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Barbarians at the Gate
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Barbarians at the Gate

Hamas’ war on Israel shows there is no hope for either a one-state or two-state solution.

A police officer walks near a police station that was destroyed after a battle between Israeli troops and Hamas militants that have take the station on October 8, 2023, in Sderot, Israel. (Footage by Amir Levy/Getty Images)

The barbarians came at dawn and destroyed everything in their path. They murdered indiscriminately. They brutalized the elderly and the children, taking them away as hostages. They raped the women and executed them. Afterward, they paraded the defiled corpses in the streets, and proudly exhibited mutilated body parts as trophies. They left no doubt as to who they are: monsters from what the free world delusionally believed is a bygone age. There can be no coexistence.

And yet a long-held assumption in Middle East policy circles is that Israelis and Palestinians can share one land, either in mutually recognized sovereign, independent states, or joined in a binational state where they live and rule together. How can you live side by side and share power with those who pledge to drink the blood of your kin?

The raging battle in Gaza will postpone a reckoning with the above for some time. But soon, after Hamas is dealt with, a stark reality will emerge, one ignored for too long. The long-touted dilemma, laid out by Israeli historian Benny Morris in his seminal book One State, Two States between a two-state solution—Israel and Palestine, living side by side independently and in peace—and a binational state where the two nations peacefully share power over the land and its resources, is over. Neither option is viable.

Supporters of one or the other idea will protest that the Palestinians were denied the chance to have their own state and prove themselves ready for coexistence. It’s all about the occupation, they’ll say. Lifting the occupation is what they need to act as peaceful neighbors on equal footing. It’s a farrago of lies. 

The Palestinians have had a state for the past 16 years—since 2007, when Hamas took over Gaza. Gaza was a state for all intents and purposes: It had a government in control of its people, exercising the monopoly of force over its territory. It was sovereign within its own boundaries. It made laws and enforced them. It made policy choices—foreign, defense, education, and more—independently. There was no occupation in Gaza once Israel left in 2005.

There is an Egyptian and Israeli blockade since Hamas took over, which nevertheless allows the flow of humanitarian assistance and workers. But that was a product of Hamas’ doing. Hamas chose to fight Israel rather than coexist. It chose to invest all its resources, mostly gifts from well-meaning foreign donors, to sustain war and foment hatred among its citizens. Choices have consequences. You can’t wage war on your neighbor and expect it to keep its borders open. 

Hamas apologists are upset that Israel cut electricity off in Gaza. Did America supply Hitler with oil when the Nazis’ Einsatzgruppen were running low at Auschwitz? No? Then why should Israel?

Hamas’ raison d’être is to destroy Israel, kill its inhabitants, and rule the land with the iron fist of Islamism—a clericofascist vision where gays are hanged, atheists are stoned, women are submissive, non-Muslims are second-class subjects, and democracy and human rights are a Western, corrosive weakness that must be stamped out. They’ve said as much countless times, while their apologists pretended not to listen.

And once Hamas ruled Gaza, it set out to implement its medieval utopia. Their first act was not to turn against the Jews but to kill their own Palestinian opponents. They did not just depose Fatah officials and send them into exile. They threw them off roofs and hunted them down in their homes.

In truth, the 2007 Hamas takeover of Gaza was the last blow to an already moribund two-state solution. The Palestinian Authority that ruled over the West Bank since the 1990s because of the Oslo Accords had already done its part by unleashing the Second Intifada in September 2000. Barbarians showed up at Israel’s gates before, and though the horrors they inflicted on Israelis during that period may now pale compared to the atrocities that Hamas committed in southern Israel during its October 7 foray across the Gaza fence, they were enough to kill any residual hope of coexistence. With peace prospects dead in the water for a two-state solution and the lands considered to be part of a future state of Palestine—Gaza and the West Bank—divided between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, things became even more complicated. No one dared suggest a three-state solution, but the Hamas takeover of Gaza essentially meant that if a two-state solution could ever be revived, it required ridding Gaza of Hamas, and the Palestinians to rid themselves of their fantasy to destroy Israel. The former is now more urgent than ever; the latter was never possible to begin with.

The Gaza takeover by Hamas did not just make the two-state solution even more remote than it already was. It also laid bare the absurdity of the utopian one-state solution. There are no good choices, when the dust settles. But having the former occupiers of the West Bank and Gaza—the Kingdom of Jordan and Egypt—or the Gulf monarchies take control is more realistic than the vain pursuit of the visions hitherto pursued.  

What sustained the belief that a two-state solution might still be possible was the demographic argument underlying the liberal fantasy of a binational state—namely that unless Israel and the Palestinians separated into two independent entities, sooner or later the demographic balance between Arabs and Jews would make the Jews a minority. Israel would then have to choose between remaining a democracy—one vote for each person—or remaining as a Jewish state ruling over a growing, restive, and disenfranchised Arab population. The utopians reasoned that this would therefore require that the two peoples join and live together under one government. To make their fantasy into a viable option, they twisted history, waxing lyrical about a mythical, imagined past of harmony between Jews and Arabs in the land of Islam. They blamed nationalism as the root cause of enmity and optimistically assumed that Israel and Palestine could be like South Africa and Belgium. The skeptics, while rejecting the teary eyed vision of hippy love inherent to the binational fantasy, still believed that a negotiated solution along the lines of territorial compromise, could work and would save Israel from the nightmare of losing its Jewish majority and jeopardizing its historic role as a safe haven for Jews. 

This idea, then, was marketed as a utopian dream and a nightmare at the same time. A dream for those who hated all nationalisms and thought that Jews and Arabs would suddenly—after a century-long bitter conflict—embrace each other and harmoniously share the same geography and political space they had fought over for so long. A nightmare for those who did not believe that this ancient enmity could vanish overnight just because a new flag and constitution said it should. The utopians peddled their utopia as a compelling pipedream. The skeptics clung to the two-state vision, even if that train had long left the station.

Hamas, of course, never subscribed to either vision. They were not content with a state in Gaza in 2007, much like the Palestinian Authority was not content with a state within the 1967 boundaries with adjustments, which it rejected multiple times throughout the history of the conflict. The goal—not just of Hamas leadership, but, overwhelmingly, of the Palestinian people at home and supporters abroad—is, in the words of Psalm 83, to “wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more!” They rephrased it and adorned it with flowery rhetoric and innuendos. But a pig wearing lipstick is still a pig.

The horror Hamas unleashed last weekend put it all to rest. They were always very clear about their goals. What they lacked was the means, but they always had the resolve.

The barbarians must be vanquished. Carthage must be destroyed, and a new political paradigm must arise from its rubble—one where the notion that, if given the chance to govern themselves, the Palestinians can choose peace over war, is forever disabused.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonpartisan research institute based in Washington D.C. Follow him on Twitter @eottolenghi.