Word from the diaspora
Do the Palestinians deserve a state? The short answer is a resounding ‘no’.
But there are better questions to ask.
What have Israelis learnt about the Palestinians in the more than 125 days since October 7?
Israelis learnt that Hamas and the thousands of Palestinian civilians that followed them across Israel’s sovereign border that day abjectly hate them with a red-hot fervor. The premeditated and indiscriminate killing of Israeli civilians (regardless of age, gender, religion or political affiliation), the barbaric nature of the murders and the sadistic sex crimes committed against Israeli women shattered any notions to the contrary. Poll data post October 7 show that Hamas’ attack, broadcast for all – including Palestinians, of course – to watch, enjoyed broad support among Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank alike. Even as 40% of Gazans support Hamas, 80% welcomed its attack on October 7. No one can unsee the elation of the Gazan throngs that day as they brutalized defenseless captives, including children, en route to the terror dungeons in which many of them remain hostage. Israelis realized that Palestinians were even more deeply indoctrinated, and their morality even more profoundly corrupted, than anyone had previously allowed. In impromptu videos ordinary Gazans made that day (to encourage others to stream across the Israeli border in the wake of the terrorists and the mob that followed) they referred to the territory of the sovereign State of Israel as “our occupied lands”. Conclusion: Palestinians are not any closer to accepting the de facto reality of an Israeli state, or respecting Israeli lives, now than they were 76 years ago, in 1948. Gaza is no “open-air prison”, but it sure is a reality distortion field. If you think this term is hyperbolic, consider that 90% of Palestinians refuse to accept that Hamas perpetrated the barbaric crimes against civilians that the terrorists proudly recorded and publicized, with many perversely believing instead that they were committed by Israeli commandos as part of a false flag operation. Palestinian delusion is all too real.
We want to believe that these generalizations do not apply to all Gazans, that there are innocents among them. Hamas is the enemy, not all of the 2.3 million people living in Gaza, about half of whom are children. In the story of Sodom & Gomorrah, Abraham courageously bargains with the Almighty for the sake of even just 10 righteous people. “Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for their sake? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked” (Genesis 18:16-33). We Jews gave the world these values (by the way, we just love it when the rest of the world throws back at us the very concepts, including the sacred value of all human life, that Jewish scripture and culture helped introduce to human civilization. Put your wagging finger down already…purlease!). The well-documented and tragic indoctrination of Gazan children from an early age does not strip them of their status as innocents. We want to believe that not all Palestinians hate Israelis. But we are grasping at proverbial straws in the face of a deluge of evidence to the contrary.
Is Palestinian hatred of Israelis reciprocated, in other words, do Israelis hate the Palestinians? Certainly some do. They talk of Palestinians in dehumanizing terms, abrogate their rights, and lack sympathy for their hardship. They refuse to acknowledge the legitimate Palestinian desire for sovereignty and have no interest in relieving the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. A substantial fringe has expressed a renewed interest in re-establishing settlements in Gaza, which is contrary to stated Israeli policy for the past couple of decades. All this is true of a minority of Israelis. On the other hand, there is little doubt that Israelis are united in their hatred of Hamas, and who can blame them? But the majority of Israelis simply want to live in peace and quiet with the Palestinians, does not wish to govern them, has no designs on Palestinian lands, acknowledges the distress Gazans feel, and a great many empathize with their very real pain and suffering. This tension in Israeli society between a vocal, zealous, expansionist minority and the majority that seeks security and peaceful coexistence is reflected within Israel’s current coalition wartime government. With such tensions unresolved, the opportunity for Israel to win the hearts and minds of the international community – and potentially Gazans themselves – by creating humanitarian zones in areas of the Strip in which the IDF is in control, with all the know-how that the IDF exhibits when it so effectively parachutes into crisis centers around the world, will unfortunately continue to go to waste.
What have Palestinians learned about Israelis since October 7?
They have learnt that the most brutal attack on Jews since the Holocaust notwithstanding, Israelis are still not going anywhere. They could have learned this lesson sooner (for example in 1948, 1967 and 1973, during the First Intifada and the Second Intifada), but apparently, even as of 2024, the reality of Jewish permanence in the land of Israel remains, to Palestinian minds, conjecture. They are learning that Israelis are not the French in Algeria in the 1960s, who defeatedly returned to the Fatherland when a violent anti-colonial campaign by armed indigenous Algerian militias repeatedly attacked them and their civilian institutions. Contrary to the prevailing opinion on the Arab street – as widely held as it is erroneous – that Israel is a “colonial project”, there is generally no such exit option to return to the motherland for Israelis, a majority of whom were expelled, by the millions, from Arabic countries in waves of ethnic cleansing, not to mention the minority whose families were slaughtered by the Nazis and their sympathizers in Europe in an actual genocide. As former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir famously told then-Senator Biden on his 1973 visit to Israel just before the outbreak of the Yom Kippur war, “We have no place else to go.” Every Israeli knows the plaintive 1982 song “I have no other country” – for better or worse, that’s how it is. Palestinians are learning that Israelis are prepared to put their lives on the line (thus far, close to 250 soldiers’ lives, and counting) to ensure that Israel is for evermore the modern realization of the Jewish people’s dream for the re-establishment of its ancient homeland.
What have Israelis learnt about Israelis since October 7?
Israelis have come to realize that they cannot – and will not – live with Hamas in charge of Gaza at Israel’s southern border. The old “mow-the-lawn” strategy (of tolerating relatively minor acts of aggression by Hamas until they escalate to become intolerable, as they periodically did, at which point Israel would cut Hamas back in mini-wars) has utterly failed, as October 7 demonstrated. Hamas has to be vanquished. No need to tangle in the near term with whether ‘the idea of Hamas’ can be fully eradicated (just as the Allies in the throes of WWII had neither the need or the time to concern themselves with whether ‘the idea of the Nazis’ could be fully eradicated; in the event, denazification was a major success, and eventually Nazi ideology was largely eradicated). The current war with Hamas will end in only one way: with the destruction of Hamas’ military capability and political control, and with security at the border with Gaza in Israel’s south. Israelis, especially the displaced residents of the Gaza envelope, will accept nothing less. Israelis are united in their resolve that Hamas can never again be allowed to commit an October 7-like attack. By extension, Israelis will not accept that what- and whoever follows Hamas in Gaza will ever be allowed to be in a similar position – not Palestinian Islamic Jihad and not the Palestinian Authority. By the same token, Israelis are united in their resolve that Hizbollah cannot remain south of the Litani river, right against Israel’s northern border (in violation of UN Resolution 1701), and – if necessary – must be forcefully pushed back. Israelis, especially the northern region’s currently displaced residents, will accept from their government nothing less than security at the border with Lebanon in Israel’s north. And in their new-found sense of national unity on these issues, Israelis have learnt something else: that when united, they are highly effective.
What have Palestinians learnt about Palestinians since October 7?
Too little, I am afraid. So long as the buds of fresh perspectives among Palestinians in support of peaceful coexistence with Israelis are trampled in favor of the tired old songs of oppression, victimhood and resistance, and of a cynical, false narrative of arbitrary Israeli aggression, there is little improvement to be seen on the horizon for ordinary Gazans. Palestinian sympathizers in the West unfortunately encourage this self-delusion. The Palestinians’ dogged attachment to their narrative as the oppressed potently connects with those outside the region whose commitment to the doctrines of intersectionality, identity politics and of failed ideologies such as socialism and communism is stronger than their appreciation for the values of the liberal democracies in which they live. Where this will lead civil society in Europe, North America and Australia is uncertain and potentially highly precarious. Palestinians have found unlikely allies in the UN, South Africa and among bleeding heart liberals everywhere who walk the corridors of power. Except for on the ground in Gaza, where the IDF continues to decimate Hamas, the false narrative of the Palestinians as the eternally oppressed and disadvantaged seems to be delivering for them. The political leadership of Hamas, totally disinterested as it is in achieving tangible improvements in the lives of regular Palestinians, is unlikely to change its tune so long as useful idiots in the West continue to applaud it.
So back to the original question: do Palestinians deserve a state?
The legitimacy of Palestinian yearning for self-determination is hard to deny, especially by Jews, whose own erstwhile yearning for self-determination is expressed by the wistful lyrics of the Israeli national anthem, the Hatikvah – we know from statelessness! But so long as Palestinians are in the grasp of a murderous ideology that denies Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and views the territory ‘between the river and the sea’ as rightfully theirs, Israelis should not and will not accept a Palestinian state. It is in poor taste for Israel’s close allies to insist that Israel’s leaders prioritize the formulation of a plan for Palestinian statehood when the facts on the ground render the idea of one fanciful. Until such time as there emerges a Palestinian leadership that convincingly distances itself from the failed doctrines of fanatic antisemitism and eternal resistance against ‘occupation’ (even in Gaza, from which Israel unilaterally withdrew nearly two decades ago), a Palestinian state belongs in the same realm as Santa’s workshop and rainbow unicorns.
At the same time (as I wrote above), Israel has no desire to govern 2.3 million Gazans, and the majority of Israelis – consistent with Israel’s stated government policy – has no interest in settling any part of Gaza. Hence the best Palestinians can hope for is what Netanyahu refers to as a “state minus”, meaning an entity that has all the rights to govern itself and none of the ability to threaten Israel. It is easy these days to vilify Netanyahu. While his coalition remains in tenuous power, poll data make it clear that he is unpopular among Israelis, and his coalition partners on the far right are only more so. However, on the question of Palestinian statehood, it is highly doubtful whether there is significant daylight between Netanyahu and any of his likely successors. Bibi’s ability to resist international pressure to grant the Palestinians a state anyway, however undeserved, may be superior to that of any of his rivals. Who can see Gallant, Gantz or Lapid address a special session of the US Congress, as Netanyahu has already done three times (incidentally, the only foreign leader to do so besides one Winston Churchill), which is what it may eventually take to deter an increasingly hostile US administration? More than 125 days into this war, the bottom line of the seemingly intractable, multi-generational conflict of the Palestinians with the Israelis is exactly the same as it has been since before the creation of the State of Israel: we, the Jews, want a state; they, the Palestinians, don’t want us to have one. To paraphrase Golda Meir’s famous saying that “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us”, peace will come when the Palestinians want a state more than they want to deny us Jews ours. Lamentably, that is not happening anytime soon.