Israel has resumed its military operations in Gaza on December 2 after a seven-day pause. This time, the focus is on bombarding southern Gaza. When Israel initiated its counteroffensive after a surprise attack by Hamas on October 7, in which approximately 1200 Israelis were killed, residents of northern Gaza were advised to relocate. Reportedly Israel is using AI models to target civilian buildings in Gaza for maximum impact. To kill one Hamas fighter, they are prepared to kill hundreds of innocent civilians. In southern Gaza, they are focusing on “power targets,” which are buildings eight storeys or higher.
This has forced even US Vice President Kamala Harris, who has been largely silent on the war in Gaza, to call on Israel to exercise restraint. While in Dubai for the COP28 summit, she said, “Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed. Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering and the images and videos coming from Gaza are devastating.”
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Israel might secure a tactical victory but by attacking civilians it may end up suffering a strategic defeat. At a defense forum in California on December 2, he said, citing what the US learned from its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, “The lesson is that you can only win in urban warfare by protecting civilians.” And, for the first time, even the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who had stood next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv and called himself an American Jew, called upon Israel to exercise restraint.
Despite all these calls for restraint from the US, Israel is showing no signs of listening to the US, despite receiving $130 billion in military aid from the US since its inception in 1948 and despite receiving unqualified political support from the US in the UN and in all other global forums. Such a one-sided relationship in which the client state dominates the patron state does not exist anywhere else on the planet.
There appears to be no end in sight to Israel’s self-stated war of “self-defense.” The goal is to get the hostages back, exterminate Hamas and ensure Israel’s security going forward. While several experts have said that there is no military solution in Gaza, Israel has tuned them out.
The two-state solution that has been supported by multiple US presidents dating back to the Oslo Accords of 1993, remains a chimera. The Accords laid out a process for creating a two-state solution over the next decade. Two decades later, the vision of a two-state solution is nowhere in sight. In fact, the process came to a halt in 2008.
As noted in my last column, Netanyahu has no intention to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel has been occupying in flagrant violation of international law for 57 long years since the Six Day War. He has been consistently opposed to the two-state solution from the time the Oslo Accords were signed. He reiterated his opposition in 2015, as reported in the Time of Israel.
As Dahlia Scheindlin wrote in a recent Foreign Affairs article, Israel is unlikely to change its position even when Netanyahu is gone. Regardless of who is in power, the nation of 10 million continues to think it can sideline the notion of a Palestinian state without suffering any consequences. She writes, “Thus, there had been no Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on a final status peace deal for years, even as Israel pursued normalization with a growing number of Arab states. Over the course of more than two decades, the right-wing parties dominating the Israeli political scene had promised voters that the country was more secure than it would be under any other policy, and the majority of voters agreed.”
Within Israel there has been an irreversible swing toward right-wing extremism. “[J]ust five days before the Hamas attacks, aChord, a social psychology research center affiliated with Hebrew University, conducted a survey that found that two-thirds of Jewish Israelis identified as right-wing (either “firm right” or “moderate right”) while ten percent identified as left. This meant that for every Jewish Israeli voter on the left, the trend was moving toward nearly seven on the right. Based on this stark data, it would be remarkable if Israelis did not move further to the right in the wake of the worst episode of violence against Israelis since the country’s founding.”
This swing to the right does not bode well either for Israel’s security or economic development, let alone for the life and safety of the Palestinians living in the occupied territories or even within Israel itself. Such a grandiose strategy is not sustainable. It’s myopic.
One plausible outcome of the current crisis, Scheindlin argues, might be a shift to a new government led by a retired army general, Benny Gantz, who’s also a politician. Given his long military record and the presence of former Likud members in his party, “he carries legitimacy on the right and will want to maintain it. Moreover, there is little in Gantz’s own rhetoric to suggest he would veer significantly from the right’s existing approach to the Palestinian problem.” Gantz has never openly supported a two-state solution, or any political resolution of the Palestinian issue for that matter. As recently as last year, he said he was against the idea of “two states for two people.”
Within Israel there has been an irreversible swing toward right-wing extremism... This swing to the right does not bode well either for Israel’s security or economic development, let alone for the life and safety of the Palestinians living in the occupied territories or even within Israel itself. Such a grandiose strategy is not sustainable. It’s myopic.
The relationship between Israelis and Palestinians has been tense from the time Israel was created in 1948. In the early 1900s, the Jewish population in what was then called Palestine was less than 10 percent. That population increased as Jews started arriving from eastern Europe and other parts of the globe. They seized lands and property belonging to 700,000 Palestinians who had lived there for centuries and drove them out. Today, Palestinians constitute only 20 percent of the population of Israel.
The territory covered by Israel has increased dramatically from what was given to it by the UN.
Given all the violence that has plagued the history of Israel and Palestine, it’s time to revisit the one-state solution. Nearly a quarter century ago, Professor Edward Said, easily one of the most thoughtful intellectuals on the subject, published a cogent article in The New York Times. He was a professor of English and comparative literature at the Columbia University and among his many publications was the classic, Orientalism.
Writing in January 1999, he said that “Oslo set the stage for separation, but real peace can come only with a binational Israeli-Palestinian state.” That was a prescient statement. The best analogy to a one-state solution is South Africa, a country that had long been characterised by white supremacy and apartheid. Peace did not arrive by bifurcating the country into white and black states but by creating a single state where all citizens had equal rights, regardless of ethnicity.
He continued, “It’s unfair to berate the Palestinians… for not accepting partition in 1947. Until 1948, Jews held only about 7 percent of the land. Why, the Arabs said… should we concede 55 percent of Palestine to the Jews?” He asked why a Jew born in Warsaw or New York had the right to settle in Palestine, citing Israel’s Law of Return, whereas the Palestinians who lived there for centuries did not. The situation deteriorated after the Six Day War, after Israel occupied Gaza and the West Bank.
In the ensuing decades, the Palestinians endured humiliation. They become depressed, then depression turned into anger and anger turned into armed hostility. This pattern is common to all occupied people in history.
Said wrote that there are far too many people in Israel who want an entirely Jewish state and there are far too many Palestinians who don’t want to “chafe forever” at being the inferior party in a Jewish polity. That has prevented a one-state solution from coming to pass.
Even in 1999, he saw that the idea both sides had of a state just for themselves was dead on arrival. The Palestinians cannot wish Israel away. Nor can Israel push all the Palestinians out of the occupied territories. Prophetically, he wrote that neither side could prevail militarily over the other, yet they refused to accept that fact, reconcile their differences and live in peace.
He noted that in the fall of 1998, the Israeli army expropriated land within Israel, not in the West Bank, that was owned by Palestinians, treating them as “a sort of underclass existing in a condition of apartheid.” He cited an Arab member of the Knesset, Azmi Bishara, who said that Israel needs to enlarge the concept of citizenship “as a way to get beyond ethnic and religious criteria that now make Israel in effect an undemocratic state for 20 percent of its population.”
He recalled that over the years several Jewish thinkers had argued and agitated for binational state. The essence of their vision was “coexistence and sharing in ways that require an innovative, daring and theoretical willingness to get beyond the arid stalemate of assertion and rejection.”
Hamas should know it cannot be victorious over Israel. By attacking Israel on October 7 and catching it by surprise may have been a moment of exultation but it triggered a reprisal that destroyed what was left of Gaza, killed thousands of innocent Palestinians and injured tens of thousands.
Yet right-wing Israelis aggressively asserted their military superiority and stated over and over again that they had won the war and, thus, the land was their land. While this assertion of “exclusive domain” was held by a minority of Israelis in 1999 when Said penned these words, it is even more true today since Israeli politics have taken a significant shift to the right.
Left with no recourse after nearly six decades of occupation, in which two generations of Palestinians have been born into servitude, Palestinian politics are now plagued by anger and violence directed at Israel. The attack by Hamas was yet another manifestation of that phenomenon.
Hamas should know it cannot be victorious over Israel. By attacking Israel on October 7 and catching it by surprise may have been a moment of exultation, but it triggered a reprisal that destroyed what was left of Gaza, killed thousands of innocent Palestinians and injured tens of thousands. In addition, it brought grief and despair to the two billion Muslims around the world who represent a quarter of the world’s population.
Hamas must know that the Arab world, and not just the western world, has accepted Israel’s right to exist and that acts of terror are destined to invite retaliation and fail. Thus, just 1500 miles away, the UAE is hosting the COP28 summit, discussing long-term solutions to managing climate change, ignoring the very near term problems that are taking place in Gaza where children, mothers and fathers, doctors and patients are being slaughtered in the worst traditions of Genghis Khan.
Both Israelis and Palestinians would be well advised to heed the advice proffered by Said in 1999. He said Israel needs to be transformed into a binational state where an Israeli and a Palestinian would have the same privileges. Today, Israel does not have a constitution. It needs to create a constitution and a bill of rights so it gets beyond “Square 1 of the conflict … and [provides] each group … the same right to self-determination; that is, the right to practice communal life in its own (Jewish or Palestinian) way, perhaps in federated cantons, with a joint capital in Jerusalem, equal access to land and inalienable secular and juridical rights. Neither side should be held hostage to religious extremists.”
Reaching an agreement on the one-state solution won’t be easy, given the dominant role of extremists on both sides. But the alternative is dire.