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“Step Back from the Brink”: Ex-Israeli Peace Negotiator Daniel Levy Decries Israel’s Actions in Gaza

StoryOctober 17, 2023
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President Biden will visit Israel on Wednesday in an unprecedented show of support for the country following last week’s surprise attack by Hamas that killed over 1,400 Israelis, including many civilians. The United States continues to rush ammunition, air defenses and other weaponry to Israel ahead of a possible Israeli ground invasion of Gaza. To end this conflict, former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy says, the U.S. must change course to end Israel’s impunity toward Palestinians. If Biden refuses to recognize Palestinian suffering, “then he is, by sins of omission, encouraging the kind of … genocidal language that is proliferating right now and that is incredibly dangerous to everyone,” says Levy.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! — that’s “Rahawan” by Haya Zaatry — democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.

Critics of the mainstream media’s coverage of the Israel-Hamas war say a key problem has been its failure to challenge the dominant narrative from Israel that its military response in Gaza is targeting Hamas. Former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy recently challenged BBC News presenter Maryam Moshiri on this point. He’ll join us in a minute. First, the clip of their exchange, which went viral.

MARYAM MOSHIRI: The Israelis would say, “Well, look, you know, we are defending ourselves. We are targeting Hamas targets in Gaza. We are trying to put an end to what we believe is a terrorist organization once and for all.”

DANIEL LEVY: Do you really keep a straight face when you say that? Do you think terrorist organizations, embedded in populations who are denied their most basic rights, are ended once and for all in a military campaign? Does that happen in history? Can someone credibly tell me that when the leadership of a country says, “We are cutting off food, electricity, water, all supplies to an entire civilian population,” that they’re targeting militants?

I’m sorry, these kind of lies can’t be allowed to pass. And when you tell yourself the lie, it leads to the wrong policy. If anyone told me that what the militants did on the weekend was a legitimate response to years and years of occupation, I would say, “No, you’re wrongheaded. You’ve lost sight of humanity and reality.” And if anyone tells me that what Israel is doing in Gaza today is a legitimate response to what happened on the weekend, it’s exactly the same.

MARYAM MOSHIRI: And yet they are saying it. And yet the international community is saying that.

DANIEL LEVY: Yes, and people need to challenge them on it, because it’s a lie. And we’re warmongering if we allow them to get away with it.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we are joined by Daniel Levy, who you just heard in that clip, president of the U.S./Middle East Project, former Israeli peace negotiator with the Palestinians at Taba under Prime Minister Ehud Barak and at Oslo-B under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He co-wrote a piece with Zaha Hassan for The Irish Times headlined “The outside world must walk Israel back from the abyss. It cannot be part of the choir of incitement.”

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Daniel Levy. We only have a few minutes. President Biden is arriving in Israel tomorrow. He’ll be meeting with Netanyahu. Can you talk about what needs to happen, what Netanyahu needs to do? You were the peace negotiator and adviser to the office of the former prime minister. Can you talk about what Israel needs to do and what the U.S. needs to do?

DANIEL LEVY: Well, first of all, it’s good to be with you.

Israel needs, as we have heard just now from Sari Bashi, to operate within the confines of international law and international humanitarian law and to not collectively punish the civilian population of Gaza. And then it has to address the ongoing crimes being committed under the occupation. That is not the mood in Israel right now, and it wasn’t on October 6th, before the horrific events of October 7th and before everything that has transpired since.

Therefore, it will be for the U.S. administration to do the thing that it has conspicuously failed to do historically, and which was a significant contributor to how we got here in the first place, because according Israel impunity, guaranteeing that there can be no accountability for what Israel does, has been the worst lesson one could possibly impart, the worst political guidance, and it contributed, not to everything that’s gone wrong, but it also contributed to the hubris and complacency which I think were a major part of how October 7th happened.

So you’re going to have the public messaging of President Biden, and I fully expect him to wrap his arms around the Israeli leadership and their people, show empathy — and he should. The first thing to say is, if he fails to humanize Palestinians, to show empathy to Palestinians, to speak of Palestinian pain and suffering, which is all too real — and we heard Raji Sourani — then he is, by sins of omission, encouraging the kind of — I don’t use this word lightly — genocidal language that is proliferating right now, and that is incredibly dangerous to everyone. So, that’s in public.

In private, I hope — my hopes aren’t high, I have to say, but what needs to happen is a strong message to the Israelis — it will have to go public, if necessary — of what they can and cannot do, and how do we prevent broader escalation, not only on the northern border, where many people are anticipating, and not only in terms of stopping what’s going on in Gaza, but we’ve just heard, and I think we have to take a long, hard look at what might happen and what is already happening in the West Bank and inside Israel itself, where people are terrified on all sides, but what you see is an impossible set of circumstances toward the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: You have said, “We do not say this lightly: if the international community does not intervene to stop what is coming, we could be watching a combination of mass killing and forced expulsion in real time.” Elaborate on this.

DANIEL LEVY: Well, I think we’ve heard what is going on right now in terms of the killings of Palestinians, and that number goes up all the time. The number of children go up all the time. And what you’ve seen on the Israeli leadership declarations is a real refusal to draw a distinction between combatants and civilians.

And we have heard a lot of talk coming out of Israel in the last years, and it has only intensified, including after October 7th, of a second Nakba, of a second forced displacement of Palestinians. Israel has gone through an interesting transition, where first the Nakba was denied, and then it was embraced as something that needs to be completed — not by everyone. I want to make that very clear. But that threat is real, and it doesn’t just hover over Gaza, which has largely been cut off from the broader expanse of Palestinian territory anyway.

And so, that is why we raised the alarm bell and called on internationals not to join this choir of incitement, because it is the road to hell for everyone. If Israel is going to exist in that part of the world, then it has tied its fate to the Palestinians in that part of the world. And it cannot be zero-sum, because what we are doing is just creating more and more hatred. And you step back from that; you don’t propel yourself further into it.

AMY GOODMAN: We have 30 seconds, Daniel Levy. Your message to the U.S., to Israel, to Palestinians and the world?

DANIEL LEVY: Step back from the brink in the immediate term, and then get to grips with the fact that Palestinians, who live without hope, rights, the ability to plan a future, are not going to succumb to that. It doesn’t justify anything, but we have been warning for years that this will explode, and it has. And now we need a different approach.

AMY GOODMAN: Daniel Levy, president of the U.S./Middle East Project, former Israeli peace negotiator with the Palestinians.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! currently accepting applications for our video news production fellowship. Go to democracynow.org for more information. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks so much for joining us.

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