This may be a once-in-a-century opportunity for peace. True, things have never looked this bad, and odds are they will be getting worse. But this savage war also exposes the conflict’s darkest secret: its vicious cycle of humiliation, resentment and revenge is driven by power-famished fanatics treating people, including their own, as dispensable “things.” What perpetuates the conflict is thinking about it as an Israeli-Palestinian. Instead, we should see it as a war against zealots on both sides, a war which Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians, can only win if they wage it together. We must transform the conflict to resolve it.
By now, both Israelis and Palestinians are so vastly disillusioned with the vain vows of their self-serving leaders—their destructive hubris is so painfully plain in sight—that there may be a rare willingness on both sides to brave a breakthrough.
Now is the time to oust the radicals, to create a grand coalition of moderate forces in the region, and outline Principles for Peace. We’ve been through the worst nightmare; it’s time we dare pursue the dream. If we don’t, we may regret it for generations.
Hamas epitomizes selfish zealotry on the Palestinian side. Its leaders, some of whom bask in huge wealth, could care less about their 2.4 million subjects, half of whom live in extreme poverty. They have bigger plans. As Hamas Leader Khaled Mash’al recently confirmed, once Hamas is done with Israel, which “is even weaker than the spider’s web… We will march further and enforce the Shari’a of Muhammad… On this Earth.” And on this, Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad explained, they are blameless: “Israel must be annihilated… We are the victim of occupation. Period. Nobody can blame us for anything we do. On October 7, October 10, October 1,000,000—everything we do is justified.”
Netanyahu personifies narcissistic leadership on the Israeli side. Ever since his rise to power on the coattails of Hamas’s suicide bombings of 1994-96, Netanyahu has repeatedly pledged to crush Hamas, while effectively aiding its hold on power against the more moderate Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu himself readily explained: “Anyone who wants to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state must support bolstering Hamas and transferring money to Hamas. That’s part of our strategy…” Building his whole career on divide-and-rule strategies vis-à-vis everyone around, including Israelis, Netanyahu, like his cronies and like Hamas leaders, will never leave of his own volition.
Since the early 1990s, Hamas and Netanyahu have benefitted each other, politically, ideologically, financially. Their tacit alliance has undermined peace efforts, providing an “access of evil” to both Israel and Palestine. To them, humans are dispensable, people are puppets in their appetite for power.
Hamas is not a partner for peace, nor is Netanyahu’s government, but Palestinians and Israelis are. We should call for a Free Palestine—from Hamas, first, and then, to independence. The “rush to radicalism” must end. To defeat the zealots on both sides, we must help both peoples—Palestinians and Israelis—hope for peace.
Perhaps President Biden should give his Seven Points speech—only half of Woodrow Wilson’s famous Fourteen—not to end a world war but to prevent one. If this seems like an alarmist stretch, recall Oct 7. It felt unreal; most of us, Israelis, could not believe what we were seeing, the realization required a leap of imagination we were not prepared for. We should learn our lesson: imagine the nightmare before it happens, lest it does. We should recall the Russian-Iranian axis, the growing Chinese appetite, the Temple Mount detonator—and imagine waking up to a nuclear mushroom cloud, all in order to prevent it from transpiring. It requires another leap of imagination—not to despair, but to hope. We should dare to dream of a better day that is within reach, and we need not wait for the twilight of the Gaza War to take this leap.
Biden’s Seven could chart a hopeful tomorrow, with a demilitarized, democratic Palestine, supported by Marshall Plan-like efforts, with a larger Gaza Strip liberated from Hamas, alongside assurances and funding from key international and regional actors. Fear may motivate leaders and nations to do the right thing, but only hope can make them pursue it against (almost) all odds.
And despite difficult odds, there is hope, for there is widespread realization, the likes of which I had not seen before, among both peoples, about the need to end it, once and for all, one way or another.
Peace is possible. This is not a utopia. Moderate Arab leaders, many desperate to see Hamas crushed, must help. Importantly, fighting the Hamas-Netanyahu “access of evil” requires the lesser evil. Marwan Barghouti exemplifies the latter. Imprisoned for murder, Barghouti is vastly popular among Palestinians, and if he is willing to help lead peace, Israel should consider his release.
Finally, the missing piece for peace is popular legitimacy, which can pull the rug out from under the zealots’ feet. Polls indicate majorities, on both sides, prefer coexistence to war and opting for a two-state solution. A daring move would be to officially poll both peoples. Having a double referendum among Israelis and Palestinians is perhaps the most promising way to promote peace.
As hopeless as the current predicament appears to be, it is not. With the right end in clear sight, we can put an end to the carnage. Let us recall: It is precisely because the 1973 Yom Kippur War wreaked so much misery that it demonstrated to each of us, viscerally, our common human fragility. It evinced to people on both sides the price of hubris, and of giving up on hoping for peace. Four years later, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem; the following year, peace was made.
Principles for Peace
Peace is our common mission, ensuring protection and prosperity to all.
Organizations that seek the annihilation of Jews or the destruction of Israel, including Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, and akin Jewish organizations targeting Arabs, will not be tolerated, their funding will be cut, and their operations, political or military, banned.
Both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people have the right of self-determination, realized in the sovereign states of Israel and Palestine, respectively.
Accordingly, alongside Israel, the State of Palestine, democratic and demilitarized, shall be established and recognized pending the 2024 Israeli-Palestinian plebiscite, and in accordance with U.N. resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.
We affirm the legitimacy and territorial integrity of all the region’s countries, including Israel. Territorial changes, including the exchange of land to increase the area of the Gaza Strip, are to be agreed upon.
All Israeli captives and Palestinian prisoners who pledge to peace shall be released.
Peace treaties shall be signed between Israel and Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia.
Annex: The Peoples-for-Peace Plebiscite
The Israeli-Palestinian referendum shall be held in 2024 by all Israelis and Palestinians eligible to vote, requiring a regular majority. They will be asked to vote Yes or No on the following:
We, the peoples, taking responsibility for our past mistakes and for the future of our children, choose hope over despair, amity over violence, and thereby undertake this historic leap to peace.
We, Israelis and Palestinians, aspire to coexistence in dignity, liberty, and security, and thus affirm our rejection of violence and our mutual commitment to the right of self-determination of the Jewish people in the State of Israel, and of the Palestinian people in the State of Palestine. Towards that goal:
The state of Palestine shall be established along the 4 June 1967 borders, allowing for territorial swaps by agreement and in equal value, taking into account security, demography and geography. Palestine will be demilitarized for fifty years.
Jews and Palestinians in their diasporas may gain citizenship in their respective nation-state: Jews in Israel, Palestinians in Palestine.
Both Israel and Palestine will be democratic countries, upholding human and civil rights to all, including Arabs in Israel and Jews in Palestine.
Jerusalem is dear to both peoples and to the three Abrahamic religions. Acting on their behalf, Israel and Palestine will jointly administer the Holy Basin as a condominium (shared sovereignty). Outside the Old City, Israel will have its capital and sovereignty in the Jewish neighborhoods, Palestine in the Palestinian neighborhoods.
Both peoples affirm this peace as the end of all their mutual claims and grievances.
We call upon the leaders of both peoples to negotiate, without delay, a detailed agreement based on these principles, and invite all to join this brave effort. We call upon all the countries of the region to renounce violence, to recognize Israel and Palestine, and to establish with them full diplomatic, economic and cultural relations.