History suggests there is a chance that progressivism might come back and conservatives might lose influence. After prior major attacks, Israeli public opinion initially shifted to the right but then changed course and accepted territorial compromises in exchange for peace. The Yom Kippur War of 1973 eventually led to peace with Egypt; the first intifada, beginning in 1987, led to the Oslo accords and peace with Jordan; and the second intifada, erupting in 2000, ended with the unilateral pullout from Gaza.
But the chances that this dynamic will recur are dim. There is no Palestinian group or leader accepted by Israel in the way Egypt and its president were after 1973. Hamas is committed to Israel’s destruction, and the PA is weak. Israel, too, is weak: its wartime unity is already cracking, and the odds are high that the country will further tear itself apart if and when the fighting diminishes. The anti-Bibists hope to reach out to disappointed Bibists and force an early election this year. Netanyahu, in turn, will whip up fears and dig in. In January, relatives of hostages broke into a parliamentary meeting to demand that the government try to free their family members, part of a battle between Israelis over whether the country should prioritize defeating Hamas or make a deal to free the remaining captives. Perhaps the only idea on which there is unity is in opposing a land-for-peace agreement. After October 7, most Jewish Israelis agree that any further relinquishment of territory will give militants a launching pad for the next massacre.
Ultimately, then, Israel’s future may look very much like its recent history. With or without Netanyahu, “conflict management” and “mowing the grass” will remain state policy—which means more occupation, settlements, and displacement. This strategy might appear to be the least risky option, at least for an Israeli public scarred by the horrors of October 7 and deaf to new suggestions of peace. But it will only lead to more catastrophe. Israelis cannot expect stability if they continue to ignore the Palestinians and reject their aspirations, their story, and even their presence. [Continue reading…]