “humanitarian pause” in the conflict, but not directly for a ceasefire.
And while he told Stephenson freeing the hostages is one of Israel’s top priorities, the former prime minister said the IDF cannot wait forever.
“But we cannot delay it for too long and Hamas cannot get impunity through the fact that they hold hostages.”