Signs at a pro-peace demonstration held in Tel Aviv on Dec. 15
Yahel Gazit—Middle East Images/AFP/Getty Images

I believe in universal human worth, human rights of all people, natural rights, and international law—flawed, hypocritical, and ineffective as it can be, it’s still a beacon. My values have long driven my support for peace, an end to Israeli occupation, equality, self-determination for Palestinians. That’s still true, even though right-wingers in Israel assume that left-wingers will now admit that on Oct. 7, Hamas proved that Palestinians cannot be trusted, that there is truly no partner for peace. This is a strange argument, since no left-winger ever saw Hamas as a friend; Hamas was always an enemy of peace. Right-wingers also argue Oct. 7 proves that Hamas is embedded within Palestinian society—after all, once Hamas breached the barrier around Gaza, regular Palestinians joined in, and opinion polls among Palestinians show appalling levels of support for Hamas, especially since Israel’s invasion.

These are terrible truths. Why has Hamas’ strategy held appeal? Hamas has always championed military force to fight Israel rather than negotiations, promising it can win the release of prisoners and champion the Palestinian cause. But consider the path of negotiations: over decades, each round failed, for which each side bears some blame; in the meantime, Israeli occupation, settlements, and de facto annexation spread. The world largely moved on.

Now, after the use of force, the Palestinian cause is on the global stage. And Israel has released hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, just as Hamas promised. But I’m not blaming Israel alone. It’s the cycle of unresolved conflict that makes military force the strongest currency on both sides, the only game in town. The only way to stop speaking through violence is to end the conflict.

“But we tried peace,” the right wing replies, “and we tried land withdrawals—look where they led us.” This is wrong; Israel maintained tight control over Gaza from the outside, and near-complete control over the West Bank, without ever reaching a comprehensive political agreement. Negotiations, like Oslo, are not the same as reaching and implementing full peace agreements. When Israel has done that with Egypt and Jordan, it’s been a remarkably enduring (if not warm) success. The right wing rarely accounts for how Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula laid the foundation for a lasting peace.

The right is right on one thing: peace won’t bring perfect security. Hamas unleashed the suicide bombings of the 1990s to destroy the Oslo process. In the 2000s, both Hamas and Fatah’s Tanzim committed horrible attacks against civilians. But all that was in the wake of a failed process, not a result of peace.

Peace cannot save all lives. Northern Ireland saw a gruesome bombing after the Good Friday agreement. The U.S. has daily mass shootings; Norway had Anders Behring Breivik, who slaughtered 77 people; New Zealand had the Christchurch shooter. No one can delete human madness; but living under miserable conditions—endless conflict, zero freedom, over 45% unemployment in Gaza before the war, ruined individual and national pride—sucks all sorts of people into the vortex of extremism who would otherwise have taken a different direction. Behavior that looks crazy in normal life seems suitable in a crazed, intolerable reality. Some Palestinians dubbed the wave of lone-wolf attacks in 2015–2016 the “suicide intifada,” driven mostly by youth who knew the Israelis would execute them on the spot. No, peace cannot provide perfect security.

But does ongoing military conflict do any better? In 2023, material conditions for Palestinians in Gaza had never been worse, and the diplomacy for Palestinian independence was never more dead. That’s when Hamas committed the worst attack on Israel in the country’s history. It’s not a justification, but it’s also not a coincidence.

Peace requires the support of an international system that I know has failed so many times before, including after Hamas’ sickening sexual assaults. But the current war will have a dreadful impact for generations to come. If life in Israel is a nightmare now, the nightmare is a thousand times worse in Gaza. The only paths forward are peace—or a countdown to the next war. Anyone can see that, and everyone must.

Scheindlin is a political analyst, a columnist at Haaretz, and author of The Crooked Timber of Democracy in Israel

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