Two ideas have reared their heads amid the Gaza war. On the Palestinian side, a multipronged idea, expressed by both Palestinians and those who support the Palestinian cause, has emerged. Its foundational premise is that there can be no resistance without sacrifice and that peace has gotten the Palestinians nothing.
On the Israeli side, a similar idea has been making headway. Every time Israel has withdrawn from Arab territory, the argument goes, the Arabs turned this territory into a base of operations from which to constantly launch attacks and acts of resistance.
In both cases, the idea of political settlement is rebuffed, leaving violence as the only horizon for resolving the ongoing conflict, whether it's Israeli or Palestinian violence. Both ideas also justify the scale of the death we are seeing, especially on the Palestinian side. In one instance, this is considered the price that must be paid for liberation, and in another, it is deemed collateral damage needed to “discipline” Palestinians and compel them, through iron and fire, to abandon their armed struggle.
These basic ideas reflect broader sentiments within Palestinian and Israeli society, as well as deep-rooted narratives that shape perceptions and actions on both sides of the conflict. They also leave us facing multifaceted, monumental challenges hindering sustainable peace.
Regarding the Palestinians, it should be said, with all due respect to the sacrifices of resistance throughout history, that the assumption that sacrifices alone can legitimize resistance and validate it is a dangerous oversimplification.
Equating the sacrifice of life with the effectiveness of resistance or its appeal as an option, or presenting sacrifice as an inevitable fate and arguing that there is no alternative for liberation, ignores the complex social and political contexts that characterize each individual case of occupation and resistance we have seen throughout history. The number of civilian casualties alone is not an argument for or against resistance. A prominent example was presented by the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who liberated Egyptian territory through negotiation and politics. His example, which is often overshadowed by the perceived inevitability of following models like that of Algeria and the tendency, in the discourse around the Arab-Israeli conflict, to take the loss of “a million martyrs” lightly.
Hiding behind victims’ corpses and the number of casualties is equivalent to using them as human shields or leaving civilians exposed in war. While Israel must be held accountable for the merciless collective punishment that it has subjected the Palestinians to, the Palestinian death toll should not prevent us from holding Hamas accountable for what it has dragged the Palestinians into through its actions on October 7th.
On the other hand, presenting peace alone as the alternative necessary for achieving stability and progress is also an oversimplification.
A naive idea has been circulating recently: the Palestinian Authority must accept that peace has gotten it nowhere. The fact that Palestinians in the West Bank are suffering, despite the politics and ideology of the ruling authority in the West Bank and its differences with the Jihadist groups in Gaza, is presented as evidence. This oversimplification, apart from betraying a superficial understanding of politics, is born of a nihilistic view of politics that contributes to undercutting any realistic means to reach a settlement.
While peace is a necessary foundation for stability and prosperity, so is effective, transparent, and noncorrupt governance that builds upon peace. Otherwise, peace is reduced to brittle and unproductive political rhetoric. Good governance, which is nowhere to be found in the experience of the Palestinian Authority, translates peace into practical benefits for ordinary people, such as economic stability, social justice, and human rights protection.
Palestinian corruption and governance failures have squandered much of the potential benefits that peace could have delivered, just as Hamas's authoritarian rule over Gaza squandered an opportunity to benefit from the fact that it had been completely liberated in 2005.
In Israel, we find that the right wing, which rejects the very idea of peace with the Palestinians and despises the two-state solution, continues to undermine the narrative of the peace process. While the withdrawals from Gaza and South Lebanon remind us that pulling out can turn the land into a platform for jihadist organizations and does not necessarily lead to peace, the successful agreements concluded with Egypt and Jordan attest to the importance and resilience of peace agreements.
In fact, the Israeli right’s line of reasoning, which implies repugnant pretexts, repudiated the argument of right rather than reinforcing it. The differences between the agreements with Egypt and Jordan and Israel’s political approach to dealing with the Palestinians demonstrate that comprehensive peace agreements that go beyond localized concessions and are complemented by social, economic, and political strategies, give rise to sustainable stability. Instead, the right, in its various forms, has chosen to try to outsmart the Palestinians and the very idea of peace itself, and it has done so in a manner that reduced the notion of peace to little more than mutual security commitments.
The Israeli right also bears responsibility for empowering Hamas as it sought to undercut the foundations of the Palestinian national project and weaken moderate Palestinian actors that were genuinely pursuing peace, regardless of their poor political performance and this or that occasion in which they lacked the historical courage needed to put aside nationalistic illusions and move forward with practical solutions.
The ideas emerging from the Gaza war shed light on our need for an accurate understanding of the conflict that accounts for the context and challenges of the Palestinian cause. The narratives arising on both sides amid the war could now further muddle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and undercut the foundations and requisites of an agreement.
The need to draw sensible political conclusions from the current madness looms over us. It is a humanitarian duty that goes beyond the Palestinians and Israelis and their perceptions of one another.
This is a political, intellectual, and media workshop whose outcomes will determine the future of the Middle East as a whole.