Forum on Gaza with Menachem Klein, Ian Lustick, and Yoav Peled

In response to the October 7th Hamas attack and the subsequent Israeli invasion of Gaza, the editors of Logos asked scholars and activists to comment on the latest phase of the conflict as well as the prospects for peace. Menachem Klein, Ian Lustick, and Yoav Peled replied to the initial invitation. More articles are forthcoming.

Is there a path out of this crisis that can lead to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If so, what might that be?

Menachem Klein: Of course there is, maybe more than one. What makes the difference is the cost. Indeed, each time when the sides reach the lowest and bloodiest point from which it seems  that they can only recover, they continue sliding down exporting their conflict to civil societies world-wide. One option is to let them bleed till exhaustion then they will cry for help. Alternatively, international community leaders arguing for the two-states solution, might drag them out. In the past, several American administrations presented outlines of a solution, but they were pro-Israel biased brokers. Thus, the fair political alternative to bloodshed did not prove unsuccessful. Indeed, the situation on the ground changed dramatically since earlier peace plans were published and the two publics radicalized. If resumed, peace talks should include new ideas and empower the weak Palestinian side instead or reflecting the current power imbalance.

I do not see the two-states solution as an ideal resolution. Given the deep ethnic division between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, the two states is less problematic than any of the single state models: state of all its individual citizens, power sharing by two ethnic groups, Jewish superiority or Palestinian superiority. Yet, the two-states model should be updated both in its end-game scenario and in the way to reach it. Negotiators should consider endorse confederal arrangements and open borders between the two states. Unlike Oslo process, the final status should be agreed first, then the sides open a reverse engineering process how to get there from the present.

The final status model should be put as a comprehensive alternative of the present inhumane fighting and war crimes. In other words, ceasefire and Gaza Strip reconstruction scenarios are not enough. They should base on peace agreement. The transformation from war catastrophes to political settlement should not be delayed till the time is ripe and the sides ready. The political settlement is by definition transformative power and ripeness maker.

Ian Lustick:  Sadly, no.  A “solution” to a problem such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict entails not just a pretty picture of the future, one that satisfies minimum requirements for both Jews and Palestinians, but a realistic, or at least plausible path to achieve that future.  Since the disappearance of the possibility of a negotiated partition of the country, and the crystallization of a one (non-democratic) state reality, that future remains as a pretty picture, but not as a solution.  In the midst of this terrible catastrophe, we must instead be focused on avoiding a super-catastrophe—mass expulsions, a war that destroys Lebanon and multiple Israeli cities, civil war in the West Bank, the destruction of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem, or a regional conflict.  Once we are confident a super-catastrophe has been avoided we can get back to the business, not of solving the problem, but of trading the ones Palestinians and Israelis have had for many years for better problems.  In this regard all efforts should be focused on bringing more equality, more knowledge, more democracy, and more opportunities to as many people living between the river and the sea as possible.

Yoav Peled: No. Two states – According to Shlomo Ben-Ami (2022), Israel’s de-facto foreign minister at the Camp David summit of 2000, the PLO’s minimum demands, especially on the issues of Jerusalem and the return of the 1948 Palestinian refugees, could never meet the maximum concessions any Israeli government could make on these issues. At Camp David the Israelis spoke about 1967, the Palestinians about 1948.

More importantly, perhaps, the presence of 750,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank (including the area annexed to Jerusalem) makes it impossible for a territorially viable Palestinian state to be established there. People who talk about removing even a small fraction of this settler population, let’s say 100,000, live in a dream world. No Israeli government will ever try to do that, and if it did, IDF troops will refuse to carry out the order. In the 2022 elections 25% of the soldiers in active service voted for Religious Zionism (Smotrich and Ben-Gvir) and in the wake of the war with Hamas following October 7, 2023, this number will soar.

The one state “from the river to the sea” is already a reality (Lustick 2019). But a secular democratic state with equal citizenship – Israeli Jews will commit nuclear suicide before agreeing to that.

It is hard to understand what objectives Hamas was trying to achieve by the extreme violence perpetrated on October 7th. Given the history of Israeli responses to much less extreme attacks by Hamas and how horrified the international community was by October 7th, how ought we to analyze the motives for the attack?

Menachem Klein: I suggest dividing between Hamas’ political motivation to attack Israel and its barbaric implementation on October 7. Obviously, the end does not justify the mean nor ease Hamas responsibility for its crimes. In order to understand Hamas political motivation we have to return to early 2021.

In February and March 2021, Fatah and Hamas, the two rival Palestinian political parties, reached an agreement to hold elections for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority, its Legislative Council, and Hamas’ entry into the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The elections were planned to take place in accordance with the Oslo Accords, after which negotiations would continue with Israel toward the establishment of a Palestinian state. But Israel and the United States exerted heavy pressure on Abbas to cancel the elections.

The Fatah-Hamas agreement did not come out of the blue. Four years earlier, Hamas published a principal document that significantly deviated from its fundamentalist charter from 1987, and that effectively accepted the Oslo Accords as an existing political fact. Hamas’ political leadership living outside Palestine led the movement’s politization process, properly with the armed wing chiefs’ reservations. The US and Israel refusal to cooperate that Abbas accepted forced the political leadership to leave the stage for the armed wing. Both were deeply worried. They feared that Israel’s radical right wing government is close to achieve a historical victory.

Since 2006, Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians has consisted of three key components, all supported by the United States and European countries. First, Israel will have total control over the Gaza Strip from the outside, ensuring its physical, legal, and political separation from the West Bank, and the maintenance of the rivalry between Fatah and Hamas. In this context, Israel tried to tame Hamas by allowing foreign funding to help it hold the reins of power, along with periodic military strikes to curb its power and force it to abide by the Israeli order.

Second, Israel preferred to manage the conflict with the Palestinians as a whole rather than resolving it. In fact, along with the expansion of West Bank settlements, Israel created a single Jewish supremacy regime between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and turned the PA into a subcontractor that controls the Palestinians on its behalf.

Third, Israel has worked to significantly reduce the wider Israeli-Arab conflict through normalization agreements with Arab states and to leave the Palestinians isolated and weak. The signing of the Abraham Accords was in effect a declaration of the abandonment of the Palestinians to Israel’s mercy. In late 2023 Israel was about to reach the peak of its success, through a normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia. Hamas concluded that when soon completed, Israel’s radical steps to eliminate the Palestinian national movement will become irreversible. Hamas must act before it’s not too late. In addition, Gaza people were desperate and anger on Israel for her fifteen years of cruel siege and mass killings. Were Hamas atrocities made in October 7 preplanned? This is yet to be concluded.

Ian Lustick: It is indeed difficult to understand what Hamas had in mind for the “day after” its attack.  But of course no one really understands what Israel has in mind for the “day after” what it calls “Operation Swords of Iron.”  In other words, it is not at all uncommon for wars to be launched without a realistic idea of how they will, in the end, serve one’s interests more than not launching the war.  In the case of Hamas, we can also bear in mind that the rise to supremacy within the organization of its hardened and terror-oriented military wing was not inevitable, and that opportunities to include Hamas as a kind of loyal opposition within a viable Palestinian state were quashed.  Another explanation is that Hamas, born as a front organization of the Muslim Brotherhood to compete with the PLO as an Islamic resistance movement, never imagined itself as a future government.  It was surprised by winning the legislative elections in 2006, surprised by its crushing defeat of Fatah after the US-Israel-Fatah coup attempt against it, and, perhaps, surprised by the ease with which it overwhelmed Israeli defenses and communities in the Gaza apron.  War is foggy and one cannot easily or reliably infer delicate political strategies from spasms of violence, rage, and hate.  It seems to me, however, that Hamas’s manifest unconcern with the massive suffering of ordinary Gazans may reflect a calculation that Israel’s uncontrolled reaction to the attacks of October 7, may permanently stain both Israel and Zionism, endowing them with a reputation for barbarism that could fatally compromise the survival of a large, prosperous, and secure Jewish community in Palestine/the Land of Israel.

Yoav Peled: Hamas was preparing this attack for years, as part of its ongoing fight with Israel over the siege of Gaza that began in 1991/the 1967 occupation/the 1948 Nakba/Zionist settlement in Palestine as a whole. As a revolutionary movement Hamas is willing to impose heavy sacrifices on its people. Ben-Gurion, it should be remembered, sacrificed 1% of the Jewish population of Palestine in order to establish a Jewish state in 1948. In my view, the extreme senseless violence was evidence of the low level of discipline among the Hamas fighters, exhibited in other ways too during this attack. (Unless, of course, it’s true that the fighters had instructions to commit atrocities, as some sources maintain. In that case you would have to doubt the rationality of the leaders, who in other ways seem to be instrumentally rational.)

The timing of Hamas’s attack was decided, in my view, because of the talk about “normalization” with Saudi Arabia (extension of the so-called Abraham Accords), the guardian of Islam’s holiest places. The people of Gaza and of Israel have Biden to thank for that.

Likewise, given that there remain hostages in Gaza, it is difficult to see how the Israel Defense Force’s invasion of Gaza does anything to assure their safe return. Moreover, in the aftermath of October 7th, there was real support for Israel, which it seems the Israeli squandered by pursuing its invasion. Given the danger to both the hostages and to Israel’s standing in the international community, how ought we analyze the motives for Israel’s campaign in Gaza?

Menachem Klein: Even its minimalist war goals, eliminate Hamas and assure that no hostile actions or threats against Israel arises are unachievable. Sure not its maximalist goal of guaranteeing that no Gaza Strip childe is educated to hate Israel. Only a frustrated failed establishment that hopes to regain legitimacy from its traumatic society through bloody revenge could put these goals forward. Failed Israeli government and army prefer using force over concluding a deal with Hamas on hostage exchange.

Ian Lustick: Israeli motives are only marginally clearer than those of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.  As we know from the history of Israeli incursions into Gaza over the last fifteen years, from its withdrawal of settlements but its long enforcement of prison conditions on the besieged enclave’s inhabitants, and from leaked cabinet discussions, the State of Israel has not been able to decide if Gaza is to be considered inside or outside the country.  That confusion is vividly highlighted by the contradiction between official statements that Israel is neither ruling nor occupying Gaza and the picture of the “new Middle East” which Netanyahu displayed to the United Nations General Assembly in September—a picture of the map of the Middle East showing Israel in blue as encompassing both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  Given that strategic confusion, the best way to understand Israel’s motives in the fighting is to focus on the political requirements of any government that commits a security and intelligence failure of monumental proportions, on the psychological propensities for extreme violence and despair of a Holocaustia-traumatized population in the face of savage atrocities, and the injured amour propre of the military, humiliated by a foe it had imagined could be managed and exploited by “mowing the lawn” every few years.

Yoav Peled: Revenge. Reclaiming the lost honor of the IDF (Levy 2024). This may lead to an attack on Lebanon too, with very grave consequences for the Israeli home front.

The pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protests across the globe have been scrutinized for the presence of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Even barring the most extremist elements at these protests, what might be prevalent myths – on both sides – that appear to have gained or regained currency?

Menachem Klein: Israel locks itself in bunker mentality and self-rightness conviction accordingly outside criticism is classified as anti-Semitism. Israeli Jews believe that the world, including the West, is anti-Semite in one way or another, and judges the Jewish state differently than other nations at war. Hamas’ unprecedented atrocities and the collective trauma it created, evoke Holocaust memories and existential fears that empower this popular believe.

Yoav Peled: On the pro-Palestinian side, it’s not all a myth. The uncritical identification with Israel, no matter what it does, of most of those who speak publicly for Jews all over the world, makes them a target for anti-Israel, anti-Zionist rage. Moreover, when diaspora Jews wield their economic power to silence even mild critics of Israel, or whoever speaks in a way they don’t like (Harvard case), this naturally reinforces the myth that Jews, through their money, rule the world.

On the other side, the myth is that “the Palestinians kill Jews only because they are Jews,” disregarding the (currently much maligned term) historical context.

The slaughter of Israeli and Palestinian civilians in this latest cycle adds to over a century of grievances on both sides. To what extent can and should considerations of redressing historic injustices be part of the peace process?

Menachem Klein: It is impossible to ignore history, in particular Israel’s 1948 war ethnic cleansing. It is also impossible to ignore war crimes that Palestinians made in their struggle for independence. Mutual apology must be part of their reconciliation. However, apology cannot delete painful memories or the conclusion that peace is based on historical injustice. Also, it is unhelpful to impose on either side rewrite its historical narratives. Social convictions and cannot be dictated top-down by politicians. Rather, they change slowly.

Ian Lustick: The injustices are so immense that “redress” is not possible.  What is possible is a kind of “negotiated truth” that provides a narrative sanitized enough, but truthy enough, so that, along with sufficient political and material resources, Jews and Arabs can feel validated and equal in the land they inhabit.  I take heart imagining the plausibility of this outcome from the ability of Israeli leaders David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett, in the early 1950s, to negotiate a reparations agreement with Adenauer’s Germany.  The agreement included only the barest and vaguest language indicating German responsibility for the most heinous crime in human history, but provided the desperate young Jewish state with economic resources on a scale that made compromise worthwhile and also, decades later, paved the way for a genuine transformation in German understandings of their country’s criminal past.

Yoav Peled: If there were a peace process, addressing the question of the 1948 Palestinian refugees, one of the two most intractable issues between Israel and the Palestinian (the other one being Jerusalem), through the mechanism of transitional justice would have been essential for the success of that process (Peled and Rouhana 2004; Kapshuk 2019). But there is no peace process and no likelihood of one in the foreseeable future.

As the generation that participated in the incipient negotiations at Oslo thirty years ago ages, are there still actors who can still pick up where the process left off? Are there new actors who have any real prospect of stepping into positions of authority and exercise leadership?

Menachem Klein: A very serious question indeed. The right-wing that in 2001 and 2007 replaced negotiating administrations sees Oslo as political crime bordering with treason and is uninterested in keeping organizational memory on peace talks. Moreover, right wing governments changed the reality on the ground to the extent that old Israeli proposals are hardly relevant today. If these are not enough, the two public opinions radicalized and each mistrust its leadership. Yet, few civil society think tanks continue to discuss peace solutions or maintain people to people activities to reduce hostility.

Ian Lustick: They will certainly try because the political incentives to pretend that a two-state solution can be achieved via negotiations (as opposed, for example, to eventual secession of territories from Israel), are too powerful for politicians in the United States, Israel, Ramallah, or Europe to resist.  What I called the “peace process carousel” will begin turning again, but, though there will be flurries of movement round and round, it will not actually go anywhere.  Merry-go-rounds provide a rewarding activity for riders, but do not move them to somewhere new.  The issue of importance will not be if this “process” fails, but why it is perceived to fail.  The best sort of failure will be one that focuses on the unwillingness of one side, or both, to accept equality as a governing principle.  In this context, the one valuable item in the Biden administration’s policy position is its repeated commitment to the idea that Israelis and Palestinians both deserve equal measures of security, prosperity, democracy, and dignity.  If it is shown that negotiations toward a two-state scheme cannot realize that objective, then other political frameworks will have to be considered.  By this I mean, primarily, long-term processes of democratization and political emancipation.

Yoav Peled: No.

Is there still a way to re-empower Fatah? Is there still a way to re-empower more moderate Israeli politicians? Why or why not? Are these even the desirable actors?

Menachem Klein: The way to renew irrelevant political parties is through general elections, yet they are impossible to have as long as Netanyahu and Abbas stick to power. No doubt that the next elections in each side will be influenced by Hamas’ October offensive, the mass bloodshed and destruction Israel’s retaliation caused as well as how the war will end. Extreme circumstances such the current war should be challenged by radical peace alternative.

Under current polarization, moderate politicians are very cautious if not silence. They will speak up when meaningful number of civil society members raise peace alternative.  Therefore, international actors interested in promoting peace and stability should help those moderate to get greater strongholds in their societies.

Yoav Peled: Fatah, and the PA, lost all credibility because they are seen, correctly, as collaborationist with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. In Israel, the most “moderate” politicians have nothing to say on the Palestinian issue other than jingoistic slogans. This was clearly evident in the anti-Netanyahu protest movement of 2023, which completely ignored that issue.

There is a long history of concessions coming from unexpected sources. One thinks of the peace between Israel and Egypt and the fact that Sharon was willing to pull out of Gaza or the PLO’s recognition of Israel as well as the revision of the Hamas Charter in 2017. Is there any reason to believe that this new round of violence might allow for new political options to emerge? Why or why not?

Menachem Klein: Why not is easier to answer for the obvious reasons of bloodshed, mistrust, collective memories and identity myths. Imagining alternative is indeed a challenge I try here to meet. In Palestine post-Abbas era opens with a compromise between Fatah and Hamas that include power sharing in the PLO and the PA. Hamas will take the PLO chairmanship, Fatah the PA presidency. Following PM Olmert proposal to Abbas (2008), the joint PA government presents to Israel its peace plan for an independent sovereign Palestinian state over 1967 territories next to Israel. Palestine will have confederal arrangements with Israel on refugees, settlers, security, open borders, environmental protection, taxes and free trade zone. Principal Arab and European countries with no USA objection will support this proposal. In Israel the Zionist – Left factions unite in a new party headed by a former security service chief. The new party reach an agreement with two Israeli-Palestinian Arab parties to run together in the forthcoming general elections against the settlers’ counter coalition. In its campaign the Zionist – Arab coalition expresses its readiness to negotiate with the PA on its proposal. The settlers’ election campaign, in response, is violent and counterproductive. Israeli peace skeptics move to support the Zionist – Arab coalition because they strongly oppose the domestic chaos that the right wing creates. The Zionist – Arab coalition wins the elecions and a new, very different peace plan than Oslo is negotiated, agreed in principals and brought to each of the two publics to vote on.

Yoav Peled: Israel made peace with Egypt after it had effectively lost the Sinai in 1973. Sharon replaced the direct occupation of Gaza with a tight siege in 2005 not as a measure of peace or reconciliation but in order to save Israeli lives and money. He did it unilaterally, and did not allow the PA to move forces there, in order to let Hamas take over so that all talk about a Palestinian state will end once and for all. And he succeeded in that.

In order to salvage something of Hamas, its leaders abroad are now talking about joining the PLO, thus in effect recognizing Israel. Whether that happens or not will depend on the outcome of the current war. But whatever they do, I don’t think they will meet any corresponding move from Israel.

Democratic norms and institutions across the globe are already in a precarious position. Far-right populists in Europe are using this situation to bolster Islamophobia. President Biden needs the Muslim and Arab communities to support him in 2024 to defeat the likely candidacy of Donald Trump. What are the prospects for this current phase of the conflict in Israel-Palestine to jeopardize democratic institutions across the globe?

Menachem Klein: It seems that Israel’s radical right-wing government is going to end the war with much less than it hoped to achieve. In addition, it evokes international public opinion criticism. Anger on Israel unites the progressive camp against USA conservative elements that support Israel’s aggression. If elected Trump will face much harder opposition than he had in this first term. Islamophobia and antisemitism are test cases for the progressive camp’s humanity and values. It should strongly reject Islamophobia and antisemitism, and divide between Jews as an ethnic collective spread worldwide and Israel’s claim to represent them politically.

Ian Lustick: The struggle in Israel before this war, over the government’s attempts to strip away what remains of Israel’s liberal democracy, was part of the worldwide struggle against authoritarian populism.  It was also a specific struggle over measures to neutralize the liberalizing potential of the de facto annexation of massive Palestinian populations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, who desperately need a liberal democratic order to protect themselves against both Jewish and Muslim extremists, will have to find ways to put both their Zionism and their Nakba in their pockets so that real cooperation in a generations long struggle can be achieved.  In this they are part of the global struggle for liberal democracy and also a potential beacon of hope for its success.

Yoav Peled: My impression is that the Gaza war has deepened the rift between liberals and populists in many parts of the world, to the benefit of the latter. If Biden loses the support not only of American Muslims but also of the more liberal segment of the Democratic electorate because of his uncritical support of Israel, and thus loses to Trump, this will be a prime example of this process.

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.

Ian S. Lustick is Bess W. Heyman Chair Emeritus in the Department of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a founder and past President of the Israeli Studies Association. His most recent book is Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality.

Yoav Peled is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Tel Aviv University and a lawyer. In the winter semester 2023 he was a fellow at the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan (via Zoom). He is co-author, with Horit Herman Peled, of The Religionization of Israeli Society (Routledge, 2019) and co-editor, with John Ehrenberg, of Israel and Palestine: Alternative Perspectives on Statehood (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016). His book, co-authored with Gershon Shafir, Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship (CUP, 2002) won MESA’s 2002 Albert Hourani Award for best book in Middle East studies published that year.


Ben-Ami, Shlomo, 2022. Prophets without Honor: The 2000 Camp David Summit and the End of the Two-state Solution, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kapshuk, Yoav, 2019. “Transitional Justice in the Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations: What Can Be Learned from the Colombian Case?” Journal of Peacebuilding and Development, 14:1, 73-78.

Levy, Yagil, 2024. “Was the War Necessary?” Haaretz, January 30 (Hebrew).

Lustick, Ian, 2019. Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality, University of Pennsylvania Press.

Peled, Yoav and Nadim Rouhana, 2004. “Transitional Justice and the Right of Return of the Palestinian Refugees,” Theoretical Inquiries in Law, 5:2, 317-332.


  • Ian S. Lustick

    Ian S. Lustick is Bess W. Heyman Chair Emeritus in the Department of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a founder and past President of the Israeli Studies Association. His most recent book is Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality.

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  • 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.

    View all posts
  • Yoav Peled

    Yoav Peled is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Tel Aviv University and a lawyer. In the winter semester 2023 he was a fellow at the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan (via Zoom). He is co-author, with Horit Herman Peled, of The Religionization of Israeli Society (Routledge, 2019) and co-editor, with John Ehrenberg, of Israel and Palestine: Alternative Perspectives on Statehood (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016). His book, co-authored with Gershon Shafir, Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship (CUP, 2002) won MESA’s 2002 Albert Hourani Award for best book in Middle East studies published that year.

    View all posts

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