Martin Fletcher
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The opportunity within the catastrophe

Jews and Arabs have shown they can live together in peace, but first, there must be a reckoning with both sides' leaders
Palestinians at the site of an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip. December 9, 2023 (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)
Palestinians at the site of an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip. December 9, 2023 (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

Can this war lead to peace? Two conditions must be met first. Israel must understand that force is not the answer to everything. And the Palestinians must realize that time is not on their side.

Is this savage round of Israel-Hamas fighting the long-overdue wake-up call? Hard to imagine as the bombs fall and entire Arab families are decimated; as Israel is traumatized and hunting Hamas. But will a peace process emerge from such horror?

The Oslo agreement in ‘93 was an attempt, but a true peace process, not just lip service and political maneuvering, has been a long time coming – 87 years – since 1936, when the British ruled over Palestine and tried to get the two sides to stop fighting. That’s when the Peel Commission essentially threw its hands into the air and gave up. Here is its conclusion:

“An irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country. There is no common ground between them. Their national aspirations are incompatible. The Arabs desire to revive the traditions of the Arab golden age. The Jews desire to show what they can achieve when restored to the land in which the Jewish nation was born. Neither of the two national ideals permits of combination in the service of a single State.”

That was the death knell of the one-state solution. Enter the two-state solution – partition. Ten years later the newly-founded United Nations voted to divide Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea into two states. The leaders of the Yishuv, the pre-state Jewish community, agreed, on the assumption that something is better than nothing and that they could somehow gain the rest of the land in the future. The Arab League had no such delusions and chose war. In May 1948, five Arab nations, total population thirty million, invaded Israel, barely a day old, with a population of eight hundred thousand.

Israel won and the rest is history. 

But what is the future? Can Jews and Arabs live together in peace?

Yes, and the proof is in Israel. Of Israel’s population of nine million today, two million are Arabs, and all have the same basic rights. The West Bank is proof of the opposite. It is an incendiary place where the Peel Commission’s pessimistic conclusion is played out daily. Gaza is even worse: a glimpse into the future of a land without peace.

I believe that when the dust has settled, graves are dug, families reunited, homes rebuilt, borders reopened, trade resumed, scores will be settled. Not between Arabs and Jews. But each with their leaders, who led them down this bloody dead-end.

Netanyahu has to go. So does Hamas. Each has ruled for much of the last twenty years. All they have in common is their rejection of a peace process. Netanyahu wants all the land. So does Hamas. For them war was, is, and will be, inevitable.

Just as inevitable after today’s carnage will be calls to end the cycle of provocation, fighting, ceasefire, and to find a way to live together. In Israel, there will be new elections that will end the reign of King Bibi, as his opponents call him. New leaders will emerge from the hundreds of thousands who demonstrated against him every week for almost a year before the war interrupted their protests against his attempt to take control of the legal system.

In Gaza, the bloodthirsty leadership of Hamas must be swept away by new leaders who value life over death. And in the West Bank, their rivals, the corrupt gerontocracy of the Palestinian Authority, must be replaced by younger leaders who will join with the new leaders in Gaza to negotiate with one Palestinian voice.

This can be the outcome of this latest, and by far most horrific, war between Israel and Hamas, their fifth in seventeen years.

There are two external conditions that must be fulfilled too. The United States must wield a big stick to get this done. And Iran must be stopped from destroying the region. 

It all sounds like a tall order. But in history, opportunity often proceeds from catastrophe, and this is one of those moments.

About the Author
Martin Fletcher served as NBC News Mideast correspondent and bureau chief in Tel Aviv for 28 years, winning almost every award in television journalism, including five Emmy’s. He has written seven books. Walking Israel won the National Jewish book Award in America for non fiction and Promised Land was a finalist in the fiction category. He is the only author to be honored in both categories.
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