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Obama: Israel should dismantle Hamas without harming terror group’s human shields

The former president said Palestinian leaders and groups that recognize Israel should articulate a "viable pathway" to Palestinian self-determination.

Former President Barack Obama in Philadelphia in November 2022. Credit: ZB Photos/Shutterstock.
Former President Barack Obama in Philadelphia in November 2022. Credit: ZB Photos/Shutterstock.

Two days after Hamas attacked Israel in the bloodiest day in Jewish history since the Holocaust, former U.S. President Barack Obama released a 73-word statement expressing horror and outrage.

All Americans “stand squarely alongside our ally, Israel, as it dismantles Hamas,” he wrote, noting the importance to “keep striving for a just and lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike” while “we support Israel’s right to defend itself against terror.”

On Monday, Obama released another statement—this one more than 1,000 words long and titled “Thoughts on Israel and Gaza.”

Obama referred to the “horrific attack” and its “unspeakable brutality.” He stated that “Israel has a right to defend its citizens against such wanton violence, and I fully support President [Joe] Biden’s call for the United States to support our longtime ally in going after Hamas, dismantling its military capabilities and facilitating the safe return of hundreds of hostages to their families.”

“But even as we support Israel, we should also be clear that how Israel prosecutes this fight against Hamas matters,” he wrote. “In particular, it matters—as President Biden has repeatedly emphasized—that Israel’s military strategy abides by international law, including those laws that seek to avoid, to every extent possible, the death or suffering of civilian populations.”

“This is an enormously difficult task. War is always tragic, and even the most carefully planned military operations often put civilians at risk,” Obama wrote. “Now, after the systematic massacre of Israeli citizens, a massacre that evokes some of the darkest memories of persecution against the Jewish people, it’s understandable that many Israelis have demanded that their government do whatever it takes to root out Hamas and make sure such attacks never happen again.”

Obama allowed that Hamas leadership “seems to intentionally hide among civilians, thereby endangering the very people they claim to represent,” but did not note that per international law, human shields are the responsibility of the forces that control them, and not of the other army.

Whereas Obama said Hamas “seems to” hide among civilians, Matthew Miller, State Department spokesman, said during the department’s press briefing on Monday that Hamas has “embedded its infrastructure inside civilian buildings, in schools, in hospitals, under schools, under hospitals, inside residential apartment buildings.”

Claiming that he was among those “supporting Israel in its time of need,” Obama said that he and other supporters of the Jewish state must “encourage a strategy that can incapacitate Hamas while minimizing further civilian casualties.”

“While the prospects of future peace may seem more distant than ever, we should call on all of the key actors in the region to engage with those Palestinian leaders and organizations that recognize Israel’s right to exist to begin articulating a viable pathway for Palestinians to achieve their legitimate aspirations for self-determination—because that is the best and perhaps only way to achieve the lasting peace and security most Israeli and Palestinian families yearn for,” he wrote.

He did not name the Palestinian leaders and organizations that recognize Israel’s right to exist that he had in mind. Nor did he appear to explain how specifically he thought Israel might “dismantle” Hamas’s military capabilities without harming the human shields that Hamas is known to use.

The former president also called upon people to reject antisemitism “in all its forms, everywhere,” in addition to “anti-Muslim, anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian sentiment.”

“It means recognizing that Israel has every right to exist; that the Jewish people have claim to a secure homeland where they have ancient historical roots; and that there have been instances in which previous Israeli governments made meaningful efforts to resolve the dispute and provide a path for a two-state solution—efforts that were ultimately rebuffed by the other side,” Obama added.

He added that Palestinians have lived in “disputed territories for generations,” were displaced “when Israel was formed” and “forcibly displaced by a settler movement that too often has received tacit or explicit support from the Israeli government” and that “Palestinian leaders who’ve been willing to make concessions for a two-state solution have too often had little to show for their efforts.”

“It is possible for people of goodwill to champion Palestinian rights and oppose certain Israeli government policies in the West Bank and Gaza without being antisemitic,” he added.

The former president concluded with a recommended reading list, which included New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman and Ben Rhodes, his former adviser on national security.

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