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Now’s Not the Time to Talk About a Palestinian State

Israeli parents must have full confidence that their children will never be kidnapped, mutilated, burnt alive or raped in their own bedrooms by Palestinian terrorists. Everything else is secondary…
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February 1, 2024
Andrzej Rostek/Getty Images

“Take me to the hostages! Take me to the hostages!” It was the poster in the corner of the room that got the attention of the young Israeli girl I was giving a piggyback to—herself one of Israel’s 250,000 evacuees—during my visit to Israel in December. She’d seen the hostage placard that has become all too familiar in recent months, and she wanted to look at it. While I’d also noticed it, those five words on repeat were the last thing I expected to hear yelled by a girl who couldn’t have been any older than eight. But then again, very little about the Jewish state’s current reality could be considered normal.

It’s often said that you can’t fully understand Israel without living there; that has only become more true since the incomprehensible atrocities of October 7. But despite widespread sympathy for Israel following the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, there remain significant gaps in outsiders’ understanding of what is motivating Israelis during this war— namely, why they’re so unwilling to discuss the two-state solution.

Following the Biden administration’s insistence that future Palestinian statehood is vital for Israel’s security, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sparked outrage on January 18 by publicly rejecting the idea, claiming Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza “would endanger the State of Israel.” For many outside Israel, Netanyahu’s comments were at best unhelpful, at worst a gross insult to the Jewish state’s closest ally and a dangerous impediment to peace.

It’s hard, however, to think of a more mundane statement in Israel today. That same day, President Isaac Herzog, a scion of Israel’s political left, told the World Economic Forum that in Israel, “nobody in his right mind is willing now to think about what will be the solution of the peace agreements.” Rather, “everybody wants to know: Can we be promised real safety in the future?”

Since October 7, that is the single most important question Israelis have asked themselves. Israeli parents must have full confidence that their children will never be kidnapped, mutilated, burnt alive or raped in their own bedrooms by Palestinian terrorists. Everything else is secondary, and as long as Israelis believe that threat remains, any outside attempts to force major concessions that risk undermining Israeli security—such as creating a Palestinian state—will be rebuffed.

Tragically, Palestinians have given Israelis little reason to believe the October 7 massacre won’t happen again.

Tragically, Palestinians have given Israelis little reason to believe the October 7 massacre won’t happen again.

In a November survey by the Arab World for Research and Development, 75% of Palestinians said they “support the military operation carried out by the Palestinian resistance led by Hamas on October 7th.” In December, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 72% of Palestinians believe despite “what happened after it” in Gaza, Hamas’s decision to carry out the October 7 massacre was “correct.” Disturbingly, it reported, “support for Hamas has more than tripled in the West Bank compared to three months ago,” while also increasing in Gaza, albeit “not significantly.”

For Israelis, this isn’t simply a survey, but rather their Palestinian neighbors sending an unambiguous message. Israelis are asking themselves a frightening question: We withdrew from Gaza, and in return, Palestinians gave us the October 7 massacre; how, then, can we withdraw from the West Bank, allowing Palestinians to overlook our major population centers?

This isn’t some abstract debate about regional integration and peace. It is a question of Israel’s very survival, and since October 7 this understanding has cut across the country’s political spectrum. As Amir Tibon, diplomatic correspondent for the staunchly left-wing Haaretz, wrote in November, “the bottom line is, a country that doesn’t retaliate in the most forceful way after terrorists kidnap an eight year old from her bed, simply won’t exist. Especially not in the Middle East.”

Israelis are well aware of the consequences of occupying another people. Israeli mothers don’t want their children risking their lives standing at West Bank checkpoints or raiding Palestinian homes in the middle of the night. But as long as they view it as necessary to guarantee their safety, no amount of international pressure can force them to act otherwise. When, despite Israeli security fears, outsiders insist on working toward Palestinian statehood, they come across to Israelis as either naive about the Middle East, indifferent to Israeli safety, or both.

After all, Israel was founded in the Jewish homeland to save the Jewish people, and the horrors of October 7 seared into the Israeli psyche explicit images of what would occur should the Jewish state fail in its mission.

So no, Netanyahu’s rejection of a Palestinian state was not a rejection of peace. His message to the world was simple: Israelis won’t compromise their safety in order to satisfy Western fantasies about Palestinians. The Middle East is a volatile, unforgiving region, and if Israelis feel the West is forcing them to choose between being viewed as oppressors or being dead, they’ll choose the former without thinking twice.

Israel’s friends and foes in the West don’t have to like this reality. But they’d do well to recognize there’s nothing they can do to change it. 


Josh Feldman is an Australian writer who focuses primarily on Israeli and Jewish issues. Twitter: @joshrfeldman

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