A response to a WSJ Amit Segal article

US President Joe Biden is interviewed by MSNBC on March 9, 2024. (Screen capture/MSNBC)

In his recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Amit Segal – the most eloquent spokesman for the Israeli right – trashed President Biden’s efforts to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by seeking full regional buy-in for a comprehensive security architecture that will finally deliver a two-state solution. It’s the policy option overwhelmingly favored by Segal’s key audience – Jewish Americans – who see it as the only true path to securing Israel’s future as a safe, democratic homeland for the Jewish people. In Segal’s telling, however, “Palestinians overwhelmingly support the murder of Jews, and the Israelis don’t think the Palestinians deserve a state.”

Segal, of course, ignores the background that caused Israelis and Palestinians to lose hope that peace is possible in the region – the toxic leadership of Netanyahu and the messianic settler partners who have led Israel in recent decades, the failed Palestinian leadership that refuses to clear the way, and American administrations that haven’t had the courage or political will to break the cycle on either side, and instead have ended up enabling it. 

Each of these forces feeds the others, with inertia driving a cycle of conflict that’s led only to pain and misery for everyone. What Segal fails to realize is that Biden knows this, and hopes to shatter the unbearable status quo for good. 

Indeed, history proves that whenever there is a significant political horizon for a settlement, Israelis and Palestinians prefer it to the current situation – a daily nightmare of fear for Israelis and humiliation for Palestinians under the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza.

Readers should know that this omission isn’t an accident. Segal is a life-long cheerleader for the Israeli right – a movement threatened by President Biden’s pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy leadership.

In surveys conducted regularly by Dr. Khalil Shikaki, an authority on Palestinian public opinion, it appears that in times of war, violence and lack of hope, the Palestinians support Hamas, but when faced with a political horizon and hope for the future, Hamas support shrinks to less than 20 percent of Palestinian society. We have a name for this when it occurs within our own societies when we are at war: Rallying around the flag. 

In a situation where there is no news for better or worse, support for Hamas stands at about 30 percent of the Palestinians. In May 2021, when elections were to be held and 36 parties registered as candidates, there was a clear majority of the Fatah-affiliated parties. On normal days, both Hamas and Fatah are unpopular, but the great majority prefers the leadership of the secularists who support a political solution over the repression, Islamism and terrorism represented by Hamas.

The situation in Israel is similar. The Israeli public is anxious for its security and has followed leaders who manipulate fear. Netanyahu has made it his political artform. However, when there is leadership that presents a vision of a political solution, the majority of the public supports it too. This was the case when Menachem Begin, whose election campaign was against a territorial compromise, decided to choose peace with Egypt and the dismantling of the settlements in Sinai. It was the case when Ariel Sharon who, in his campaign, said that Gaza and Tel Aviv are the same, but won the support of the majority of the public when he decided to evacuate the settlements and the army in Gaza and four settlements in northern Samaria, to signal a trend of continued disengagement in the West Bank as well.

Segal is right to claim that today most Israelis and Palestinians cannot imagine a settlement and they suffer from trauma and distrust on the other side – but that’s an argument in favor of Biden’s strategic optimism and engagement, not against it. Even today when the question is posed to them as to whether they will support an arrangement that includes separation from the Palestinians in exchange for security guarantees and normalization with the Muslim world, there is  majority support. In the Geneva Initiative survey in January of this year, 51% of the respondents said they would support such an agreement. 

Israel has indeed changed from the Israel that Biden visited at the beginning of his political career, as he himself would have seen after meeting with every Israeli leader since Golda Meir.. The right has reigned supreme for many years, and the messianic vision of occupation and transfer also took over the Likud. However, as we saw before October 7, during the protest against the right-wing government’s intention to bring about a regime coup that would dramatically weaken Israeli democracy, the quiet liberal majority woke up and showed they’re willing to fight for a better future. 

Biden understands the political problem that a lack of hope presents. He understands the intolerable grief and destruction this conflict continues to inflict on Israelis and Palestinians. He also understands the global consequences if this conflict endures. 

He knows that the answer isn’t to double-down on hopelessness and cynicism and accept a never-ending status quo – as Amit Segal seems to argue for – it’s to use the power and strength of US leadership to chart a better path forward. 

About the Author
Nadav Tamir is the executive director of J Street Israel, a member of the board of the Mitvim think-tank, adviser for international affairs at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, and member of the steering committee of the Geneva Initiative. He was an adviser of President Shimon Peres and served in the Israel embassy in Washington and as consul general to New England.
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