NP Comment

Stephen Harper: Israel's war is just, Hamas must surrender or be eliminated


It is foolish to think a two-state solution will emerge while so many Palestinians still reject the existence of a Jewish state.

2024-02-20 by Hon. Stephen J. Harper

During the night of Oct. 7, my wife Laureen woke me to show horrifying images from Israel appearing on her cellphone. Like millions in Israel and around the world, we were shocked and sickened on multiple levels.


We had already spent a year and a half watching the unprovoked onslaught of the Russian military on its peaceful Ukrainian neighbour. We had seen the dead bodies, the broken families, and the shelled-out communities. It is sadly, only one of many violent conflicts in the world today. Each such image wounds our hearts.


Yet, this was different. The systemic nature of the killing and the evident glee with which it was being undertaken by its participants betrayed something darker than war itself. It recalled the things my father’s world had witnessed.


This was not random murder. It was more than some settling of inter-communal scores. It was beyond even brutal military action. These were acts of extermination — the killing of no mere enemy, but of those who, in the killers’ eyes, were less than human, whose very existence was to be viewed as a scourge. It was, in short, the urge to commit genocide at its most evil.


This may not have been a Holocaust in scale, but it was in kind. And, for the Israeli nation, born as it was in the shadow of the Holocaust, it can be interpreted no other way.


Nor can this be regarded as some isolated episode of anti-Israeli violence. It was the consequence of decades of institutionalized antisemitic indoctrination of a population — indoctrination to the point where such murderous acts become regarded as not merely expedient or tolerable, but as necessary and praiseworthy.


The world — at least we in the West — said of the Holocaust and the forces which unleashed it “never again.” Back then, only we could make that pledge. The Jewish people, half-annihilated and stateless, could not make it on their own behalf. Today, they can act on that pledge. And they rightly ask whether we will honour our own.


From that perspective, Israel’s war objective — the elimination of Gaza’s Hamas regime — is essential. Leaving the job unfinished, with Hamas’s existence tolerated and its actions contained, has been tried, and it has failed. The Israeli people cannot be reasonably asked to return to the pre-war status quo. That is the position our own nations took toward the attacks launched by Nazi Germany against us. Israel has as absolute a right to absolute security now as we did then.


Of course, we all wish the war to end. From the ongoing suffering of Israeli hostages and their families to Palestinian children caught in the crossfire, innocent people on both sides have suffered horribly. So, this war should end. And it should end the same way our war with the Nazis did — by the unconditional surrender of its perpetrators. I say to Israel’s friends, stop asking it to stop short of victory. Instead, bring pressure to bear on Hamas, directly and through its allies and partners, to force its capitulation.


After that, as the Second World War also taught us, even harder work begins — making sure we win the peace. Once again, our own experiences as Western democracies should provide guidance. Yes, we helped Germany to re-build. But we also insisted it de-construct the ideologies that led to its aggression. And we demanded it fully embrace the ethics of peaceful coexistence. Only then was its sovereignty restored and its membership in the family of free nations affirmed.


By that standard alone, suggestions that a victorious Israeli army should simply walk out of Gaza and assume some harmonious “two-state solution” will emerge out of thin air is insincere and hypocritical. I dare say it is also beyond foolish. That is precisely what Israel was persuaded to do in 2005, and it is why we ended up where we are today.


A two-state solution will not magically take root now for the same reason it has not happened in every year since 1947 — it is rejected by way too many Palestinians. The core problem is not Israel. Yes, there are obstacles in Israel that must someday be overcome. But Israel could have incorporated all Palestinian territory long ago, and it has not done so.


In contrast, generations of Palestinians have been inculcated with one-state mantras — “from the river to the sea,” “the right of return,” “settler occupation,” and so on. At their heart they categorically reject the right of a Jewish state to exist on any piece of the land of the former Mandate for Palestine. We must stop pretending that a two- state solution can be pursued in the face of the continued propagation of such a view. Yes, we must develop a roadmap that will lead to a Palestinian state, and Israel needs to contribute to that. But Israel should not be asked to go down that path as long as such ideologies are allowed to flourish on the Palestinian side.


There is an even bigger picture, however, that we in the West must grasp. This war is not an isolated conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. It is the product of a much larger and more dangerous force.


Before Oct. 7, we were on the cusp of a new Middle East. It was being created by a new generation of Arab leaders. Determined to be world-leading societies, they were setting aside the religious hatreds of the past and putting the Abraham Accords in their place. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself was deepening its relationship with Israel while continuing an ambitious modernization agenda that remains sadly underappreciated in the West.


Yet, even with these developments, some in western capitals chose to continue seeking reconciliation with an Iranian regime whose vision could not be more different. And so, we turned a blind eye to Tehran’s continued preaching of medieval jihad and its ongoing construction of a theocratic empire. We watched as it slowly took over Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and, of course, Gaza. We ignored advice from both Arab and Israeli allies to counter these threats, and even criticized actions designed to do so.


In this context, the West’s support for Israel’s war effort goes beyond moral obligations. It is but a small step in responding to a much larger challenge coming at us. I am not talking just about reoccurrences of 9-11-style terrorism. Nor am I referring only to the growing attacks on key international shipping lanes, as alarming as they are. I mean the real, potentially global, threat of a powerful regional state that mixes an aggressive and malevolent ideology with the pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. I am hoping that we understand this bigger picture before it is too late.


Almost exactly 10 years ago, I addressed the Israeli Knesset. I said that the Canada I represented would stand with Israel “through fire and water.” I meant it, and the Canadians I spoke for believe it still, as do hundreds of millions like us all over the world.


For we know what history has shown us: that antisemitism and anti-Zionism are always the proverbial canaries in the coalmine. Those who embrace such tribal and sectarian hatreds will invariably, in time, aim their guns well beyond the Jewish people. Indeed, if we open our eyes, we will see that they are already doing so.


This is, in short, a time to support Israel with clarity, consistency, and strength, not only because it is right, but because it is in the best interests of global peace and security.


The Right Honourable Stephen J. Harper, 22nd Prime Minister of Canada