When it comes to the conflict with the Palestinians, the Israeli right and the Israeli left are both partially correct and partially wrong, and they both leave Israel incapable of resolving a conflict that is crucial to its citizens’ security now and in the future.
The continued conflict with the Palestinians is an existential threat to Israel just as dangerous as the Iranian regime and perhaps more, but while Israel’s parties are united against the Iranian threat, they are badly divided against the Palestinian threat. Worse still, they undermine each other’s efforts.
When there is a national crisis, most politicians tend to put aside partisanship to unite and face the problem. Most politicians did so during the COVID crisis. But when the problem is not imminent or not widely seen as serious, politicians prefer to take positions that benefit them in the short term. Israeli politicians do not typically see the Palestinian threat as a national crisis, but they are wrong. It is a bigger crisis than COVID ever was because while COVID killed 12,177 Israelis, the Palestinian threat is likely to destroy the whole Jewish state if not addressed appropriately.
The Palestinians are already united in their approach to the conflict, and they have been united from the start: they want no Jewish state anywhere on the land that they consider Palestine. While it is easy to dismiss them as disorganized and ineffective against Israel’s powerful military, the Palestinians have already achieved a key strategic advantage: dividing their enemy, the Israeli people.
Many Israelis, perhaps most, see themselves as hopelessly divided on the conflict with the Palestinians, but they need to start seeing that this division is not an option. They can start by acknowledging that both right and left are partially correct and partially wrong, and that they need to come together and form a coherent national position based on facts and realism, a position that every government of every stripe would pursue just as they do with the strategy against the Iranian threat.
The left is wrong when they talk of negotiated solutions. The Palestinian leadership will not agree to any solution that is reasonable to Israel. If the many failed negotiations are not convincing enough then look at what happened in the Palestinian-controlled territories when a terrorist killed seven innocent Israelis in a Jerusalem synagogue: they celebrated and passed out treats. Such hatred is beyond any sense of rationality. It is extremely naïve to imagine that people who would cheer the murder of innocent people, including a 14-year-old child, would agree to a peace agreement if only the borders are just right.
But the left is correct when they say that the ever-expanding settlements in the West Bank are fatal to Israel in the long run. Annexation or de-facto annexation is not a workable solution, not because of international opposition but because it would inextricably link the future of Israelis and Palestinians, guaranteeing that Israel would not survive as a democratic and Jewish state and most likely not even as a Jewish state. At best, Israel would become a weak country in constant internal conflict, not unlike Lebanon.
Conversely, the right is wrong to continue expanding settlements without regard to the real danger that they represent. I understand the impulse for doing this. Why should Israel care about preserving the possibility of a two-state solution when the Palestinians show no credible interest in it? The decision of the Israeli government to “expand settlements” in response to terrorism may feel like a fair punishment, but who is really going to be punished by this? Not the terrorists. The more Israelis live in areas surrounded by Palestinians, the more opportunities are available to terrorists. Wise leaders do not take actions just because they feel good in the moment but because they provide good outcomes in the longer term for the people that they lead.
But the right is correct in their distrust of and their disdain of the Palestinian Authority. While the PA has coordinated security with Israel, its continued financial incentives to terrorists and its continued incitement against Israel indicate that the PA isn’t really opposed to terrorism.
Both right and left have streaks of realism, but in both cases the realism is mitigated by naïve idealism that practically negates it. One core principle that right and left must agree on is that Israel must maintain a large Jewish majority with minimal dependence on the Palestinians.
One potential approach is for the separation from the Palestinians to be designed by Israel and solely by Israel. The borders could be drawn by Israel, taking into account the locations of existing large settlements and taking into account security considerations. The security enforcement would be designed and implemented by Israel, unlike in Gaza where Israel withdrew the IDF with no plans on what to do next. The main objective would be the security of Israelis today and in the future.
This would be a hard pill to swallow for the United States and Europe who still labor under the delusion that the Palestinian Authority will one day come around. It would be even harder for Israel’s Arab peace partners to accept. But the broader the Israeli collation that promotes this approach, the most likely it will be accepted. Israel’s friends and partners must be made to understand that Israel cannot indefinitely allow its future to depend on the whims of a Palestinian public that is no closer to accepting Israel today than it was 75 years ago when Israel declared its independence.
The big advantage of this approach in terms of rallying international support is that it would give the world a stable and functioning solution rather than never-ending conflict and shifting positions. The world’s efforts could then change from promoting pointless negotiations to helping the Palestinians accept reality and build a state that can run its own economy and enforce its own security.
But whether this is the approach that is agreed to or whether it is a different one, it is essential that there be one. Israelis, as a united country, have defeated every attack or threat that they faced, but somewhere along the way, due to faults on both left and right, they lost their unity against the Palestinian threat. They need to defeat the Palestinian threat just as they defeated others, but they can do that only if they find their unity again.