As Israel frees Gaza from Hamas and other terrorists, the Palestinians have a new opportunity. They can cooperate with Israel in Gaza. They can help install a new security regime that prevents the return of terrorism. They can work with Israel and other regional governments in building an economy in Gaza.
Essentially, they can demonstrate that they can run a peaceful state next to Israel. In time, that would translate into a wider agreement with Israel which would include the formal creation of a Palestinian state in Gaza and part of the West Bank.
But unfortunately for the Palestinians, this is not likely to happen.
The Palestinian Authority is too dysfunctional, and it is receiving no support from the rest of the Arab world to reform itself. Most Arab governments are barely functional themselves. Saudi Arabia has apparently a plan for the Palestinians as part of normalization with Israel, but that is now on hold because the Saudi rulers don’t dare appear to be on Israel’s side while Israel is fighting Arabs, even if those Arabs are Hamas. But what is the likelihood that the Saudi plan will turn a dysfunctional PA into a semi-decently functioning government? Zero, I suspect.
Old habits are hard to change. Since before Israel declared independence in May 1948, the Arab world has seen the Palestinians as nothing other than pawns to be used against Israel, except when they saw them as convenient cheap labour that deserved no rights in the Arab states where they lived. The Arab world has never seen them as a people that deserves a state.
And that is pretty much the way Palestinians see themselves as well. They invariably define themselves in terms of opposition to Israel, not in their own terms.
When the United Nation General Assembly approved in 1947 a partition plan giving the Jews a state and the Arabs a state next to it, the Jews jumped at the opportunity because they were eager to have a state, no matter how small. The Arabs, however, turned it down flat. The Palestinians turned down every opportunity for a state since then.
When Israel handed Gaza over to the Palestinians unconditionally in 2005, they could have built the start of a state there. Instead, they kept Palestinians in refugees in camps in Gaza with the plan of sending back to “Palestine” when Israel was destroyed. They regularly attacked Israel. They built an immense terrorist network, including tunnels (estimated to span 500 kilometers), with the sole purpose of attacking Israel. They did nothing to turn Gaza into a livable place for Palestinian families.
The Palestinians didn’t do much better in the West Bank. It is relatively peaceful compared to Gaza only because Israel controls security. And the places where security is the worst in the West Bank are the places that Israel doesn’t control directly, i.e., area A, but Israel still must go in often to those places to clean up the security mess that the PA cannot clean up.
It all comes down to the Palestinian mindset. To become a real nation, the Palestinians must behave like a real nation. They have never done that. They have always behaved like an anti-nation. For all practical purposes, they are not the Palestinian people, they are the anti-Israel people.
I suspect that this is why when news came out of the massacre perpetrated by Hamas on October 7, the immediate reaction of Palestinians and their friends was to celebrate. The reaction was not to worry about the likely consequences on the Palestinians of Gaza, or even less to worry about the lives of Israelis. Their mindset is that anything that is bad for Israelis is good for Palestinians, no matter the morality of what was done and no matter the long-term consequences to the Palestinians.
But maybe the Palestinians will prove me wrong.
Maybe the shock of Israel destroying Hamas will wake up something in the Palestinian psyche. Maybe they will finally think, is this what we really want as a people? Maybe they will start teaching real history in Palestinian schools. Maybe they will have a free and honest press. Maybe they will reject terrorism. Maybe they will make nation building their top priority. Maybe they will embrace cooperation and conciliation. Maybe they will be proud of who they are rather than being obsessed with whom they want to destroy.
Honestly, I wish for the sake of the Palestinians that I am wrong, but I doubt it.