January 23 was the 109th day of the war in Gaza. On that morning we received heartbreaking news of the death of 24 Israelis in the fighting in Gaza. The incident occurred near the Israeli border in the southern part of Gaza where the Hamas presence is still largely intact. At the same time, the IDF has reportedly encircled Khan Younis and has four divisions prepared to fight their way into the stronghold where the senior leadership of Hamas is thought to be holed up.
Politics as usual appears to have returned in Israel, as the factions of the Israeli government publicly disagree, and anti-government demonstrations have resumed. Most prominently, everyone in the world seems to be weighing in on the subject of a Palestinian state. On January 21, Herb Keinon wrote this analysis of the domestic politics driving the public argument between Benjamin Netanyahu and the Biden Administration: Why is Netanyahu clashing with the US over a Palestinian state?
For many of us, talk of a Palestinian state has never seemed so out of touch with reality than it does today. Wasn’t October 7 a demonstration of what a Palestinian State would mean for Israel? But for the world’s media, Benjamin Netanyahu’s public rejection of a path to a Palestinian state is big news. The apparent rift with Biden is likewise a focus for some who ask whether the American administration is losing patience with Israel.
But according to Herb Keinon’s op-ed, Biden needs to talk about a Palestinian state for domestic political reasons, but the ask from Israel is simply not to rule it out. The Saudis clearly want an agreement on normalization with Israel, because it will unlock a security alliance with the United States. The war in Gaza has not deterred the Saudis from this ambition.
In this account of the issue, Israel does not have to offer anything tangible now, and stands to gain a lot if they agree to the idea in principal. Also in Keinon’s judgment, Benjamin Netanyahu has decided that it is to his political advantage to refuse to do this. He is portraying himself as the one Israeli leader that won’t cave in to international pressure for a Palestinian State. In this way he hopes to recover from his present low ranking in the polls.
The Two State Solution
For those of us who are aware of the full horror of the atrocities of October 7 and of the ongoing perfidy of the Palestinian Authority in backing the Hamas regime in Gaza, the practical question of who would be in control of any hypothetical Palestinian state looms large. In this discussion about the impact of the October 7 attack on Israelis and the Jewish world, Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch discusses the shattering of some of the core beliefs of American Jews, including the breakdown of the liberal Zionist belief in the two state solution.
In 1993 I was a supporter of Israel’s historic agreement at Oslo, in which the PLO was allowed to come into territory theretofore controlled by Israel and create the Palestinian Authority (PA). In a series of staged withdrawals, by the end of 1995, the Israeli military gave the PA control of the large Palestinian Arab population centres in Judaea and Samaria.
In return, the PLO pledged to abandon the “armed struggle” and settle its remaining differences with Israel at the negotiating table. At the time it was seen as similar to the Good Friday Accords which ended the long bloody insurrection of the Irish Republican Army against British rule in Northern Ireland. One of the reasons I thought that the Oslo accords would work out was that both the Irish Republican Army and the PLO had drawn support from the Soviet Union and the bloc of countries it had colonized in Eastern Europe.
I thought the collapse of the Soviet Union had made it possible to put an end to intractable conflicts, because I suspected that they had had a hand in fueling those conflicts. In Ireland the deal succeeded because the terrorists kept their side of the bargain. There was an end to violence and a successful political process. The IRA settled for much less than its stated aim of a United Ireland including the six counties controlled by Britain.
In the Israel Palestine conflict, the outcome was different. While the Palestinian Authority formally agreed to end the violent campaign the PLO had previously conducted against Israel, and assume security control over certain territories, the Oslo accords were followed by an upsurge of suicide bombings perpetrated by Hamas. Following the signing of Oslo I, in September of 1993, a car bombing at Beit El committed by Hamas injured 29 people. In 1994, Hamas perpetrated four suicide bombings against Israeli commuters, killing 38 people. In 1995 more atrocities followed, killing 39 more. In 1996, the number of civilians murdered by Hamas suicide bombers rose to 58.
This wave of violence did not prevent the Israeli government and the PLO from proceeding with the implementation of the Oslo accords. In 1994, Israel withdrew from Jericho and from most of the Gaza Strip, triggering the beginning of a five year period that was supposed to lead to a final status accord by May of 1999. According to this article in the Encyclopedia Britannica, Arafat refused to confront Hamas, and Israel therefore continued its own anti-terror war against them.
In 1995, with the signing of the Oslo II agreement, the territory of Judaea and Samaria was divided into Area A, B and C. Israel gave up control of Area A to the Palestinian authority. Area A included the main urban areas occupied by the bulk of the Palestinian Arab population. On November 5, 1995, Israeli PM Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, an enraged opponent of the Oslo accords, and Shimon Peres became Prime Minister. As part of the implementation of the Oslo II agreement, Israel withdrew from Nablus on December 12 and from Bethlehem on December 21.
As we can see, Hamas was already murdering Israelis in order to sabotage any chance of peace between Israel and the Palestinians 30 years ago. In spite of this, the Israeli government and the PLO and went on signing agreements and Israel went on giving up territory. This did not sit so well with the Israeli electorate and on June 18, 1996 Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposed the Oslo accords, replaced Shimon Peres as Prime Minister of Israel.
The PA’s Refusal to Suppress Hamas Doomed the Peace Process
Thirty years after Oslo, Israel is still at war with Hamas, and the PA still insists on trying to find a way to bring Hamas into a Palestinian government of national unity. Because of their refusal to stand up to Palestinians who wish to sabotage the “peace process” the PA, lead for the past 18 years by Mahmoud Abbas, long ago lost all credibility from Israel’s point of view as a viable interlocutor for peace with the Palestinians.
In exchange for surrendering territory to PA control, Israel had a right to expect that that territory would not be used as a platform for attacks on its people. A provision of Oslo II made explicit that the IDF and the PA police would be the only armed forces permitted in the territory covered by the Oslo agreement. This is a cornerstone of the quest for peace and security which was supposed to be Israel’s reward for agreeing to engage with the PLO. Israel considered the PLO to be a terrorist organization until just before signing the Oslo accords, when Israel recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinians just before signing on to Oslo in 1993.
October 7 is the worst atrocity ever committed against Israel, but it can be seen as the culmination of a long series of harms that Israel has suffered as a result of the concessions made at Oslo. During the second intifada the irregular forces of Fatah, the ruling party of the PA joined Hamas in committing atrocities against Israel, putting an end to the Oslo process and revealing the treachery of the PA. Many of us concluded that Arafat had never intended to make peace.
After the death of Arafat and the end of the second intifada, Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas resumed security cooperation with Israel but never showed any willingness to confront other armed Palestinian groups. He steadfastly maintained that Israel was the only party at fault for the ongoing conflict. Thus Israel has continued to stage regular incursions into territory that is nominally under the control of the PA in order to respond to and try to prevent further violence.
In 2005, Ariel Sharon withdrew Israel’s people and IDF forces from Gaza and left it in the hands of the PA. The PA then let Hamas run in a Palestinian election, in spite of the Oslo requirement that any party running had to accept the the agreements, which Hamas had obviously never done. Hamas won the elections and Israel refused to accept the outcome, due to Hamas’ 13 year campaign of terror against Israel.
In 2006, Hamas seized power in Gaza, turning the territory into a base for ongoing violence against Israel. Israel imposed a blockade on the territory in response. This destroyed the Gazan economy and brought repeated disaster down on the heads of the people of Gaza. Repeated efforts by US presidents to revive the peace process between Israel and the PA were doomed by the ever increasing severity of the violence from Gaza, and the refusal of the PA to cooperate in any measures to suppress them.
Now, after almost 18 years of Hamas rule, and the horrors of October 7, how can anybody be still demanding that Israel commit to a two state solution? Who would be the leaders of a Palestinian State? With the bulk of the Palestinian population seemingly supportive of what Hamas did on October 7, how can anyone envision peaceful coexistence with any government elected by that population? With the population of the globe seemingly angry at what Israel is doing in its own defense and indifferent to the existential threat revealed by the October 7 atrocities, how can Israel ever have the confidence to engage with the international community in any agreement that puts its security at risk?