OPINION: The three conditions for a better future in the Middle East

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OPINION: The three conditions for a better future in the Middle East

All sides can agree on one undeniable fact - that the conflict can neither be contained nor sustained, writes Itay Gross

An Israeli flag atop a destroyed building in northern Gaza.
An Israeli flag atop a destroyed building in northern Gaza.

Since 7 October, everyone in Israel has been talking about the concept of a better future in the Middle East, or to be precise, the shattering of that concept. The term, coined by the Agranat Commission investigating the failures of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, has made a comeback inspired by events that cast a shadow on those that took place 50 years ago.

There are many concepts that people are now rethinking. For example, there could be life alongside Hamas because it is turning into a rational player that, in certain conditions, will want to provide its people with stability and prosperity. The awakening from old beliefs ranges from left to right, but if there is one concept that all sides can agree doesn’t hold ground anymore, it is that the conflict can be managed or contained.

The defining notion of the Netanyahu era is that the Palestinian situation is in a stalemate, and hence there is no point in taking long-term strategic decisions. It was assumed that daily IDF activity in the West Bank and limited operations in Gaza would be enough to provide relative security. With the Iron Dome and the perimeter around Gaza, Netanyahu made Israelis believe that they could live with the rocket threat and minor attempts by small units of terrorists to cross the border.

We all know where that stands now.

It is obvious that it is simply not viable to continue dragging the conflict on indefinitely. It’s make or break. Israelis won’t tolerate living with terror in any form. No more one rocket, two rockets, or 10,000 rockets. No more suicide bombers, running over by vehicles, stabbings, lone gunmen firing in city centers, and any other form of indiscriminate attacks.

On the other hand, the Palestinians need to be given real hope that they will be able to live a free and secure life. The prospect of a better future for Palestinians is integral to eradicating the terror organizations.

Given that this war, the deadliest in the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict, will change things forever, these are three conditions that need to exist in the aftermath to create a positive future for this piece of land:

1. Palestinians need to accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state

This sounds banal. The Palestinian Authority officially recognized Israel and the country has existed as a strong military power for 75 years. But what’s agreed on paper differs from what’s being said and done on the ground, also after the formation of the Authority through the Oslo Accords. Yasser Arafat, the mythological leader of the Palestinians and absurdly a Nobel Peace Prize winner, never denounced terror and called for a “million martyrs to march into Jerusalem.”

Pic: Itay Gross

Even under the supposedly more moderate Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority continues to incite against Israel in school textbooks and its media and pays the families of terrorists arrested in Israeli prisons. The message that Israel is here to stay needs to extend to all the Palestinians on this land, those in Gaza, those in the West Bank, and the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

This is an uphill battle because the Palestinian narrative is deeply ingrained with the destruction of the state of Israel and the dream of a Palestine from the river to the sea. One of the realizations of left-leaning Israelis has been that it isn’t and has never been about the occupation of 1967. It was always about 1948 and our sheer existence here. By calling the peaceful residents of the communities around Gaza “settlers,” Hamas actually strengthened the case for the West Bank settlers. To them and their supporters, we are all the same.

To make this shift, Palestinians would have to turn back on a lot of the supposed allies who have been encouraging them to sustain hopeless dreams, guiding them to misery and violent means of achieving their goal.

This includes organizations like UNRWA, who perpetuate the Palestinian people’s refugee status, maintaining their delusions that they will one day return to Haifa, Jaffa, and Acre instead of rehabilitating them and setting them off to a new life.

It also includes breaking alliances with some of the Western intellectual elite, such as Russel Rickford from Cornell (I will not give him the honor of calling him by his academic title), who was “exhilarated” by the rape, burning of children and babies, and abduction of the elderly by Hamas on 7 October.

Rickford and all of his followers in student organizations have the privilege of encouraging terror without themselves being in Gaza to suffer the consequences of retaliation to it. He and his counterparts in the West are not promoting Palestinian liberation at all.

Moreover, the West and Arab nations have to change their incentive structure to be less based on welfare and spending billions that eventually go down the terror and misery drain and more focused on nation-building. UNRWA, for example, has no problem handing out bags of rice and flour to poor Palestinians, while Hamas leaders live in wealth and spend billions on terror infrastructure.

Constructive leadership is something Palestinians have traditionally lacked. Pre-1948, when Jews were busy building international alliances and institutes for a future state, the Palestinian leadership was preoccupied with inciting the Arab Revolt and playing “who’s a bigger Nazi?” with Hitler. For the Palestinians’ will to self-rule to be taken seriously, they need to show that they’re able to accept pragmatic people as their leaders, and recognizing Israel, fully and truly, is a necessary first step.

2. Israel needs to lend a hand for peace

The sad truth for moderate Israelis is that we allowed the deterioration of our country to the extent that it almost became another failed, corrupt Middle Eastern banana republic. While we are rightfully angry and suspicious of our neighbor’s intentions and support for terror, we let a populist leader hold the realms of our country for 14 years, and also gave a seat at the table to the representatives of our version of religious extremism.

The Israeli ethos has always been based on the fact that once our enemies denounce their plans to destroy us, they will be met with an enthusiastic partner for peace. This message should’ve been made loud and clear even when there is no prospect for it. Throughout the Netanyahu era, it wasn’t. The Abraham Accords were great, but the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan didn’t pose a security threat to Israel.

The minorities in this land, ranging from the Druze and Bedouin who fight side-by-side with us to the Arab Muslims who show their desire to stray away from hate and join an economic, technological powerhouse celebrating freedom and justice, need to know they will be accepted. The Jewish state that we expect the Arabs to endorse needs to be benevolent towards supportive minorities with its resources, opportunities, and achievements.

Now comes the question of who will be the partner for peace on the other side, and it is a tricky one. Hamas is en route to the trash bin of history, but it is unlikely that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority can deliver. Historically, they have not been able to. They have lost the hearts of their own people through corruption and violence and the trust of Israelis by playing a double game with terror.

Right now, the loudest voices are the extreme ones, but amidst the noise Israel needs to look for the silent, subtle voices. This is a proactive effort that the innovative start-up nation needs to take on itself as a top priority.

There are enough Palestinians who have worked and cooperated with Israelis throughout the years and have seen the benefits of a society and country that stands up in opposition to the popular norms of the Middle East. I’m talking about the Palestinians who didn’t go out to celebrate on October 7, those who reached out to their Israeli friends inquiring about their wellbeing, those who went as far as to denounce Hamas. In the meantime, Israel needs to set an example in fighting terror by holding down the heads of the extreme factions in Jewish society, notably the settlers who are running wild, committing crimes, and posing a strategic threat to everyone in the region.

We’re also talking about the Arab Israelis and Bedouins, some of whom were slaughtered on October 7, and have since taken part in the vast volunteer efforts supporting soldiers and displaced residents of the south. The first step to show support for them would be to immediately cancel the gruesome Nation-State Bill legislated in 2018, and partner with politicians such as MK Mansour Abbas, who made history and was the first leader of an Arab Party to join an Israeli coalition.

But all of this requires vision and long-term planning, which are profanity to the ears of Israel’s current leadership. Ironically, Israel’s moderate majority has pressured Netanyahu’s government by rallying against it for more than 40 weeks straight. They almost pushed him out until Hamas sent many of the protesters and their leaders to divert their efforts and focus on the war. The liberal Israelis, who are fiercely fighting to eliminate and deter their enemies, will be tasked with looking for and aligning with partners who share the same values and vision for a better life.

3. The West needs to stand up for its values

The current situation in north American and European politics is that nuance and moderation are giving way to extremes. On one side, you have the woke, far-left, who, in the name of post-colonial guilt and fear of being labeled racists, cannot hold their supposed Palestinian allies accountable for atrocities and values that are apparently opposed to liberalism. On the other side, you have far-right agencies who are the only groups willing to look into the eye of the threats of Western Jihad hotbeds but also carry with them a bundle of dangerous, regressive values.


If Ukraine, which has been treated poorly by the Israeli government, can put differences aside and call out Hamas as the aggressor and point to its connection to Putin, the same can be expected by the center factions of European politics. So long as this center remains silent, so long as the only ones standing against hate marches calling for an intifada in European cities and American campuses are far-right activists and Jews terrified by antisemitism, the extremes will make the political gains. The result will be devastating for everyone. This is and always has been Putin’s master plan. What’s happening in the Netherlands and Spain these days is just the precedent.

In an article in the Washington Post, US President Joe Biden wrote: “Out of great tragedy and upheaval, enormous progress can come.”

This progress will not be instant. The traditionally discussed two-state and one-state solutions are irrelevant and have to be revised. Constructive coalitions need to be formed, new leaders need to arise in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and above all, trust needs to be built. But if this happens, it will not only be a victory for the prospect of a better future for Israelis and Palestinians; it will be a victory for the liberal world and a clear message to the enablers of destabilization: Iran, Russia, China, and supporters of Islamic Jihad and populists worldwide.

  • Itay Gross is an Israeli journalist
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