Amos N. Guiora: Where does Israel go from here, and what awaits in the coming days?

The larger, far more complex question is how we break this endless, tragic cycle of violence.

(Yousef Masoud | AP) People stand outside a mosque destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023. The Hamas militants broke out of the blockaded Gaza Strip and rampaged through nearby Israeli communities, taking captives, while Israel's retaliation strikes leveled buildings in Gaza.

I’m writing this on Tuesday morning as I drink orange juice and eat a fresh roll at a famous Jerusalem bakery while waiting for my car to be serviced by the same mechanic I have known for three decades.

I begin with this seemingly innocuous opening to highlight the extraordinary complexity of life presently in Israel. On the one hand, we all know where air raid shelters are located, where fighting has occurred and understand the extraordinary, staggering, loss of life of the past three days. On the other hand, we want to live as normal a life as possible, whether that means having our cars repaired, taking children to school and going shopping.

However, a sense of normalcy is not possible when over 100 Israelis — children, women and men — are held captive by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, when more than 2,000 Israelis have been wounded since Saturday morning and when more than 900 families will bury their loved ones in the coming days.

That is distinct from what Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip must contend with. While they will bear the brunt of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) wrath in the coming days, their “J’Accuse” needs to be directed, first and foremost, at Hamas leadership and frankly, at themselves, for they voted Hamas to power in democratic and free elections in 2006 after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip which it had occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War.

That must be clearly stated. That is not to free Israel of responsibility for hardships faced by the civilian population, but it is important to set the historical record straight.

The relevant questions are where do we go from here and what awaits in the coming days?

Notwithstanding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s all-too predictable and all-too gratuitous bluster referencing what Israel will do to Hamas, it is safe to assume aerial attacks on Gaza will continue unabated. The larger questions are more complicated and nuanced: Will the Israeli government order the IDF to enter Gaza in a ground incursion, and what is the fate of the Israeli hostages? To what extent the latter impacts the former from the perspective of Netanyahu is an open question for he has largely refrained from addressing that, much as he has avoided addressing the Israeli public apart from two broadcasted statements.

[Read more: Utahns share their perspectives on what’s happening in Israel and Palestine]

That is not unusual, albeit perhaps bizarre for American readers, for the Israeli prime minister who does not grant interviews to the Israeli press and does not interact with the Israeli public. Notwithstanding his imperiousness, Netanyahu bears absolute responsibility for where we find ourselves.

After all, his politically based acquiescence — for coalition building purposes — to extreme, racist right-wing parties resulted in the IDF’s decision to station the majority of combat units in the West Bank where they protected settlers and enabled settlers who committed pogroms against innocent Palestinians.

That politically-driven decision left Israel’s southern communities, bordering the Gaza Strip, unprotected and abandoned. No amount of political rhetoric must deflect from an outrageous decision that left thousands of Israelis defenseless Saturday morning.

However, Netanyahu’s unconscionable politically driven decision must not excuse or justify the murderous, pogrom actions of over 1,500 Hamas terrorists who committed what can only be termed war crimes. The murder of innocent civilians at point blank range is just that, as is taking four Israelis hostage and executing them on the spot. Taking hostage 85-year-old grandmothers is beyond the pale. The placing of captured children in cages defies any human behavior.

While Hamas needs to be held accountable for that, we — as Israelis — need to ask ourselves: How is it that the IDF and the intelligence community not only were as unprepared as they were, but also how is it that the operational responses were as slow as they were? While the heroic actions of individuals who responded in extraordinary fashion will be much discussed, that must not excuse the utter collapse of state institutions and organs.

So, where do we go from here?

While prognostication is always “fool’s gold,” the working assumption is that a ground incursion will begin in the days ahead, that the international community’s support of Israel will diminish when the human cost to Gazans becomes the dominant story and then negotiations (without using the word) will begin, resulting in Israeli withdrawal and the seemingly inevitable preparation for the next round.

The larger, far more complex question is how we break this endless, tragic cycle of violence. In other words, where are the Menachem Begins and Anwar Sadats who, under the auspices of U.S. President Jimmy Carter, negotiated the Camp David Accords resulting in peace between Israel and Egypt in 1978? While sadly such leaders do not exist today — either in Israel or in Gaza — we, as those who live in this never-ending tinderbox, must remain optimistic that the day will come.

Otherwise, the sheer madness will continue unabated.

For two decades I participated in official and Track II negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in the aftermath of the Oslo Peace Accords. I have been around the proverbial block and am far from naïve. However, I genuinely believe that only by sitting around a table — as uncomfortable as it is — can we resolve this madness. After all, most of us want to drink our orange juice and eat our roll in peace and quiet.

Amos Guiora

Professor Amos N. Guiora, University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, directs the S.J. Quinney College of Law Bystander Initiative and is on the board of the Lauren McCluskey Foundation. He served for 19 years in the Israel Defense Forces as Lieutenant Colonel (retired), and held a number of senior command positions. He splits his time between Utah and Israel.