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Palestinian terror should not be rewarded with a state

The hope of Oslo died years ago. Why is the United States still pushing a two-state solution?

The fires of Kibbutz Be’eri, Kfar Aza and Nahal Oz eviscerated the last vestigial support for a grand bargain with the Palestinians. Decades of terror had already shrunk the peace camp in Israel to a small core of true believers. Last year’s mass anti-judicial overhaul demonstrations made clear that a culture war was far more capable of energizing the Israeli left than the peace movement. 

When Hamas burst out of Gaza on Oct. 7, they didn’t just commit the worst atrocities against Jews since the Holocaust. They also triggered a geopolitical earthquake centered on Israel that has roiled the West’s ideological fault lines, buried the Oslo Accords era and left Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s post-Oslo program tottering as well.

In Oct. 7’s wake, opposition among Israeli Jews to a Palestinian state rose from 69% to 79%, according to a new survey by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The poll confirmed that even as the Israeli right has presided over a disaster, Israelis across the political spectrum have become more hawkish. A hostage deal at any cost, not a peace deal at any price, is now the rallying cry of the left. 

The final death of Oslo’s two-state vision in the Israeli mind sets the country on a collision course with the Biden administration, which early on drew the exact opposite conclusion about Oct. 7 from the Israeli electorate and called for a renewed push for that vision. 

But in tandem with the demise of the two-state solution, its successor has been dealt a body blow. Beginning in the 2010s, Netanyahu spoke with increasing confidence of inverting the paradigm of Middle East peace — bypassing the Palestinians and coming to terms with moderate Arab states eager to access Israeli tech, fearful of Iran and exasperated with Palestinian corruption. Ron Dermer, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, told me in a 2020 exit interview that in private, Bibi had been speaking of the concept for 20 years before the breakthrough. 

Confounding the skepticism of officials in both America and Israel still wedded to the old paradigm, Netanyahu’s vision received stunning vindication with the 2020 Abraham Accords, which delivered a cascade of peace agreements with Muslim countries over the heads of the furious Palestinians.

Despite President Donald Trump’s defeat later that same year, the accords’ political legacy seemed secure. The Biden administration’s initial cool view of the agreements gave way to a push for Israel-Saudi peace, which — although it pledged to leave open a path to peace with the Palestinians — preserved the wider strategy of the earlier agreements of focusing on peace with other Muslim countries in the region. 

Then came Oct. 7. One of the terrible ironies of Israel’s many failures that day is that it came on the watch of a leader who has dedicated his political career to warning the world about the threat of Iran. While Bibi fought a shadow war to slow Tehran’s race to a bomb, his government did little to counter its proxies’ metastasizing military capabilities. So it was that, as Netanyahu successfully guided Israeli diplomacy into a post-Oslo era focused on making peace with the moderate Arab states like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Hamas was preparing to strike at the heart of the accords as part of the radical Iranian axis.

Amid the campus antisemitism, media demonization and accusations of genocide, it can be easy to miss the nature of Hamas’ achievement. As his killers poured across the Israel-Gaza border, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, succeeded in propelling the Palestinian cause to the center of world politics. If Bibi’s post-Oslo triumph was to leapfrog the Palestinians, Sinwar’s counterstroke was to make Gaza the subject of demonstrations on college campuses and city centers across America and Europe. So effective has been that strategy that Biden has chosen to exert immense pressure on Israel in a bid to shore up his base in an election year.

Ironically, it’s now the baying of progressives on the left which is the biggest obstacle to Netanyahu’s post-Oslo vision. While Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has banned speaking out against normalization with Israel, Western politicians seem cowed by the size of anti-Israeli protests in their cities and university campuses.

With European politicians falling over themselves to recognize a Palestinian state, Arab leaders unsurprisingly can’t afford to be left behind. The postwar settlement that the Saudis, UAE and Egypt now envision is far more hostile to Israel than that discussed prior to Oct. 7, including immediate recognition of a Palestinian state and peacekeepers in East Jerusalem. The very fact that it’s on the table at all is testament to the devastating effectiveness of Sinwar’s attack. 

Traumatized by antisemitic savagery that most Israelis imagined was a relic of the past, the country won’t countenance a peace deal with the Palestinians. Triumphant from their initial success on Oct. 7, and safe in the knowledge that scenes of Gaza’s destruction play well in newsrooms across the world, an unbowed Hamas and Iran won’t agree to anything less. If America insists on setting the clock back by reviving a two-state solution with some cosmetic changes, it will be a betrayal of Israel and a giant reward for terror.

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