For a Post-Hamas Peace Process, the Palestinians and their Allies Must Change the Narrative

The historical record shows that the Palestinian policies are the main obstacle to Palestinian statehood. 
November 15, 2023
Protestors at a Pro-Palestine rally on October 10, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images

Hamas’ October 7, 2023 pogrom gravely harmed the body and spirit of the people of Israel. It simultaneously severely wounded the shrinking hope for a Palestinian state. The United States’ main hope for a post-Hamas new security order is to restart the Israel-Palestinian peace program. That can’t happen until (and unless) we can convince the Palestinians to change their narrative and decide to live with a Jewish state. 

I write as a Zionist Jew who still wishes there could be a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Zionism’s key teaching was that every people is entitled to the dignity of self-government. Therefore just as the Jews created a Jewish state, I hoped that the Palestinians would fulfill their dreams for self-determination. 

Two decades ago, a majority of Israelis supported the concept of two states existing together. The Hamas atrocity dramatizes why, by now, a majority of Israelis believe that the Palestinians are not fit or are too dangerous to have their own state.

The main cause that the Palestinians are stateless is that in their narrative, they premised their statehood on destroying the Jewish state. 

The main reason that the Palestinians are stateless is that they premised their statehood on destroying the Jewish state. On college campuses and elsewhere, the main justification of support for the Palestinians is the claim that Israel occupies Palestine and does not allow them a state. But the historical record shows that the Palestinian policies are the main obstacle to Palestinian statehood. 

In 1947, United Nations Resolution 181 called for the creation of an Arab state and a Jewish state. The Zionist leadership accepted this solution. Ben-Gurion chose Israel for the name of the Jewish state because he assumed that the Arabs would want the name Palestine for theirs. The neighboring Arab nations were determined to destroy the Jewish state rather than create the Arab state. In 1948, they invaded the Jewish state but were driven off at the cost of 1% of Israel’s population being killed or wounded. They did not care enough to create an Arab state then because they were focused on driving out the Jews. 

Between 1948 and 1967, the Arab nations isolated Israel politically, harassed it militarily and  boycotted it economically. Although Jordan controlled the West Bank and Egypt ruled over the Gaza Strip, they did nothing to create an Arab state because destroying Israel was their primary focus. 

When the Arab plan to drive the Jews into the sea was defeated in the Six Day War, the Arab League gathered in Khartoum, proclaiming no recognition [of Israel], no negotiations, no peace. They passed up a chance to negotiate formation of a Palestinian state because their priority was to eliminate the Jewish state. 

Palestinian life flourished under Israeli control. The Gross National Product of the West Bank grew by 12.9% annually between 1968 and 1978. The annual per capita income in the Gaza Strip rose from $80 in 1968 to over $1,700 over the next 25 years.Eighteen percent of Gaza’s infrastructure had electricity in 1967; by 1981, 89% had. There were no universities in the West Bank before 1967; seven were set up afterward. Civic and religious life (including the Muslim Brotherhood) flourished. However, there was frequent violence — and tight Israeli control. This generated a cycle of friction, repression, revenge-seeking and terror. Exposure to Israeli life and Israeli nationalism generated Palestinian nationalism.Thus Israeli possession of lands captured in a war of self-defense turned into an occupation. By the 1980’s,  the Palestinians demanded national dignity and a Palestinian state.

By the 1990s, the other Arab nations dropped out, leaving the Palestinians in charge of gaining their independence. However, the nascent nationalism was embedded in a policy of terrorism and a denial of the Jewish state’s right to exist. The PLO’s charter called for destruction of Israel. Hamas (founded in 1986) was driven by a religiously-based genocidal antisemitism. Its charter stated that its goal was not only to wipe out Israel but also to kill all Jews. It cited the infamous hadith about an apocalyptic war in which all the Jews — to the last ones — would be killed by Muslims.

The Oslo Accords sought to create a path to Palestinian sovereignty and peace but Arab terrorism surged, sustained in the territory which the PA controlled. In the 15 years after the Accords, over 1,500 Israelis were killed by terrorists compared to 270 in the 15 years before. The PLO removed the destruction of Israel from its charter — equivocally — while Arafat continued to play the terrorist card behind the scenes. In 2000 Ehud Barak was elected Prime Minister on a platform to make peace with the Palestinians and enable a Palestinian state. Despite Barak’s concessions and President Clinton’s mediation, the Palestinians never accepted the deal. Instead they launched the Second Intifada, a wave of terror, suicide bombings and violence that all but choked off normal daily life in Israel. Again, the Palestinian dream of eliminating the Jewish state was prioritized over gaining national sovereignty. The policy decimated the Israeli left politically. Many Israelis concluded that the Palestinians would never live in peace with the Jewish state and that the left was guilty of naivete and reckless disregard for security in proposing a Palestinian state. 

In 2004, Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw Jewish settlements from Gaza in order to separate from the Palestinians and reduce the exposure to terrorism. The Palestinian voters’ response in the next election (2006), was to give Hamas — an organization openly much more violent than the PLO — a majority. The excuse was that the PA was corrupt but the bottom line was that the Palestinians voted for a government dedicated to Israel’s destruction to represent them. The PLO suppressed the election but Hamas forcibly seized control of Gaza in 2007. From there, it continuously harassed Israel and terrorized the Jewish communities near Gaza. This cycle was punctuated by periodic IDF military operations that would quiet Hamas for a few years before the cycle resumed. 

In 2008, Prime Minister Olmert offered the Palestinian Authority sovereignty over 95% of the conquered territories and a symbolic return of 50-100,000 Palestinians to Israel. East Jerusalem would be their capital. Allowing Israel to retain 6.4% of the land (in order not to uproot most settlements) would be offset by land swap from Israel and international control of the Old City. Abbas rejected the plan by never accepting it — again because it entailed recognizing Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. 

This account is not meant to deny that from 1968 on, the process of West Bank settlement kept growing. There are now 500,000 Israelis living in the territories. This increased Palestinian doubts that Israel would allow a Palestinian state and created a growing constituency of Israelis opposed to a two-state solution. Terrorism against the settlers led to tighter Israeli controls and checkpoints, which increased friction, anger and humiliation among Palestinians. This acknowledgement is offset by the Palestinian Authority’s ongoing policies of both tolerating terrorism as well as cooperating with Israel’s security services to prevent it. Similarly, the PA funds Israeli-imprisoned terrorists and their families. The more heinous the terrorists’ acts were, the greater the funding level (“pay to slay”). The PA continuously incited its population against Israel. It taught hatred and instilled jihad and martyrdom values in its children and school curricula. It glorified and honored as holy martyrs people who committed despicable terrorist acts. Internationally, the Palestinians actively pursued alliances that outlawed Israel and policies denying its legitimacy. 

The record shows that the Palestinians are responsible for their own failure to achieve sovereignty. Still, their allies have a grave responsibility for encouraging them to persist in their ruinous policy rather than turn to peace.

From the ’50s to the ’80s, the neighboring Arab countries tried to eliminate the Jewish state.  Israel was excluded and boycotted and demonized in Arab media and culture. Anwar Sadat broke ranks and made peace with Israel — but in retaliation he was assassinated by Islamic extremists. The primary Arab allies were the Soviet Union and the satellite countries in that evil empire. The Soviets supported the continuous delegitimation of the Jewish state in the United Nations. They even spearheaded UN Resolution 3379 in 1975, condemning Zionism as racism. The label of racism was meant to communicate that Israel is beyond the pale. After Arab defeats, as in 1967 and 1973, instead of suggesting that they make peace, the Soviet Union supported them in hanging on to their genocidal fantasies and resupplied them with weapons. The Soviet Union provided training and arms for terrorists, and never even rebuked the murderous policy against Israel. They never pressed for non-genocidal policies.

Terrorism was glorified as resistance instead of being condemned as inhumane and criminal. How were the Palestinians to change policies, if their allies egged them on? 

Similarly, as the Palestinians became the poster child for opposition to Israel, the radical left and rogue human rights organizations adopted their cause without trying to remove its murderous edge.  It is shocking that the language of dignity and human rights was hijacked and put in the service of terror and genocide. The growing Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement — like the increasing use of the apartheid term to label Israel — was meant to evoke the outlaw white supremacist state of South Africa and put Israel in the same category. Terrorism was glorified as resistance instead of being condemned as inhumane and criminal. How were the Palestinians to change policies, if their allies egged them on? 

In the 21st century, as ideologies like intersectionality and group identity politics grew, the radical left falsely claimed that Israel was the enemy of all oppressed minorities, whereas it was Hamas which degraded and “honor killed” women. Israel worked to eliminate discrimination against LGBTQs, whereas Hamas threw gays off the roof. The Ethnic Studies associations that called for boycotts of Israeli institutions never challenged Hamas’ blatant antisemitism or its genocidal ideology. Instead they used the language of colonial settlers to describe the Jews. Thus they denied three thousand years of Jewish connection to the land of Israel. They falsely “whited out” the 50% of Israel that is Mizrachim (descendants of Sephardic Jews driven out of Arab countries) and the Ethiopian Jews — while the Palestinians were dubbed indigenous people of color. They could have criticized the Israeli policies on the West Bank and urged the Palestinians to focus on building their own state.  They chose to suborn genocide by placing the Israelis in a category of people that had no right to exist. 

We need to push back at the Ilhan Omars and Rashida Tlaibs of the Democratic Party for using the rhetoric of justice to legitimate terrorism and twisting the language of human rights to provide alibis to those who would carry out genocide. 

Even the United States and Western European nations which sought to bring about a two-state solution fell down on the job. They understood Israel’s vulnerability and legitimate concerns about being put beyond the pale. They offered diplomatic support and even military arms assistance. But they pressed Israel to look away from Palestinian eliminationism. They told Israel that once peace and the Palestinian state was established, the Palestinians could be persuaded to stop the incitement and the hatred. The constant rain of UN resolutions condemning Israel was criticized and many were vetoed by America. Still, except for the idiosyncratic Trump administration, UNESCO and UNWRA were not confronted and forced to stop strengthening the denial of Israel’s right to exist. 

The Western powers should have said to the PA that we will stand fast for a two-state solution. But every time that you pursue the policies of delegitimation, when you continue to instill hatred in curricula and tolerate genocidal language and behaviors, we will pause our activity on your behalf until you change course.

When Hamas was elected by the Palestinians, the United States should have said that we will not proceed until you repudiate this genocidal movement as your representative. When Israel was driven to military action, the Western powers intervened to check it or close it down. They failed to press the Palestinians to turn from terrorism to building an economy and just society that would win the trust of Israelis enough to risk allowing them more autonomy and even sovereignty someday. The hastily imposed ceasefires were meant to minimize Palestinian casualties but the net result was the murderous rampage of Hamas on October 7. Now to end the unbearable terrorism, the drive on Gaza will cause more casualties on Israel’s side and on the Palestinian side, no matter what efforts will be made to minimize civilian losses. 

Only strong feedback to the Palestinians that they must give up the culture of demonizing Israel and wishing for the death and suffering of Israelis can turn the Palestinians from their ruinous strategy. The moderate Arab state must join in the pressure.

Both Israel and the powers that seek a solution for both sides must make clear to the Palestinians that developing new non-corrupt leadership (hopefully democratic) and turning to building a decent non-violent society is their best and only hope of winning back the trust of Israelis. Renouncing revenge and victimhood and making a better life for themselves, however long that takes, is the only path to a better Palestinian future. The choice is in the Palestinians’ hands.

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg serves as the President of the J.J. Greenberg Institute for the Advancement of Jewish Life (JJGI) and as Senior Scholar in Residence at Hadar.

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