Discover more from Rationalist Judaism
Israel and the Palestinians: A Realistic Plan
Disposing of delusions on all sides
After thirty years of living in Israel, I’ve noticed that many people, on the left and on the right, inside the country and out of it, subject themselves to wishful thinking regarding the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Recently, I discovered that many of my views on this are shared by others, most prominently by Dr. Einat Wilf. Based on these observations, here is a brief sketch of what the delusions are, and what emerges as the only realistic approach. (And just as a reminder - while I am the director of the Biblical Museum of Natural History, the museum is not political, and the views expressed here are mine alone.) I sent this to both right- and left- leaning friends for their feedback, which I largely incorporated.
Sherlock Holmes famously said, “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” To paraphrase that for the Israel/Palestinian conflict: When you have eliminated all which is delusional, then whatever remains, however difficult or unpleasant, must be the correct approach. And there are many, many delusions that must be eliminated - among Palestinians, among the left wing, and among the right wing.
1: Palestinian Delusions
1.1 Delusions about Jewish history
The Palestinians do not accept the historical fact that the Jewish People have an ancient connection to the Land of Israel, even though this is historical fact. Temple denial has become standard among Islamic political leaders, religious figures, intellectuals, and authors. Accordingly, they reject the idea that Jews have any claim to sovereignty in any part of Israel. This delusion must be acknowledged, fought and dispelled.
1.2 Delusions about Israel
In line with the previous delusion, the Palestinians believe that Israelis are nothing more than European immigrants, and therefore believe that with sufficient pressure, the Jews will all give up on the Israel project and leave. Accordingly, Palestinians are willing to engage in endless harm and self-harm, because they believe that in the end, they will succeed in destroying Israel. They need to accept that Israel is here to stay, and that “From the River to the Sea” will never happen.
1.3 Delusions about the Arab world
The Palestinians also believe that the rest of the Arab world will endlessly support them in their self-destructive quest to destroy Israel. They have to realize that while Israel is a convenient way for Arab countries to distract their citizens from their own problems, they don’t actually care about the Palestinians, and some are gradually going to realize that they have more to gain by ignoring them.
2: Left-Wing Delusions
These are delusions that used to be widespread among the Israeli Left; they have since largely disappeared from Israel but are still prevalent in the West.
2.1 Delusions about the Palestinians
The delusion regarding Palestinians, formerly prevalent in Israel and still widespread in the West, is that Palestinians want the same things that everyone else wants: sovereignty, freedom, prosperity, and so on. But this ignores what Palestinians themselves have been saying for a century and what their actions have made clear.
As British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin observed in February 1947, before Israel occupied the West Bank, before Israel even existed: “For the Jews the essential point of principle is the creation of a sovereign Jewish State. For the Arabs, the essential point of principle is to resist to the last the establishment of Jewish sovereignty in any part of Palestine.” The fundamental priority for the Palestinians is not for them to have a state; it is for the Jews not to have one. It has not changed since then. This is the “River to the Sea” ideology.
This is not something “genetic” in Palestinians. Rather, it’s what their culture and national identity has always been about and still is all about. It’s theoretically possible for this to change, but there are no signs of it changing at the moment.
The Israeli Left, who so passionately believed that there would be peace if the Palestinians would have a state, woke up to reality when the Palestinians turned down every deal that was proposed. And the Palestinians didn’t propose any alternative. Instead, they launched the Second Intifada, blowing up civilians in buses and restaurants, despite the harm that this did to their own society.
Then, when Israel withdrew from Gaza, the Palestinians voted in Hamas. They received billions of dollars in international aid, but instead of using that to build up Gaza, or even to build bomb shelters, they used it to build attack tunnels and get weapons to attack civilians in Israel.
And while there are many in Gaza who oppose Hamas, what they oppose is their corruption or strategy; they don’t oppose the desire to annihilate Israel. Contrary to popular belief, Hamas are not an aberration in Gaza. The October 7th massacre has widespread support in Gaza (as well as the West Bank, where 84 percent supported it).
It should be appreciated that this widespread support for the massacre exists notwithstanding the catastrophic results for Gaza. This reflects a death culture in which suicide and even the deaths of infants is valued and lauded when it results in killing Jews and inflicting harm on Israel. The priority is not Palestinian welfare; it’s the destruction of Israel.
The Israeli Left has since disappeared. Even the few remaining people in the Labor Party accept that Israel has to destroy Hamas. And nobody in Israel believes that giving the Palestinians a state would result in peace and security. Unfortunately, in the West, these delusions are still prevalent.
2.2 Delusions about the International Community
A second delusion which was widespread in Israel for a long time was that if Israel did stop controlling Palestinians, and the Palestinians nevertheless continued to attack Israel, the international community would accept Israel’s right to defend itself. But after Israel withdrew from Gaza, and Hamas fired rockets into towns in Israel, we saw otherwise. Hamas uses civilian shields, such that whenever Israel tries to neutralize Hamas, there are inevitable civilian deaths. Despite the fact that civilian deaths are both inevitable and legal in such circumstances, much of the West nevertheless blames Israel. As such, it became clear to everyone in Israel that if the Palestinians were to have a state in the West Bank and then use it to attack Israel, the international community would protest Israel defending itself.
2.3 Delusions about Statehood
A third delusion is that every nation automatically deserves and gets a state. This simply isn’t the case. There are dozens and dozens of nations in the world that, for various reasons, do not have a state. Some of them have autonomy, to a greater or lesser degree. Some of them are seeking statehood. Some get it, and many do not. There are many, many factors involved. (Still, others may argue that the idea that the world will accept that the Palestinians do not deserve a state is itself a delusion.)
3: Right Wing Delusions
The left wing delusions have been easy to expose and dispel among Israelis, and very difficult to expose and dispel among Westerners. The right wing delusions are a little more challenging to dispel among some Israelis.
3.1 Delusions about Palestinian history
The right wing believes (or acts as if it believes) that the Palestinians are nothing more than a group of recent immigrants with no national identity. The fact is that while many Palestinians immigrated in the 20th century for work opportunities, many others have lived in Israel/Palestine for many centuries. Accordingly, they also have a legitimate claim to statehood - albeit, as noted earlier, not everyone with a claim to statehood actually gets one. And while they did not historically have a national identity, they certainly have one now, even if it is only based around the destruction of Israel.
3.2 Delusions about Palestinians today
The right wing believes (or acts as if it believes) that the problems with Palestinians can be controlled or solved. This is a delusion.
The Palestinians are not going anywhere. There is no way to transfer them out of the country. Nor is it possible to prevent all terrorist attacks from occurring. There are millions of Palestinians; however good the IDF is, they will never be able to prevent all attacks. Ben Gvir and extremist settlers yelling and waving guns do not bring security, and cause enormous political damage. This past government was the most right-wing government ever, and yet Oct. 7th happened.
Furthermore, there are those among the two million Israeli Arabs who are also hostile to Israel, which could turn into violence (as happened in the Lod riots), and for which there is no perfect security solution. The extreme right-wing professes to want to give them less government money, but this does not help them become loyal citizens.
3.3 Delusions about International Politics
The third right-wing delusion is that Israel need not concern itself with what the international community thinks. This viewpoint is often found among Israelis who do not speak English and simply do not understand international politics. Smotrich, for example, recently tweeted that by now, the IDF should have had Hamas begging for mercy. Yet the only way this could have been accomplished is either with a massive ground invasion that would have cost hundreds of IDF lives, or a massive bombing campaign that would have killed hundreds of thousands of Gazans.
Israel can ignore UN condemnations from endless tinpot dictatorships. But good relationships with strong democracies and especially the US are of critical importance. We need them for military support and for economic survival.
Keeping millions of Palestinians under Israeli control without the equal rights that are expected in democracies creates a serious problem for those relationships. We have to show that we accept that this is a problematic situation and that we are striving for a solution.
4. The Path Forward
4.1 General Approach
The general approach has to be that Israel shows itself to be open to an eventual Palestinian state, but simultaneously makes absolutely clear that this cannot happen until there has been a RADICAL transformation in Palestinian society. The goal of Palestinians must be to improve their own society rather than to destroy Israel, and they must accept the legal and moral right of the Jewish People to have a sovereign state in their ancient homeland - something that no Palestinian of note has yet done.
Such a societal transformation is very, very difficult to do. But it is not impossible. It was successfully done with Germany and Japan after World War II. It requires massive international efforts. But it is the only way to transform a culture of death and destruction into a productive society.
4.2 Approach for Gaza
First, Hamas must be crushed. This is not only for the innate reason of the evil that Hamas embodies and with which it threatens Israel. It is also because it must be made clear to everyone, especially in the Middle East where power earns respect, that such an abuse of power does not succeed in any way.
It must be recognized that any resources that come to Gaza are not going to be used to improve Gaza; instead, they will be used to further attack Israel. Cement will be used to make tunnels, not build housing or civilian shelters. Fuel will be stockpiled for rockets and terror operations. Accordingly, in the absence of some ironclad way to stop this from happening, no such resources can be allowed in. There should be a responsible international body - not the UN - to take charge of Gaza and rebuild society in a healthy way.
And the residents of Gaza must have the opportunity to emigrate elsewhere if that is what they want. All the countries that profess to care about the Palestinians in Gaza, living in an overcrowded territory under a terrible regime, must come up with a solution for at least some of them to be able to live elsewhere. Israel provided a home for millions of Jewish refugees fleeing persection all over the world - the Arab world and the international community must do similarly for Palestinians who want a better life.
4.3 Approach for the West Bank
Israel must make clear two things at the same time, two things that might appear contradictory but are not. One is that the Palestinians are not currently ready for statehood, and nor are they ready for it at any time in the foreseeable future, given their “River to the Sea” death culture; the other is that a Palestinian state is nevertheless a genuine eventual possibility, if and when Palestinian society is radically transformed and it would be safe to allow it.
Accordingly, while Israel can and should develop - and annex - major settlement blocs that will always remain part of Israel, it must simultaneously completely stop all development in remote settlements that would not be part of an eventual contiguous Palestinian state. We must show the world that we are serious about peace with the Palestinians, IF they should ever reach a stage that they are truly ready for it. Only then will we be taken seriously when we point out that they are currently not at all ready for it.
4.4 Approach for Israeli Arabs
Israeli Arabs who show willingness to reject the traditional Palestinian attitudes to Israel must be applauded and encouraged. Specifically, Mansour Abbas of the Ra’am party, who radically changed the approach of Israeli Arabs, must be encouraged and strengthened. This is crucial to Israel’s long-term security interests.
4.5 Approach for the International Community
The international community has to accept that a radical overhaul of Palestinian culture is needed. This requires several components.
First, it must be made clear to Egypt and Jordan that the cold peace must be warmed up. Specifically, they have to stop fostering antisemitism and the Palestinian death culture.
At the same time, the Abraham Accords must be applauded and encouraged, along with the further development of genuinely warm relationships with Arab countries that are willing to disregard and hopefully disavow the Palestinian “River to the Sea” death culture.
The Palestinian refugees in other Arab countries must be settled there. The idea of the “Right to Return,” which equals the destruction of Israel, must be utterly off the table. The goal with every other group of refugees is resettlement; the same must apply here.
In order to accomplish that, UNRWA, which is basically a Palestinian organization that encourages Palestinian death culture, must either be disbanded or radically overhauled. This is probably the greatest challenge. But without it, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continue forever, to everyone’s detriment.
We must dispel all the dangerous delusions. Only then can we hope for a much better future for everyone.
Rationalist Judaism is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.