The international reaction to the recent surge in Palestinian terrorism and Israel’s operation in Jenin to take out the gunmen and infrastructure of the groups responsible for the bloodshed has been as predictable as it is depressing. Though the Biden administration has paid lip service to the notion that Israelis have the right to defend themselves, the general tone of press coverage and commentary from Washington and the international community has been the usual mantra about a pointless “cycle of violence” and worries about the declining chances of a two-state solution to the problem.
Critics of Israel’s government—both domestic and foreign—are right to describe the operation in Jenin as not providing a definitive answer to the problem of terrorism. But they are missing the main conclusion that should be drawn. Far from all these troubling events making it even clearer that the world must pressure Israel to accept a Palestinian state next to Israel, the fighting actually provides us with a preview of what such a scheme would mean for both sides.
Jenin, which under the “anybody but Bibi” coalition that led Israel for 18 months in 2021 and 2022 had become a mini-Gaza—a no-go zone for both the Palestinian Authority and Israeli forces. The terrorist stronghold is dominated by Hamas and the radical Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and bolstered by funding from their Iranian ally. Unlike Gaza, Israeli ground forces can still move into Jenin. But the Israel Defense Forces’ operation, which by all accounts was a major tactical success leading to the deaths of terrorists and the degrading of their infrastructure, was still much like other periodic efforts undertaken by the military in Gaza to “mow the grass” in that it provided merely temporary relief.
No one should be under any illusions that the terrorists won’t rebuild or that the P.A.—led by the corrupt Fatah Party and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas—will take it back or suppress the terrorists as they are obligated to do under the Oslo Accords that empowered it. Indeed, Fatah operatives are as supportive of terrorism as their Islamist rivals.
The conclusion to be drawn from this is that if Israel were ever so foolish as to succumb to foreign pressure and grant sovereignty to the Palestinians there, the entire area would become, like Gaza, a terrorist state.
It’s true that, at least in principle, two states for two peoples would be the most logical way to end the century-long war against Zionism that the Palestinians have been waging. But the fact that not even the so-called moderates among them, like Abbas, are prepared to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and who have repeatedly rejected such a state if it was predicated on those terms means that there is no “solution” to the problem.
The talk about the vicious cycle of attack and counterattack to describe recent events is predominantly rooted in a narrative that places most of the onus for the current state of affairs on Israel’s government. The general assumption is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current coalition of right-wing and religious parties is responsible for outraging Palestinian sensibilities by allowing Jews to build more homes in existing towns and villages in Judea and Samaria, which is misleadingly referred to as “expanding West Bank settlements.”
The increase in bloody attacks on Jews in the territories, as well as in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other parts of the country the international community recognizes as part of the Jewish state, is most often credited to anger about the continued Jewish presence in those “settlements” or because of some illegal and deplorable reprisal attacks carried out by “settlers” against Arabs.
Yet the depiction of even the most gruesome acts of Arab terrorism as merely an understandable, if deplorable, tit-for-tat scenario in which no one is in the right contributes to the demonization of Israel and its people. Discourse about the conflict remains stuck in a mindset that sees the Palestinians solely as victims, no matter what they do. That is buttressed by the intersectional mindset that sees them as an oppressed people being pushed around by “white” colonial Israel. It’s what enables them to depict, as one BBC host did, an effort to take out a terrorist group as another example of Israelis “being happy to kill children.” And it allows The New York Times to falsely report that Hamas and PIJ are solely protesting the “occupation” of the West Bank, rather than being committed to Israel’s extinction.
Part of this prejudice against Israel and Jewish rights is rooted in antisemitism. But the point here is that rather than enabling an end to the violence, every Israeli withdrawal or concession—whether the Oslo Accords that led to Jenin being a terror stronghold in 2002 as well as today or the 2005 retreat from Gaza—hasn’t encouraged peace or coexistence. It has merely motivated the Palestinians to hold onto to their fantasies about reversing the history of the region and to believe that they still have a chance to eventually succeed in wearing down Israel.
For all of the mistakes he has made in his first 30 months in office, President Joe Biden hasn’t repeated the same one made by all of his recent predecessors by offering his own Middle East peace plan to make a two-state solution happen. Still, the administration’s retreat from its predecessors’ policies aimed at making Palestinians realize that they have lost their war and must accept reality has contributed to the Arab intransigence that makes the current upsurge in violence inevitable.
In particular, Washington’s recent decision to cease scientific and technological cooperation with Israeli institutions in Judea and Samaria like Ariel University does more to fuel violence than building homes for Jews in the region. This embrace of a BDS-style boycott sends a signal to the groups it labels as terrorists and their supporters that they must continue fighting rather than giving up.
Above all, those who deplore both Israeli and Palestinian actions as equally wrong are ignoring the plain evidence that rather the end the conflict, making Jenin a place where Israeli forces would be as unable to enter in the future as Gaza would simply replicate the same situation as currently exists in the Strip. Rather than gaining support because of Abbas’s failure to create a state, Hamas and PIJ are on the rise because they promise to keep fighting Israel until it is destroyed. Two states do not correlate into peace. It would simply make Israel’s already difficult security dilemma even more dangerous.
This isn’t something most people want to hear. The implacable nature of the Palestinian refusal to accept Israel is rooted in religious and cultural ideas that are alien to most Americans. And accepting that there is no answer to this terrible problem in sight is something that also runs counter to Jewish millenarian and utopian ideals that envision the arc of history always bending towards progress, justice and peace. Confronting a future in which Israel will always have to be on guard against forces seeking to destroy it and in which American Jews are obligated to support their efforts is a similarly unattractive vision.
Backing terrorism and the commitment to keep rejecting Israel among Palestinians that has been on display in the territories is a reminder that the international and American determination to double down on working for two states is actually contributing to the problem, not helping solve it. Perhaps sometime in the distant future, it might be possible to imagine a situation where Palestinians have undergone a sea change in their political culture, and two states won’t be a prescription for more violence. Until then, it’s a pipe dream that does far more harm than good.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.