Discover more from Uncharted Territories
How to Solve the Israel/Palestine Problem
This is the ninth and most important article in the series about Israel and Palestine. The previous eight have been building up to this.
Will Israel Be at War? – The geopolitics of Israel.
Who Can Claim Palestine? – The history of the region, and how that translates into claims from the Israeli and Palestinian sides.
Do Arab States Support Palestine? – Why other Arab states are ambiguous (to say the least) about their support to Palestinians.
The Gaza Trap – The geopolitics of Gaza.
The Three State Solution – The geopolitics of the West Bank.
The Problem of West Bank Settlements – Details about Israel’s settlement strategy.
The Struggle for the Soul of Israel – How internal politics in Israel work, and how that affects the Palestinians.
After this, I will go back to my normal programming of one free article and one premium article per week, covering topics like AI, sexual selection, energy, education, or climate change. I might touch on the conflict again.
Uncharted Territories is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
But today, I leave you with the most important article of the series.
West Bank, 2009
As our car passed the checkpoint and left the towering wall behind us, I felt my friend tensing up. He was using his Argentinian passport to enter the West Bank, and I knew what he feared the most: That some Palestinian would discover he was Jewish and had an Israeli passport, too.
This was 2009, and I had just spent ten days in Israel on a grad school trip to better know the country, talking with people like Ehud Barak, Defense Minister and former Prime Minister; Shimon Peres1, President of Israel at the time; and Tzipi Livni, Minister of Foreign Affairs. Before the trip, I didn’t know much about the country besides what appeared in the news. I’m not sure what I expected to learn about the conflict—maybe a plan for peace. What I found instead was a country morally torn between an assertive demand for its rights and security, and the discomfort of what they knew was happening on the Palestinian side. They knew something had to be done, and they were intensely debating what that should be, but they saw no good options and blamed Palestinians for not wanting peace. It was disheartening, but at least it looked like there was some will to find peace.
So when my Argentinian friend told me he wanted to see Palestine for himself and talk with locals, I jumped at the opportunity.
I went twice: One to Bethlehem, another one to Ramallah. Getting into the West Bank was easy. Nobody stopped us. Palestinian cities looked like many other Mediterranean ones, except there were no Western franchises.
We talked with about half a dozen people: locals, NGO officials, members of the press. Everybody spoke under the condition of anonymity.
After learning about the history of Palestinians and the decades of struggle and violence, I was expecting to find a people who just wanted peace and to move on with their lives. This is not what I found.
Every Palestinian we talked with hated Israel and wanted to see it disappear.
Given the international funds she received, I expected the NGO worker to be balanced and optimistic. But she was the most pessimistic: She blamed Israel for all the Palestinian evils and thought there was no path to peace—because she didn’t want peace.
When I came back from Bethlehem to Israel, the driver told me we were crossing the border. I asked him to stop to take a picture: There was no checkpoint! I stepped out of the car, aimed my camera, and took a couple of photos. Suddenly, two soldiers appeared from nowhere and started running towards me, their assault rifles raised and aimed right at me, screaming at the top of their lungs.
I thought they were going to shoot me.
I didn’t know what to do, so I just raised my arms and said I was sorry and that I didn’t know what I had done wrong and that I was a foreigner. As they got closer to us, they kept yelling and switched to English. Why are you here? Why are you taking pictures? Do you know you took a picture of a military facility? What are you trying to do?
Eventually we understood each other, and once I deleted the pictures in front of them, they lowered their rifles and ordered us to leave. As the car rolled into Israel, I wondered if I’d still be here if I didn’t have a foreign passport in my pocket.
When I came back from Ramallah, I had to return alone, by foot.2 I went through the longest, scariest checkpoint I’ve ever crossed in my life: hundreds of feet surrounded by steel bars, like you’d see in a prison. I felt like my life was not in my hands.
All of this was in early 2009, just after Ehud Olmert had offered the best deal Palestine had received in decades for a two-state solution. So that was Israel and Palestine when they are on good terms.
I took two things away from that trip. First: I understood the fear, and more importantly, the humiliation that Palestinians felt every day. Second: Most people on both sides did not yearn for peace hard enough for it to be possible.
I told myself: There won’t be peace here anytime soon.
Why Did Past Agreements Fail?
If we want to know how to reach a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, we must understand why past ones failed.
In What Would Peace Look Like between Israel and Palestine?, we discussed what these agreements proposed and how close the sides were to each other, but we didn’t discuss why they didn’t reach an agreement.
Is it a coincidence that the first Israeli prime minister who tried to close a peace agreement with Palestinians, Yitzhak Rabin, was killed by a religious right wing radical? Or that the two other prime ministers who tried were more generous as their legitimacy was fading? Ehud Barak was most generous with Palestinians two weeks before an election he would go on to lose. Ehud Olmert had single-digit approval ratings, was being pressured for corruption, and would resign soon after.
What was the cause and what was the consequence? Were the prime ministers unpopular because they were trying to offer something “too generous for Palestinians”, according to Israeli opinion? Or were they trying to be generous to counterbalance their weak approval ratings? It’s probably both: Some Israelis think they were seeking peace to get their ratings up. But it’s also true that what Israelis would have to give to Palestinians to make them sign is not acceptable to the majority of Israelis. That explains why few Israeli prime ministers pursue a two-state solution, and why those who do are unpopular.3
The truth is, the terms they offered were not acceptable for most of the Israeli population, and they knew it. That’s why all these negotiations for peace are secret, and no one involved wants to offer anything in writing. Maybe once they sign them and peace is reached, these leaders become popular. But if they’re not very strong to begin with, they can’t drag Israeli society along.
What about Palestinian leadership? Isn’t it weird that the first Arab leader to sign peace with Israelis—Egypt’s Anwar Sadat—was killed for it? Americans and Israelis love to blame former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and current President Mahmoud Abbas for not accepting good deals: “Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” they say. But is this true? There might be plenty of tactical reasons why they didn’t progress as productively as they could have4, but isn’t it kind of shocking that they were getting close but couldn't close?
Maybe the deal they were getting was too hard to sell at home.
Isn’t it surprising that Palestinians celebrated Arafat when he came back from Camp David without a deal? Imagine your entire nation is built on the idea that 750,000 of you were kicked out of your rightful home, which belonged to your ancestors for centuries, and that you must be allowed to return. What kind of reception would you have, going home to tell your compatriots: I signed a peace deal, and it means we must give up what makes us “us”. Of course, that’s not how Arafat or Abbas would put it, but it’s definitely how the competing Hamas would put it. That would explain why one of the biggest gaps between Olmert and Abbas in 2009 was the number of refugees Israel would have to accept back. Olmert wanted 40k tops; Abbas wanted 150k.
It looks like in the Israel-Palestine conflict, they haven’t found an agreement simply because the gap is too large to bridge by the leadership on both sides. The best each side’s leader is willing to offer is less than what the other side is willing to take. They both have better alternatives: Israelis keep biding time, Palestinians go back to violence and wait for a better deal rather than humiliate themselves.5
Nobody wants peace hard enough.
What about today? How can we imagine peace in the current situation?
Hamas sent thousands of terrorists to bomb, rape, decapitate, bake, butcher over a thousand Israeli civilians and called for Jewish genocide. They then hid behind civilians to use them as human shields, while they kill their own and steal their future.
Meanwhile, in the West Bank, Israel prefers the status quo to a solution, so it continues the illegal and unacceptable build-up of settlements, destroying Palestinian dwellings, putting Palestinians under military rule for decades, giving free rein to settlers while its military humiliates, or even shoots Palestinian protestors.
I am not making these morally equal. They’re not. I’m pointing at a vicious cycle that has been happening forever. Since a UN resolution in 1967, there’s been one motto to drive peace: Land for Peace. Israel gives land to Palestinians, Palestinians give peace to Israelis.
Let’s play this through the Oslo Accords:
Palestinians say they give up violence.
Israel gives up land: Areas A and B of the West Bank.
Terrorists kill settlers and bomb Israel.
A radical Jewish settler kills Arabs in the West Bank.
More Palestinian bombs.
An Israeli radical kills Yitzhak Rabin.6
Netanyahu reinterprets the Accords to stall the process.
Israel stops giving land.
Palestinians get antsy and there’s more violence.
Israelis rescind their giveaways.
Palestinians increase violence.
Israel takes back control.
Do you see the problem? This is not a stable cycle. It’s very easy to thwart. Instead, it looks more like this:
This is a stable cycle. A vicious cycle.
We’re seeing it at play today:
The peace process is stalled.
Hamas attacks Israel.
Israel attacks Gaza.
It invades it, and in parallel increases its control over the West Bank.
West Bankers get angry. Violence increases in the West Bank.
Israel increases security and lets settlers loose, further oppressing Palestinians.
Arabs in general, and Palestinians in particular, are furious about the death of Palestinian civilians. They increase their support for Hamas.
New terrorists are minted.
More terrorist attacks.
More military control.
This cycle continues until people get tired of the loss and suffering, organizations are weakened, and the desire for blood and violence gets internalized by Palestinians, brewing the next round of violence. Meanwhile, the Israelis feel unsafe and vote for a more nationalist party that tells them they need to increase security to deal with Palestinian terrorists.
Which means the normal cycle of Land for Peace is so easy to invert that it pushes radicalization.
Neither side is willing to make the concessions needed for peace.7
The Horseshoe Strategy of Hamas & Israeli Nationalists
And who benefits from that?
It’s not a secret that Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu supported Hamas. Why? Of course, one of the reasons is to divide and conquer: Hamas was a competitor to Fatah, the party leading the Palestinians. But why not support any other peace-loving alternative? Some Palestinian leaders like Mustafa Barghouti seem moderate to me. Why not prop them up? My hypothesis is that this would strengthen the Palestinian cause. For the Nationalist Bloc to win elections, it needs the Israelis to believe they’re in danger without them. The external enemy brings votes. It needs the threats from Hamas.
The same dynamic is true in the West Bank. Why does the Nationalist Bloc support building more Israeli settlements in the West Bank, let outposts spring up, and turn a blind eye to Jewish settler violence? These acts reduce Jewish safety because they anger Palestinians, create more surfaces for settlers and Palestinians to enter into conflict, and spread out the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), weakening it.8
Building settlements satisfies the more radical wings of the party. But maybe the anger is the point. Maybe feeding the cycle of violence allows Israel to claim self-defense while increasing its oppression in the West Bank.
Conversely, Hamas leeches on this violence. In Gaza, it feeds on the photo ops of bombed buildings and bleeding children dying in hospitals, so that every Arab’s blood boils, they demand more blood, and they support Hamas’s armed struggle. They provide martyrs for the cause, and if in the process they can capture hostages to free Palestinians, they become heroes.
In the West Bank, it’s more of the same: Every Palestinian shot, every unfair jail sentence, every humiliating arrest of a 13-year-old girl swells locals’ support. The moderates fail to bring peace? At least Hamas is doing something.
So both Hamas and Israel’s Nationalist Bloc feed the cycle of violence because it’s so stable for them.
Horseshoe theory states that the extremes are closer to each other than to the center. This is true here: The policies of violence favored by Hamas are also beneficial for Israel’s Nationalist Bloc. 9
Moderation undermines their power. Hamas knew its 10/7 violent attack would bolster support. But it also increases its support every time a Palestinian dies at the hands of the IDF or Israeli settlers, or when Fatah can’t make peaceful progress towards a two-state solution. Hamas thrives with nationalistic governments in Israel.
What’s bad for Hamas is broadly good for the more moderate Fatah, which hasn’t been able to make any progress collaborating with Israel in the last two decades and as a result, hasn’t organized elections for 17 years as its internal factions would surely lose against Hamas. Fatah is supported by Egypt, which doesn’t want to see the Muslim Brotherhood strengthened; Jordan, which doesn’t want Hamas to win power because it threatens the monarchy; and Israel, which doesn’t want a unified Palestinian leadership across Gaza and the West Bank.
If you’re a radical, what do you want to do? Push everybody towards conflict.
So what do you do? You feed the stable cycle of violence, which radicalizes both sides, benefits the incumbents, and moves Israelis and Palestinians farther from peace.
Some crazy radicals like Hamas want violence because they’re deluded and they think they can push Jews out of Israel. But more rational players can also prefer violence: Violence begets violence, which radicalizes people. and entrenches violent powers. That’s why many people on both sides are not willing to make the necessary sacrifices for peace.
The only way to break this cycle is by pushing people towards the moderate camp trying to seek peace.
So we know we need to stop the cycle of violence and control. What are the main obstacles to achieving that?
The Israeli Nationalist Problem
On the Israeli side, Netanyahu must go. He’s been at the top of the Israeli state on and off for the last 25 years, and he has led the country to its worst slaughter since the Holocaust, a total lack of Jewish safety, and the moral failure of the management of the West Bank.
Of course, Netanyahu supported Hamas:
Anyone who wants to foil the establishment of a Palestinian state needs to support the strengthening of Hamas and the transfer of funds to Hamas.—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Likud faction meeting in March 2019, as quoted in Haaretz.
He is not the only Israeli ruling politician to systematically undermine Palestinians. Here you have the current finance minister of Israel, speaking back in 2015:
An Israeli minister said parts of Gaza will be annexed. Another enjoys the destruction in Gaza, suggests dropping a nuke on them, and states Palestinians should leave Gaza. The President suggests Gazan civilians are fair targets because they voted for Hamas and many still support it. Parlamentarians from a governing party said Israel should flatten Gaza. Another said there should be another Nakba. A retired Major General says Gaza should be a place where no human being can exist so that Gazans leave. The ex-head of Israeli intelligence thinks Gazans should be spread around the world.
This is not one person in government, or in one party. These are multiple elected officials from multiple parties now governing Israel. I can imagine a Gazan hearing these statements, hearing the IDF’s call to leave the north of the Gaza Strip, and remembering what happened during the Nakba. I wouldn’t be surprised if they fear ethnic cleansing. I’m not saying they’re going to do it. Rather, that this fuels the radicalization of Israelis and Palestinians.
Israel is a democracy. These people are the reflection of who elected them. A majority of Israelis have been radicalized enough that they are not ready to do what it takes to find peace with Palestinians.
About 60% of Israelis said the status quo could feasibly continue, as it has for decades, and many others believed that it was manageable and preferable to the risk of other alternatives. Peace was considered a "romantic notion" that was simply not attainable at this time.—RAND corporation survey, 2021, via phys.org
In 2014, only 35% of Israelis would have supported a hypothetical, two-state peace agreement that was extremely generous to Israel. Just before the latest Hamas attack, only 34% of Israelis supported the two-state solution. Why?
Researchers found that among Israeli Jews there are two major impediments to anything but the status quo: a lack of trust in Palestinian objectives and a general belief that none of the other alternatives are feasible. The lack of trust results in fear, xenophobia and a willingness to forgo basic principles of democracy when it comes to the rights of Palestinians. 85% of Israeli Jews think it’s impossible to trust Palestinians. [Also] few focus-group participants started with a clear understanding of any of the alternatives.—RAND corporation survey, 2021, via phys.org
It’s not surprising that Israelis think this way. Part of it is observation of the world around them. Part of it is the radicalization through the vicious cycle fueled by Nationalist Bloc politicians. And for the more radical side, part of it is how they’ve been raised and educated, and in some cases, how they’ve been served misinformation.
INTERVIEWER: How did it feel to imagine killing Arabs?
GIRL: I felt happy
Learning Judaism and excelling in it is more important, in my opinion, than learning math or science.—Naftali Bennett, former Prime Minister and Education Minister of Israel, The New Yorker.
According to a 2020 study conducted at Tel Aviv University, Palestinians are rendered invisible to Israeli students by the absence of references to Palestine and the Palestinian people in Israeli textbooks. As a result, a large number of Israeli youth are not taught about the history of Palestine, and they are taught to see Palestinians as enemies rather than as neighbours.
Jewish historian Amnon Raz-Krokatzkin has stated that one of the more surprising aspects of the Israeli history curriculum on all grade levels is the indisputable absence of the history of the land. If, in some other contexts, molding a national consciousness was premised on the shared writing of the history of the homeland as a platform for defining the collective, here national consciousness was premised on the active erasure of the history of Palestine. The Nakba is not covered in the Israeli citizenship curriculum, as stated explicitly in the official Ministry programme for citizenship.—Source.
The root of the problem here is that Israelis don’t trust Palestinians to break the vicious cycle of violence, don’t understand the options in front of them, and don’t think they need to figure out a solution besides the status quo.
The Palestinian Radicalism Problem
While the Israeli government doesn’t want to do what it takes to sign peace, which reflects the will of the people, Hamas’s genocidal intent is to exterminate Israel.
Hamas is a terrorist organization that has committed atrocities throughout its history, leading up to the pinnacle on 10/7. It has stated it will continue doing that over and over. Hamas is also the government of Gaza, and a dictatorship. Peace is impossible with Hamas in power. 10
But imagine Hamas disappears. What would replace it? Worst case scenario, another terrorist organization takes over. One of the best cases would be to reinstate Fatah, but would this lead to peace? Remember, Fatah had the opportunity to sign good peace deals at least twice, but those agreements were not popular back then. Would they be more popular now?
Palestinians don’t really want a two-state solution. Only 33% support it, and 88% say they can’t trust Israeli Jews. 60% want to reclaim all of historic Palestine from the river to the sea, and 51% think it will succeed. 66% think Israel will disappear before 2048!
Since my experience in the West Bank was so long ago, I recently watched dozens of current interviews with Palestinians.11 Here are a few quotes (when the interviewees refer to “Palestine” or “this land”, they are referring to Mandatory Palestine—that is, Israel, West Bank, and Gaza. Jump to the next section if you get the point):
“We prefer to die than to give up our dignity or our land.”
“The Palestinian people are completely certain that this is their land and only theirs.”
“The Palestinian people refuse to share this land. The entirety of Palestine is ours, we refuse to share any of it. There is nothing called Israel, it’s an illusion.”
Would you support a negotiated peace with Israel?
“No, because they occupied us.”
“No: This is our land. We can’t share it.”
“No: Israel is an occupation.”
Israel exists. Isn’t this a reality you have to deal with?
“For the moment, yes, but eventually, they have to leave.”
“Israelis have to leave, this is our country”
“According to our religion, this is our land and they will leave”
“It is a promise from God that it’s our land, so they will leave.”
“I believe there is no two-side solution. It’s my home country. How am I going to compromise for the land that I own? I am not going to be satisfied seeing somebody stealing my cousin’s or my friend’s place ”
“Every occupation comes to an end. When I talk about occupation, I mean all of Palestine.”
“The Israelis will leave. This is very soon, God willing, and very certain. Through resistance. Not peaceful solutions. Any kind of resistance. And there is no such thing as passive resistance.
“I think eventually they will leave, there is nothing too difficult for God.”
“We have nothing against Jewish people. Palestine has Jewish, Christian, and Muslim people. The problem is the Zionist.”
Do you think the Jews should be expelled from Palestine?
“Yes of course, because they’re occupying our land.”
“Jews are not from here.”
“Yes, because it’s not their homeland.”
“All of Palestine is for Palestinians. Jews can stay, but under Palestinian rule. And for now, they can’t stay because of the hatred.”
Can Jews stay here under Palestine?
“No they can’t. Because they are not the real people who live in here. They are just travelers.”
Does Israel exist in international law?
“Yes, but I don’t recognize it exists.”
“In my opinion, it doesn’t exist, and I won’t accept it.”
[A paralegal] “Yes, Israel exists according to international law, but those who admit to the existence of Israel are traitors to Palestine.”
“Absolutely not. Israel is an occupation. Even in Jaffa, Tel Aviv. Jews are from all over, and the Palestinians are from here.”
Would you compromise with Israel for peace?
“No. They are occupiers, they have taken our land. They have no right to it. They don’t deserve it. We can’t compromise with the Jews. They have been giving us a hard time since the Prophets.”
“Someone is violating your rights, and you want peace with them? That won’t work. We can have peace with them when they give up what they took. This includes Jaffa and Tel Aviv. Each person can go back to where they came from.”
“No, of course we won’t compromise and live in two states. Palestine is ours and we won’t give it up.”
“Palestine is ours and Jerusalem is its capital. We learned that from the Quran and our ancestors and of course we won’t surrender so easily.”
“No, of course not. It doesn’t work to have more compromises with Israel. We can give peace but not with compromises because we are the ones who own the land.”
“The Palestinian Authority already gave compromises but the Jews did not make peace. The Palestinian Authority took off their pants for them.”
These responses are unsurprising, as Palestinian authorities don’t recognize Israel’s existence12, consistently portray Palestine as including Israel, raise children to believe all of Palestine should be free from the river to the sea13, educate them to kill Jews, convert them into terrorists, and often quote any concession from Israel as a stepping stone to liberating all of Israel and Palestine.
A majority of Palestinians don’t want peace.
The Root Cause of the Conflict
Let’s summarize so far:
15 years ago, when I visited the region, I concluded that neither side was willing to make the concessions necessary for peace.
Every time the two sides have negotiated they have been pulled towards the extremes.
The offers leaders were considering would have been very unpopular.
The sides are locked in a cycle of violence and control: more Palestinian violence begets more Israeli control. This radicalizes both sides, which is convenient for the more radical powers on each side.
In other words, the sides are too far apart to reach an agreement. No side can negotiate a peace agreement because what they want is mutually exclusive.15 They both want the same land, they both hate each other, and they would both “get rid of the problem” if they could. There is no amount of negotiation and creative redrawing of maps that will outweigh this reality.
One requirement must be met before peace is signed:
We need to change people’s minds.
You might think this is impossible. Luckily, it’s not. We’ve done it before.
How We Turned Hatred into Peace
The starkest examples of entire nations changing their opinion on a previous enemy are Germany and Japan.
In December 1970, West Germany and Poland signed the Treaty of Warsaw, which meant that Germany accepted that Poland would keep a region that had been Germanic for centuries and had belonged to Germany before the war. Willy Brandt, then-chancellor of West Germany, told his people that it was time to move on:
The point now is to prove that we have come of age and that we have the courage to acknowledge reality. [….] [The Treaty with Poland] does not surrender anything that was not gambled away long ago [….] [This is] a policy not of surrender but of common sense.
A cornerstone of two-state peace projects is to get Palestinians and Israelis to do this now. They miss a crucial fact: This was in 1970. 25 years after the end of WWII! Why so long? It took that long to rewire the German psyche. Politicians seldom lead public opinion.16 They follow it.
When the Allies occupied Germany and Japan, they didn’t simply address the military. They methodically uprooted their deeply-ingrained ideologies, along with all the people, institutions, networks, and symbols that supported them. They had to replace the existing narrative with another one that favored the West.
Only an inflexible long-term occupation authority will be able to lead the Germans to a fundamental revision of their recent political philosophy.—Institute on Re-education of the Axis Countries, June 1945.
In Germany, the Denazification process meant that Allies tried millions of Germans for Nazism, and offenders were imprisoned or banned from public service. Allies strengthened alternative centers of power like labor unions and new political parties, fostering democracy. Allies controlled all German media, banned Nazi content, and published anti-Nazi content.
In education, Allies thoroughly revised school curricula to remove any remnants of Nazi ideology, rewrote textbooks, banned active Nazis from teaching, trained new teachers, and promoted democratic principles.
These measures were far short of perfect, but combined with a German desire to start anew and the opposition to Communism, they largely succeeded in converting Germans from authoritarian, militaristic nationalists into democratic supporters of freedom and equality.
Something even more incredible happened with Japan. Until 1945, Americans and Japanese hated each other: It was like with Germany, but with a racial component. For example, by the end of the war, Japanese women were being trained to fight Americans to death with bamboo spears.
The US occupied Japan for seven years after 1945 and transformed it from a radical enemy to one of its staunchest allies. The cornerstone of this turnaround was the Japanese constitution, written by the US, based on Western constitutions, and approved by Japanese lawmakers. It prevented Japan from having a military (thus making Japan dependent on the US), established democracy and freedom of speech, legalized labor unions and democratic parties, gave women the right to vote, and kept Hirohito as emperor—but only as a figurehead—to reduce grudges and use his influence in the transition. They made him declare he was not a god. The US also decentralized the police, and more importantly, heavily restructured education: It decentralized it, changed textbooks, extracted the military, allowed parent-led school boards, and mixed sexes in classrooms.
Despite establishing freedom of speech, the US heavily censored the Japanese media for years, even censoring the mention of censorship itself.
And despite instituting free elections, the US and Japan banned the Communist Party and blacklisted all its members.
How to Change Minds in Israel and Palestine
If the main obstacle to peace is that each side hates the other, a prerequisite for peace is to change minds to become more moderate.
If we apply the lessons from Germany and Japan, we can conclude that such a change in mindset probably requires reforms in the media, education, and institutions in Israel and Palestine.
Education is at the source of everything. Today, both sides focus on their own plight, cherry-pick the information covered at school, and do everything they can to justify their own state’s legitimacy while vilifying the other.17 The result is that both sides don’t even share the same reality! You can’t agree with somebody who has a completely different set of facts as yours.
If instead both sides were educated with a common understanding of what has happened in the past, including the suffering on both sides, they would be much more empathetic, and more likely to reach an agreement in the future. Imagine if all Arabs were taught about the Jewish Holocaust, and all Israelis lived the Palestinian experience through the eyes of a Nakba refugee or of an inhabitant of the West Bank.
To make this happen:
Israelis and Palestinians should agree on a new curriculum for the parts that influence hatred the most: mainly history, but also geography, biology, civics, theology, and literature.
Educators should be retrained. The more radical ones should be dismissed.
All textbooks should be rewritten and approved.
The focus of all the reforms should be on showing the tragedy and loss of each side, the complexity of the situation, and examples of peace reached between enemies across history.
A specific part of the curriculum should be focused on thinking critically and independently identifying misinformation.
How could both countries share a curriculum? How could they agree on the content?
Israel and Palestine should form a joint Reconciliation Commission to oversee all these changes. The commission would need a strong majority for all key decisions like who to hire and textbook approvals, and would contain an equal number of Israelis and Palestinians. The commission should also include representatives of Arab states and donor states and allies. Every side should have some veto power over the other side’s commission members to foster moderation.18
Making this happen in Palestine should be easier than it may seem: Most Palestinian refugee education is carried out by UNRWA, mainly with Western donations. UNRWA has a mixed track record though. Extracting this from their budget, and creating a different organization would probably be necessary.
I would assume Hamas would never let that happen, though, and it’s one more reason why Hamas must go. Hamas won’t leave voluntarily though, so I actually think that its elimination is needed. I think Israel’s objective of eliminating Hamas is valid.
Pressuring Israel to make this happen might be harder, since foreigners don’t own the educational purse, but it seems like a reasonable request by the US in exchange for its continued support: How could you defend that more neutrality is bad?
Both sides won’t do this unilaterally though, so it should be proposed by the foreign powers that have influence in the area: neighboring Arab states, the US, and the EU.
Israel and Palestine rank 97th and 156th in freedom of the press. Eventually, media should be freed on both sides. Measures should be taken on both sides to accomplish that in a few years.
But as we know, a free press can easily polarize people. This might work in countries with strong institutions and a culture of free speech, but it might be counterproductive in the short term in Israel and Palestine. Both Germany and Japan had years of Western media intervention. To this day, most countries are not as permissive as the US in freedom of speech—for example, Germany still bans Nazi propaganda.
To push Israelis and Palestinians towards the ideological middle, the media should be overseen by a similar commission as that of education: bipartisan Israeli-Palestinian, with relevant foreign stakeholders. This commission should only operate for a few years until full freedom of press prevails.
During that interim period, the commission should be able to revoke press licenses from media that promote hatred or misinformation, and censor the worst instances. Incitement to hatred should be banned.
Something like the Fairness Doctrine should be implemented: It was a US policy that required the press to present controversial issues of public importance, and to do so in a way that fairly reflected differing viewpoints. This was struck down in the US in the 1980s, and public polarization on the doctrine spiked after that. We can argue whether this was good or bad for the US, but Israel and Palestine would benefit from a similar policy for at least a few years.
Today, a huge source of mistrust is the fact that each side says the other side’s claims are propaganda. I have an impossible time checking different sources and, honestly, most of the time, I just don’t know. If this is true for someone trying to be objective, imagine what it’s like for most people, who are already firmly in one camp.
Therefore, a misinformation verification agency should be formed, with the sole purpose of checking the veracity of claims on each side. Specific posts could be labeled as truthful or debunked, and accounts with a history of misinformation would be reported to social media and/or eventually banned.
Social media algorithms today are optimized for engagement, which foster radicalization. The misinformation commission should work with social media networks to tweak their algorithms to favor broad views rather than radicalization. Everyone should be able to express themselves, but the megaphone should be biased to favor moderates, not radicals as it is today.19
One of the reasons the Israeli-Palestinian conflict receives so much international publicity is because we are its judge, and we can nudge it in one direction or the other. As I mentioned in Will Israel Be at War?, this land is too weak to be independent. It has always depended on its surrounding empires. Today, those are mainly Western and Arab powers, and their opinions will influence the future of the region.20
That’s why it’s so important that each of us works to push the region towards moderation.
When you find people claiming issues are black or white, explain the complexity of the situation if you know it, or simply point out that it’s complicated if you don’t.
Empathize with both sides: Validate their suffering, but not their hatred.
Call out whataboutism, where people justify their side’s actions because of the bad from the other side.
Call out misinformation when you find it. When somebody denies that information is true—like whether Hamas beheaded babies, or whether the IDF kills Palestinian civilians—look for evidence if you can. There are some places dedicated to analyzing misinformation. Follow them.
Nothing brings a group to moderation better than moderates within that group. So if you’re a moderate, call out your side before the other’s.
This is a game that extremists have played better than moderates. It’s time to change that.21
A Bright Future
I am not naïve. Unless something truly outstanding emerges from the ashes of Gaza, I don’t think Israel and Palestine will sign peace in the coming months or years. They just don’t want it hard enough. They prefer the status quo.
This is why I think the focus should not be on a peace agreement today, but rather on changing minds to make it possible tomorrow. You would imagine that past peace negotiations have included some sort of education component. But no peace initiative has come even close to this. We must try
The negotiations in Taba and Annapolis got us very close. They are a great blueprint for a future agreement. Israelis and Palestinians just need to be ready to accept them, and that’s the goal of my proposed solutions. Willing populations can sign peace. This is what my proposals should achieve. They would ensure that, if we can’t sign peace today, we will be able to sign it in 20 years.
An Even Brighter Future
Luckily, there are four other factors that will probably make peace easier in the future.
Solar energy costs are dropping about 12% cheaper per year. That means they halve every five years. The Israeli desert receives a lot of sunlight, so the value of desert land is increasing as a source of energy. Since a big chunk of the land Israel wanted to swap to Palestine was desert, now these land swaps are much more valuable to Palestinians. They can generate more energy with them, and even more every year.
As the cost of solar energy drops, so does the cost of desalination. It’s now about $0.5 per ton of water, and since energy is the biggest cost, the cost of desalination decreases with the cost of solar energy. Therefore, desert lands will be easier and cheaper to irrigate, and since they’re usually naturally fertile, growing crops should be easier in the future.
As solar power increases in production, the power of oil producers will diminish, including Iran, one of the biggest agents of turmoil in the region. In a decade, its income from oil will probably falter, and with it the ability to foster conflict.
Fertility has been dropping on the Palestinian side. Normally, young people are more likely to support war and terrorism, and older people prefer peace. The aging Palestinian population should naturally moderate its views.
More moderate populations, more valuable land, and less foreign influence should help Israelis and Palestinians find a long-lasting peace. If, on top of that, everybody is educated to understand each other and empathize, they will be able to reach peace.
And recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
The trip to Bethlehem was with a group fo Americans to see the Church of Nativity. The trip to Ramallah was the one with my Argentinian-Israeli friend, and that’s when I talked with Palestinians. He had found people to talk with through his connections. The return from Bethlehem was by car, and by foot from Ramallah. I don’t remember why—memory is strongest for feelings than facts—so my best guess is I was returning alone either because my friend had to go earlier, or because he had an Israeli passport so he had to go through another route.
One example: Israel would probably have to give up settlements, some of them big, like Ariel, with 20k Jewish settlers. Last I read, probably around 150k settlers would either have to move or live in a Palestinian state. If Israel and Palestine reach a two-state peace agreement, 150k Jews staying in Palestine should not be more problematic than the 2M Arabs who live in Israel today.
Some negotiations were leaked to the press and killed the channel, some experts were not at the table when they should have been, Barak and Arafat barely talked to each other directly at Camp David, Palestinians didn’t make counter offers at Camp David…
In 1967, Arabs lost all ground in Mandatory Palestine. What Israelis offered in Oslo in the 1990s was better than that; even better in Camp David in 2000, even better in Taba in 2001, and even better than in Annapolis in 2009. They might think they can keep going for a better deal, rather than missing the fact that Israel has them on a ticking clock.
I can’t easily find violence of Israeli settlers on Palestinian Arabs in the 1990s. It seems like a phenomenon that really exploded in the 2000s. Here’s the Wikipedia page on the topic.
Again, I’m not making a judgment call here on which side is more reasonable in their demands. I’m highlighting the fact that the cycle of violence and reduction in control makes any potential agreement impossible.
Case in point: This spread of the IDF is one of the reasons why the Gaza border was poorly protected on October 7th 2023.
Both need to be careful how extreme they go: Hamas because it could push Israel enough to kill most of its members, Israel because it could infuriate all the surrounding Arab countries and push them to intervene.
That doesn’t mean the only way to topple Hamas is through violence. An option that few have explored is non-violence. It would have put Hamas in evidence, losing a lot of international support and also probably internal support. This is not the path that Israel chose, and we’re seeing the result in thousands of horrible civilian deaths in the quest to get rid of Hamas.
Palestine did in the past, during the Oslo Accords, but has withdrawn its recognition since. I can’t find an official Fatah (or Palestinian Authority) paper recognizing it. I’ve searched hard, and others have too.
There’s a lot of debate about this sentence. I’ve seen people (usually Westerners) defend that it really refers to liberating Palestinians from the river to the sea, not conquering Palestine from the river to the sea. Maybe in some cases that’s true. But after listening to dozens of interviews and seeing extracts of Palestinian education, I believe the more common meaning of the sentence is the aim to erase the existence of Israel.
I couldn’t independently verify every one of these links. I’m pretty sure some of them will turn out to be wrong. I’m happy to correct them, just let me know. I’m also happy to add more links if you think I should add more color. I’m also sure this is biased, so please help reduce the bias in the comments.
One counterexample would be Hitler, who strongly led German opinion. But even this extreme example is weaker than it appears. Germany was still powerful after WWI, and had been thoroughly humiliated. It was among the worst hit in the world during the economic crisis of the 1930s. Hitler just channeled this hatred, humiliation, poverty, and desire for vengeance. Maybe if he hadn’t been there, somebody similar would have been.
Some more than others, but this doesn’t matter. This process should resolve the gap regardless.
Structuring this commission well would be extremely important. We want to encourage moderates and discourage radicals. One way to achieve this is for the representatives of Israel and Palestine to be proposed by their respective sides, but then be approved by the other stakeholders: Palestinian members would be proposed by the Palestinian government (eg Fatah) but approved by the Israeli government, and vice-versa. The commission should Include Arab states with the most skin in the game: Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, and maybe others. Donor states should include those who donate the most money to fund Palestinian education, which is mainly Western countries, as well as the countries who support Israel the most, mainly the US. You could imagine a commission with 20 members in total: 7 Palestinians, 7 Israelis, 3 from other Arab countries, and 3 from the US and the EU. Important approvals could require 14 votes.
This is true globally, but the case for it here is huge.
Namely, the US and the EU, as the biggest allies of Israel and donors of Palestine; Egypt and Saudi Arabia as the big Sunni Arab neighbors; Iran as the powerful Shia backer of Hamas. Other powers are trying to exert some influence, particularly Russia and China, but they are farther removed.
There are other measures to foster peace. One of them is economic development, as was promoted in Germany and Japan. But this has been tried in the past in Palestine, and many of the funds were diverted by Hamas towards terrorism. Economic development can only help peace once people want peace. Another change is in institutions, but I’m not sure what institutional changes Palestine would need. More democracy today would simply put terrorists in power like in 2006. Again, to do this successfully, we need a population that wants peace.