After October 7th: Israel’s Search for Victory

Prologue: A Personal Statement on the War

I am not neutral. As a citizen of Israel, I hurt and cry with my fellow Israeli citizens, Jews and Arabs, victims of Hamas’ barbaric attack. Struggle for national liberation does not justify a crime against humanity and war crime. Glorifying the murder and abuse of innocent human beings is a repulsive act.

I am not neutral and, therefore, as a human being, I hurt and cry over the killing, injury and destruction of property of the residents of the Gaza Strip at the hands of the IDF, the army of the country of which I am a citizen. No crime justifies another crime.

Logos Journal - After October 7th

Causing trauma in the Gaza strip will not heal our trauma. Indiscriminate retaliation between those who have to be brought to justice for their actions and those who are not involved in committing war crimes is morally wrong and a stain on the right to self-defense. The sovereignty and power that the establishment of Israel gave to Jews does not constitute permission for blind revenge but an opportunity to show that we can defend ourselves in accord with moral standards. We are not in 1903 in Kishinev pogrom and not in 1929 in Hebron and not in the Holocaust. We are in a strong independent country.


The statements of Israel’s leaders about  “destroying Hamas once and for all”, “de-Nazification of Gaza Strip “and “changing the Middle East for generations to come”, should not be taken nots empty rhetoric by leaders, but as a plan of action. Accordingly Israel declared its minimalist and maximalist war goals. The minimalist goal is assuring that no hostile actions or threats against Israel arises from the Gaza Strip. The maximalist goal is guaranteeing that no child in the Gaza Strip is educated to hate Israel. Assuming they believe that these general and far-reaching goals are achievable, what examples does Israel’s historical record offer?

In its early years, Israel acknowledged the problem of existing in hostile neighborhood. Its defensive strategy in the 1950s and 60s included protecting the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan as a pro-Western barrier state on her eastern front. In addition, Israel built close relations with two pro-Western non-Arab Muslim states, Iran and Turkey, based on their joint interest in blocking Egypt’s leader, Nasser, and his revolutionary pan-Arabism. But Israeli leaders also saw defensive policy as insufficient. Looking at historical examples of how Israel has dealt with opponents in the past helps us to understand what strategies it might pursue in the present.

Historical Example 1: Replacing Egypt’s President Nasser

In 1956, Israel joined Britain and France as their junior partner in the Suez war, which aimed at toppling Egypt’s President Nasser and establishing a pro-Western regional order. France wanted to end the support Egypt provided the revolting Algerian national movement. Britain was angry over Nasser’s decisions to nationalize the Suez Canal and rejection of a regional anti-Soviet military pact. Israel assumed that, sooner or later, Nasser would initiate war to wipe the Jewish state off the map. Meanwhile, Israel concluded that Nasser’s regime was behind Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians. The trilateral colonial conspiracy failed and became counter-productive to its planers. Britain and France lost their super-power status and colonies. The Soviet Union and the United State forced Israel to withdraw from Sinai within four months. Nasser came out of his military defeat as a victor.

Historical Example 2: Alternative Homeland for the Palestinians

Unlike in 1956, in 1982 Israel was the major force in attempting to change Lebanon’s regime. Israel cooperated with the Christian Maronite leader, Bashir Gemayel, who commanded a strong militia in Lebanon’s chaotic political system. Both partners wanted to end the PLO’s semi-autonomy in the country and expel Palestinian refugees of the War of 1948. Israel occupied Lebanon from the south up to its capital Beirut and compelled the weak parliament to elect Bashir as president. But Syria, wishing to protect her strong hold in Lebanon by cooperating with anti-Maronite Druze and Muslim forces, assassinated Bashir. Thus, the hope that, under Bashir, Lebanon would sign a peace agreement with Israel and expel the Palestinians to Jordan (where they would terminate the Hashemite kingdom and build their own state), faded.

The 1982 war shows, first, that the Palestinian national movement led by the PLO became Israel’s principal concern. Second, that, for a while, Israel entertained the idea of pushing  the Palestinians to an alternative homeland.  Once this was revealed to be impossible, Israel changed course from pushing the Palestinians to an alternative homeland to creating an alternative leadership.

Historical Example 3: Alternative Palestinian Leadership

Indeed, Israel’s search for alternative Palestinian leadership had already started in the late 70s. This was a decade after rejecting veteran West Bank leaders’ requests to expand their authority from unconnected municipalities to a regional entity. Israel preferred to stick to the, ultimately, unachievable  option of pushing Palestinians into Jordan. Israel rejected Jordan’s precondition of full Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 war borders in exchange for peace.

When pro-PLO candidates won the occupied territories municipal elections of 1976, defeating veteran mayors identified with Jordan, Israel, now under the Likud, applied to the local rural sector. It hoped that the Villagers League, which it created with local leaders in the southern West Bank in the late 1970s, would spill into the north and incorporate the cities with their adjacent refugee camps that strongly support the PLO. This was a short-lived illusion, based on an incorrect reading of the West Bank’s socio-political development. Contrary to Israeli expectations, the cities attracted the younger generation from the periphery by offering them higher education combined with political affiliation and activity.

Historical Example 4: Training the PLO

The mass Palestinian uprising of 1987 forced Israel to seek a different direction.  Israel agreed that leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but not the PLO, would represent the Palestinians at the 1991 Madrid peace conference. Through this agreement, Israel hoped to create a divide between the PLO establishment, which was located outside Palestine, and the people located  inside. Israel also hoped that, by including the Palestinian representatives in a joint delegation with Jordan, the peace process outcome would lead not to Palestinian independence, but, rather, probably to limited autonomy under Jordanian or Israeli rule.

The idea of seeing the occupied territories’ leadership as Israel’s sole peace process partner originated in an earlier plan to grant autonomy to the residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The autonomy plan was included in the Israeli – Egyptian peace treaty of 1979. Due to their disagreements over authorities, Israel and Egypt did not conclude their talks on this subject. However, the architects of the Oslo accords incorporated the principle in their 1993 document. Yet, whereas in the Israel – Egypt discussions the autonomy plan was considered a permanent solution (at least in Israel’s eyes), in the Oslo Agreement it was constructed as temporary regime.

It is worth noting that contrary to popular perception, the Oslo agreement was not a peace treaty, but rather an open-ended interim agreement on autonomy without defining what would replace it after five years. Marketing it as a peace agreement raised expectations and encouraged the opponents of peace to sabotage the process.  The high expectations set the stage for deep disappointment.  In addition, Israel and the Palestinian Authority appeased opposition groups in ways that eroded mutual trust and created obstacles on Oslo’s road to peace.

A One State Reality with a Palestinian Subcontractor

The end of the Camp David summit with no agreement and the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000 terminated the Oslo plan for autonomy. Instead, Israel introduced a new method of control. In 2002, Israel reoccupied the West Bank and sieged Arafat in his Ramallah headquarters. In 2005, when Mahmoud Abbas replaced Arafat, Israel approved the restoration of the PA on the condition that it operated under Israeli control as its subcontractor, rather than as an independent state building agent. With massive settlement expansion in the West Bank since 1993 (from approximately 250,000 settlers in 1993 to nearly 700,000), tens of thousands soldiers (between thirteen and twenty five battalions deployed plus intelligence, air force, and logistics units), the Wall that Israel built in 2005 that cuts Palestinian areas, and the subordinated PA that controls only over twenty percent of the West Bank, Israel was able to create a new reality: one Israeli regime from Jordan to the Mediterranean in which the number of Jews and Arab-Palestinians is almost equal. The powerful Jewish ethnic group maintains its superiority by dividing the Palestinians into five groups: Israeli Palestinians, East Jerusalemites, West Bankers outside the PA’s control, West Bankers under PA control, and Gaza Strip residents who are closed in their own enclave. Israel allocates each group different sets of civil and political rights while negating others. In 2005, Israel replaced its direct occupation of Gaza Strip with control from the outside. Following Hamas’s victory in the PA legislative council elections of 2006 and its forcefully taking control over Gaza Strip in 2007, Israel began its siege of the Strip.

Israel invested massive political energy to keep Mahmoud Abbas’ cooperative regime in place, including by maintaining the division between Hamas and Fatah and preventing general elections in spring 2021 that could have ended the division and rebuilt the Palestinian Authority’s political institutions and restored their legitimacy. To discipline Hamas, Israel blended two strategies:  letting Qatari financial aid enter into Gaza strip knowing it would help Hamas stay in power and implementing periodic army raids to limit its physical capabilities and political power.

Two international policies helped Israel sustain its one regime. First, Western countries lost hope and interest in solving the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, in particular following the outbreak of war in Ukraine. Second, the signing of normalization agreements with peripheral Arab countries (the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Sudan) marginalized the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. Israel celebrated these agreements as clear evidence of its strategic success of replacing the Israeli – Palestinian conflict resolution policy with shrinking the Arab – Israeli conflict, by-passing the divided and ruled Palestinians. The international community’s message to Israelis and Palestinians was: the conflict within the one state reality is your problem, not an international policy issue. Unsurprisingly, the Palestinians felt betrayed. Hamas feared that Israel’s radical right wing government is close to achieve a historical victory.

When Israel came close to its greatest political achievement since Oslo agreement, the normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia, its policy became distorted. The first sign came from north West Bank in early 2023, when armed groups attacked Israeli settlers and soldiers. Fearing backlash, the extremely unpopular Mahmoud Abbas forces refrained from confronting them. Instead, big Israeli army units frequently raid the area.

Hamas’s criminal and barbaric attack on October 7 left 1300 Israeli civilians, soldiers and migrant laborers dead. More than two hundred forty people, among them babies, small children and old people, are Hamas’s hostages inside Gaza Strip. Since 1948 war no settlement inside Israel has been occupied; and since the Holocaust not so many Jews were murdered in one day. About 330, 000 Israelis became displaced or forced to leave their homes next to the front lines. This also did not happen in Israel since 1948 war.

Israel’s brutal and indiscriminate retaliatory air bombardments, followed by a ground invasion has killed at least twenty four thousands of people, most of them innocent civilians. More than two million people became displaced and lost their homes. The death tool and refugees number are higher than those the Palestinians experienced in 1948 war and had made in much shorter period.

Israel’s Historical Record Reconsidered

Hamas’s attack caught Israel by great surprise. It launched the retaliatory war without a clear definition of what the declared goal of “destroying Hamas” means practically, who should replace Hamas, or which alternative to Hamas’s rule would lead Israel to agree to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. Lacking public trust and support, Israel’s political and security leaders have to define their end-game goals during the war. They are caught between revenge seeking, frustration, grief, and restoring their reputation on the one hand, and heavy external pressure to end innocent Palestinian civilians suffering on the other hand.

The review of the historical record suggests that Israel can choose from the following post-fighting arrangements:

The first is the expulsion of the Gaza Strip’s population and destruction of their cities similar to what Israel did following the War of 1948 and hoped to achieve in Lebanon in 1982. This alternative Palestinian homeland option, is not wishful thinking on the part of marginalized right-wing activists. Fueled by fears of insecurity and calls to kill off the entire population of the  Gaza Strip , official policy proposals of the Minister of Intelligence and senior Knesset members recommend transferring the Gaza Strip’s civilians to Egypt’s Sinai. When Egyptian President al-Sisi angrily denounced the proposal, Israel opened talks with Congo on Gaza “voluntary migration” plan.[1] Knesset members in the right-wing coalition together with the settler movement are campaigning to establish three settlement cities on the ruins of the Gaza Strip’s Palestinian cities. In addition, they are pressuring to rebuild the small settlements that Israel evacuated in 2005.[2]Their view, however, goes beyond the Gaza Strip. What they believe Israel must do now in Gaza, should also be done later in the West Bank. If Israeli leaders choose to endorse this plan, they are expected to meet powerful international opposition expressed first and foremost by the United States. As the current war shows, Israel’s security depends on US assistance. No responsible Israeli leader can ignore or reject America’s stance.

Whereas expelling the Gaza Strip’s population is the maximalist option, eliminating Hamas’s top leadership is the minimalist one. Indeed, in January Israel killed Salah al-Aruri, the deputy leader of Hamas and committed to eliminate Yehiya Sinwar, Hamas local leader, the mastermind behind Hamas’ October attack. It follows the failed strategies pursued in the 1956 war to topple Nasser and the Israeli plan to assassinate Arafat in 1982 War with Lebanon  and in the second Intifada. In addition, since 2000, Israel systematically assassinates Hamas’s top political leaders and military commanders. The assumption that Hamas, a well organized  movement that represents the popular voice, would cease to function, even in the short term, when its leadership were assassinated has proved mistaken. Similarly, expelling the PLO leaders in 1982 from Lebanon to Tunis did not end the PLO.

A third option is to seek alternative leadership that is ready to rule Gaza Strip in collaboration with Israel. Accordingly, Israeli forces would stay there to help and supervise the local leadership. According to PM Netanyahu, this alternative to Hamas leadership should be fully local. It is akin to what Israel hoped to achieve by founding the short-lived Villages League in the southern West Bank as an alternative to t the PLO and will end-up similarly. The same principle led Israel to subordinate the Palestinian Authority within the one state reality. In the 1980s and the 1990s, Israel employed this method with the South Lebanon Army, the proxy Israel maintained in Lebanon against the PLO.

In 1985, Israel withdraw from Beirut and Lebanon’s center, to a strip in south Lebanon that it defined as a security zone. The area’s residents, mostly Shias, who in 1982 welcomed the Israeli army with rice grains, gradually turned against the Israeli army and its local Christian collaborator, the South Lebanon Army. Hezbollah, the extremist Shia movement, emerged as the main resistance force, compelling Israel to withdraw in 2000 after suffering many loses. Israel cruel treatment of Gaza Strip residents since 2007, most of them refugees of 1948 and their descendants, discourages assuming that creating an alternative leadership might help Israel achieve a stable security order. However, for the current Israeli right-wing coalition this option is attractive because it preserves the division between the West Bank and Gaza, which is necessary to prevent Palestinian state.

The strategy of creating of an alternative leadership might also be accomplished by returning the Palestinian Authority to the Gaza Strip. This option is preferred by Defense Minister Galant conditioned it will operate within the one-state reality that Israel established. If Israeli center parties form the next government, the return of the Palestinian Authority’s control of the Gaza Strip within the terms of the Oslo agreement’s model of autonomy seems possible. Yet, Abbas’ administration is weak, unpopular, and delegitimized. The Ramallah based Palestinian Authority should be reconfigured and regain legitimacy through general elections that include disarming Hamas and resuming Oslo style peace talks. As former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fiad notes,“It is impossible to see how the PLO,” which signed the Oslo accords and of which the Palestinian Authority is part, “can credibly make any commitment to nonviolence as part of any attempt to restart the peace process if Hamas and factions of a similar orientation are not represented”.[3] Returning to the Oslo model means reducing the goal of a Palestinian state to autonomy trapped between the hammer of Israeli security and settlements and the anvil of the hope of self-determination wish. This very trap denies regime legitimacy and is not expected to work differently in the future.

To sum up, the current war shows that none of previous methods brought peace, security, or stability to any of the conflicting sides. Choosing any of them would be to ignore  what the current war proved impossible.

The Collapse of the Four Methods

The current war ended, at least temporarily, the four methods Israel used since 2006/2007 to deal with the Palestinians under its rule.

First, it ended the method of closing the Gaza Strip’s borders, disciplining Hamas yet keeping it in power and maintaining its political division from the West Bank regime. Israel is reoccuppying the Gaza Strip aiming to dismantle Hamas’s regime. During the war, small scale armed conflicts have erupted in the West Bank between Palestinians and Israeli forces and settlers. In addition, settlers and the army continue to displace small Palestinian communities. Within the 1948 borders, Israeli Palestinians experience sporadic physical and verbal attacks by angry Jewish Israelis. What happens in the Gaza Strip does not remain confined there for long.

Second, the war shows the shortsightedness of replacing conflict resolution with conflict management. The conflict can be managed only periodically and thereafter turns more violent. Moreover, the bloody conflict impacts the international socio-political order. Western leaders confront mass pro-Palestinian demonstrations and anti-Semitic attacks on their Jewish communities. There is growing awareness among international leaders, first and foremost the Biden administration, that they should reengage politically to solve the conflict along the two-state solution.

Third, the war shattered the policy of shrinking the Arab – Israeli conflict and distancing Arab countries from the Palestinians by signing normalization agreements with Israel. With unprecedented casualties within a few days and enraged public opinion domestically, the heads of Arab states could not remain on the sideline. Jordan and Bahrein called their ambassadors back from Israel, and Oman stopped letting Israeli airplanes fly over its territory. Moreover, left unsolved the conflict expands from local to regional. Fighting occurs along the Israel – Lebanon border and Yemenite Houthi forces are launching long range missiles into southern Israel and hit Israeli and US owned cargo ships sailing in the Red Sea. In response, the US and the UK launched airstrikes on Houthi targets. Huge American and British forces together with small Dutch and German units deployed in the Middle East to deter Iran from fighting alongside its  Lebanese  and Yemenite allies, and to help Israel should the worst case scenario materialize. Worse, if Russia intervenes, the war might become a world war.

Fourth, the war proves that the expensive security wall based on advanced technology can be rendered useless by low-tech attacks Israel invested more than one billion dollars since 2017 in building a wall above and below the ground along her border with the Gaza Strip, including in the sea. Electronic monitors and remote-control shooting systems were stationed on the top of the wall. The expensive project was completed in late 2021. It is no accident this was the year that Israel and the US put heavy pressure on Abbas to cancel his agreement with Hamas to decree general elections for the Palestinian Authority presidency and legislative council in accordance with the Oslo agreement parameters. Hamas agreed not to nominate a presidential elections candidate to run against a Fatah candidate. Moreover, according to a Palestinian source, Abbas sent a letter to Washington stating that all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, had committed to accepting a Palestinian state within pre-1967 war borders with its capital in East Jerusalem and to engaging in peaceful popular resistance against Israel.[4]

Missing the opportunity of the 2021 elections to change the political environment and regime imposed by Israel led directly to war in both 2021 and today. Indeed, today it is more difficult to solve the conflict with a peace agreement that provides the Palestinians full sovereignty. It is much more difficult to convince Israelis that they can achieve security without the one state reality with Palestinian subordination. Therefore, the way ahead might be long, but it must start with Palestinian and Israeli general elections and with peace treaty guidelines. Unlike the Oslo agreement that left things open ended, the framework of a peace treaty should be clearly defined and guaranteed by the international community, prior to Palestinian elections. In short, a future resolution to the present should not be left to the unknown. Rather, a strategy of recovering the peace process must be adopted.

This paper is an expanded and updated text of my webinar presentation at the University of Chicago, the Center for Jewish Studies and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

[1] The Times of Israel 3 January 2024 in


[3] A Plan for Peace in Gaza, Foreign Affairs October 27, 2023

[4] ;


  • Menachem Klein

    Menachem Klein is professor emeritus of Political Science at Bar Ilan University. He was an advisor to the Israeli delegation in negotiations with the PLO in 2000 and was one of the leaders of the Geneva Initiative. His most recent book is Arafat and Abbas: Portraits of Leadership in a State Postponed.

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2024: Vol. 23, No. 1

Logos Journal - Scalia Myths

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2024: Vol. 23, No. 1

Logos Journal - Scalia Myths