We can neither process nor prevent the horrific loss of civilian lives and fierce confrontations that began on Oct. 7 without understanding their political context. UN Secretary-General António Guterres was correct when he said that the events of that day did not happen in a vacuum.
What we are witnessing now in Gaza, as the death toll exceeds 10,000, is Israel resorting to the tired security logic that it uses to solve all its problems. However this approach has not worked — and will never work — precisely because it neglects the political context: decades of occupation. That’s why, when this war ends — regardless of its military outcome — the ideas that drive Hamas, which combines religious belief with armed resistance to occupation, will be stronger and more popular. Hamas ascended in an environment of increasing oppression and the failure of the promises of the two-state solution.
But Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip have never stopped their resistance to the occupation, moving from one form to another. All the violence that has been used to suppress us, including the commonplace killing of civilians, demolition of homes, and theft of our land has not deterred Palestinians from standing steadfast in opposition to that occupation. And those figures in our history and present day who are most revered are those who resisted occupation, using protests, steadfastness, or the tools available.
The great losses that Palestinians have felt as a result only served to set the stage for the next revolt. Many Palestinians are posting on social media a proverb illustrating the failure of Israel’s suppression: “They tried to bury us, but they did not know we are seeds.”
In the days after this war in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority will be even weaker, less popular, and less relevant. It has almost no role in these developments that concern its people. Indeed, at some stage in the war, one can expect that a campaign of blame will be directed at it, the weakest actor.
The day after will have no place for the two-state solution, due to the radicalizing effect of the war on both Israeli and Palestinian societies and polities. This is not a dramatic change in any case because Israel has now departed the arena of territorial compromise to one of irreversible existential steps. The sudden focus by American and European politicians on reviving the two-state talks is ridiculous and far too late. For years, they have born witness to Israel killing that vision but chose instead to ignore Israel’s settlement expansion and belittle Palestinians who championed a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Another casualty of this war is Europe’s remaining credibility in the Middle East and beyond. The values that major European countries claim to champion — democracy, human rights, free media and expression — fell like paper tigers as those same states continued to allow the indiscriminate and repeated targeting of civilians in Gaza and the West Bank. Palestinians are exchanging via social media videos of European and American politicians shedding tears for civilian casualties in Ukraine, with a split screen of them defending Israeli actions as its “right to self-defense.”
In the days after, Israel’s “big brothers,” the US and large European countries, will face some important strategic questions. What is behind the deterioration in internal Israeli politics and society, and is there a relationship between that and Israel’s vulnerability to the attack on Oct. 7? Can Israel maintain or restore its strategic importance to the West in the Middle East? Do these big brothers want to continue with the approach of spoiling Israel by uncoupling their unlimited support for the state from those policies that they find harmful and dangerous to their own interests?
After this war, going back to the old rhetoric and paradigm of an “agreed-upon solution,” “a negotiated two-state solution,” or “bringing the parties back to the table,” will be an invitation for the next round of violent confrontations. These words have become synonymous with giving the stronger party, Israel, veto power over the outcome. Israel owes its creation, survival, and superiority to the US and its European allies: those allies also bear a share of responsibility in this deep deterioration.
It is time — as we witness unchecked before us some of the worst international crimes in our lifetimes — for these countries to stop treating Israel as a state above international law, and convince, cajole, or force Israel to end its occupation. The alternative is already clear: a combination of apartheid, continued rounds of increasingly brutal confrontations, and a deterioration in their own standing in the world.