Nadav Tamir

An End to the Conflict Is Possible

Since October 7, Netanyahu has extended the war for his political survival. Yet Israel would greatly benefit from a deal to end the war that would lead to a Palestinian state.

Israelis and Palestinians have never been more distant, alienated, full of hatred, and desperate than in the past year. Such feelings of sheer despair are manifested in the dehumanization of each side by the other.

Most Palestinians find it difficult to express empathy for the victims of the terrible massacre of October 7, for the abductees languishing in the captivity of Hamas, and for Israelis in general. They think that the reports about the barbaric murders and rapes that are still shaking and shocking Israeli society are nothing but Zionist propaganda.

On the other hand, most Israelis are focused on the horror of October 7 and are looking the other way from the mass killings in the Gaza Strip, the dead and wounded children, the destruction, the loss of the ability to live a dignified life, and the violence of the settlers in the West Bank. Most Israelis are not getting any information about the tragedies in Gaza because our media consistently ignore the reality there. Most Israelis think that the testimonies of the people in Gaza and the blame for their disproportional killing and mass starvation are just Hamas propaganda that is accepted without any confirmation by an antisemitic world.

An Armed Fight as the Only Means of Independence

Public polls conducted among Israelis and Palestinians show that many on both sides claim to have lost hope that the bloody reality of the life they now live can be changed. Among Palestinian respondents to a March 2024 survey by Khalil Shakaki of the Palestinian Center for Surveys and Policy Research, almost one in two – 46 percent  –believe more than ever that an armed fight against Israel is the only means through which they can achieve independence. Among Israeli respondents to a survey done by the Institute for Strategic Studies that same month, support for the establishment of a Palestinian state has fallen to a historic low of 35 percent. And yet, as time goes by, we can detect a shift to a more rational stance whenever security is linked to diplomatic agreements rather than military means.  That is why it is important to see the results of existing surveys as snapshots taken at a particular moment and not interpret them as a forecast for the future.

A Historic Opportunity

Precisely at a time when the two societies are moving so far away from each other, plunging into an abyss of hatred, a historic opportunity has been created to promote a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The massacre of October 7 exposed the murderousness of Hamas to everyone, yet it also made it clear that it is impossible to avoid the conflict and the problems associated with the ongoing occupation.

In many parts of the world, there is a strong sense of urgency about the need for a real process that will advance the two-state solution. There is also an understanding that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes a clear impact on other areas, such as Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine, the status of the United States in the world, internal politics in Europe and in the United States, and even the situation on American campuses. The pace of these developments has increased dramatically.

And thus we arrive at the Netanyahu problem. Instead of Israel taking advantage of the international mobilization to bring about a political solution that would create an alternative to Hamas rule in Gaza, normalize Israel’s relations in the region, and create a US-led regional alliance against Iran and its proxies, the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu chose the path of political and security stagnation. A path of endless war that has no purpose except for the preservation of ­his government that is only held together by extreme right-wing elements. Netanyahu’s worst fear is that any compromise will lead the extremists to quit the ruling coalition and thus end his political career.

Netanyahu Needs the War

Benjamin Netanyahu’s most senior ministers, Defense Minister Yoav Galant and War Cabinet member Benny Gantz, are calling on him to adopt a political solution for Gaza that would incorporate the inclusion of Palestinian elements. Yet at this writing, Netanyahu continues to refrain from taking any political initiative and is leading the state of Israel into a dangerous and bloody reality: military and civilian control of the Gaza Strip. ­Netanyahu – who faces criminal charges for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust during his tenure – is simply afraid of his far-right ministers, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir. Along with his rejection of any proposal for political progress and normalization with Saudi Arabia, he rejects a peace process toward establishing a Palestinian state. Netanyahu repeatedly keeps preventing any possible deal for the release of the abductees in exchange for a ceasefire and the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Netanyahu’s government is leading Israel into an unprecedented internal civil conflict at a time when most citizens feel that he gives higher priority to his personal and political interests than he does to their security and the fate of the abductees. On the global stage, Netanyahu is leading Israel to an unparalleled political isolation that, so far, has reached its climax in responses from two institutions in The Hague: arrest warrants for him and Defense Minister Galant from the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), as well as the order to cease or limit the fighting in Rafah issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Israel is now entering a difficult period in its history, facing a never-ending war, around 125  abductees who have been held captive by Hamas for almost 8 months, and increasing international isolation.

It is important to emphasize that the ICC would not have issued the arrest warrants if the Netanyahu government had initiated an investigation into the charges it had violated human rights law. The ICJ warning could also have been avoided if Netanyahu had not insisted on a never ending war. This approach is not going to defeat Hamas – as demonstrated by what we see happening in other cities in Gaza where Hamas is returning because of a lack of an alternative.

Israel Has Maneuvered Itself into a Corner

The extremism of an Israeli government that is unwilling to engage in any dialogue or make any compromises is precisely what is leading it to a point of no return. At this point, the international community will begin to use all its levers of pressure to promote the establishment of a Palestinian state. Even as the Israeli government continues to oppose any political process, the number of countries that have unilaterally recognized a Palestinian state is increasing.

Israel is very close to the day when it will no longer be able to maintain the occupation of Palestinian territories and it will have to pursue the path of promoting the establishment of a Palestinian state. A path that is contrary to the position of the extreme right in Israel but that offers many advantages for the country. These include preserving Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia, and strengthening the regional alliance against the extremist and dangerous elements in the vicinity led by Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah.

For many years, moderate Israeli and Palestinian leaders have tried to bring their peoples together and help prepare the conditions for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Perhaps it will turn out that things first needed to get really bad for us to get started on moving in a better direction.

The murderousness of the leaders of Hamas, along with the inaction and political cowardice of Netanyahu and the extremism of his political partners, are leading the entire region not only to radicalization, but also to compromise. Precisely at a time when the Israelis and Palestinians are  the farthest away from each other, reality obliges them to get closer again – the only way to safely ensure their continued existence in an area saturated with blood and battles.

At a time when the two nations are focused on their own tragedies and suffering, reality will force them to act together. At a press conference he convened a few weeks ago, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant said what everyone knows: the state of Israel will not be able to keep shouldering the heavy burden of a military and civilian regime in the Gaza Strip, regardless of whether from a financial, social, diplomatic, or security perspective. The risks are too many, the price is too high.

A Palestinian State

Although Minister Galant referred to the Palestinian entity that is designated to rule Gaza as a “non-hostile Palestinian” entity and did not explicitly mention the Palestinian Authority (PA) by name, he also knows that, in practice, no matter what he calls it, there is no other body that is capable of replacing Hamass in running the Gaza Strip than a revitalized PA. It is also well known that the entry of the PA into the Gaza Strip, in a more or less renewed format, will not come without demands, the main one of which will be to start acting jointly for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In the end, it is in Israel’s best interest. The country will benefit from the fact that, like in the West Bank, Gaza will also have a Palestinian government on its side that is committed to peace and will be able to escape the cruel and bloody fate of a military and civilian regime, against which the defense minister was warning. The Palestinians will gain legitimacy internationally and in Israel on the way to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. The region will enjoy Israeli-Palestinian peace, which will allow a return to the path of normalization with Saudi Arabia and joint regional activities against the common enemy – Iran.

The Time for Peace Is Now

The establishment of the Palestinian state is a clear Zionist interest. If we do not end the occupation, the occupation will end us. There is an international consensus on the need to establish a demilitarized Palestinian state as the national home of the Palestinian people alongside Israel as the national home of the Jewish people. The only opponents are Iran, Hamas, and the Netanyahu government.

One can only hope that future Israeli leadership will consist of responsible parties that will act in such a way that ensures Israel will be part of this move. The country must benefit from it – politically, security-wise, and economically –  and not be forced to accept it under conditions imposed by others.

The countries of the free world must not wait until Israelis and Palestinians have recovered from the trauma and initiated a peace process. Now is the time for a determined international initiative. The Israelis and the Palestinians will come to the realization that it is in their best interest if a significant political horizon is created. Despite the current desperation of Israelis and Palestinians, it was the trauma of the Yom Kippur/October war in 1973 that led to the peace with Egypt and the trauma of the first Intifada that led to Oslo and the peace agreement with Jordan. Now is the time for an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

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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