By Blatniczky. Graffiti art by Banksy depicts the dove of peace wearing a flak jacket in Bethlehem, West Bank, Palestinian Authority. CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Gabriel Mitchell, Jerusalem

Now that the guns have fallen silent, what comes next for Israelis and Palestinians?

A ceasefire has been in effect as of two o’clock this morning, ending the recent escalation between Israel and Hamas. For eleven days, rockets from Gaza rained down on southern and central Israel. For eleven days, the Israeli military targeted Hamas and Islamic Jihad military infrastructure and personnel. Israeli and Palestinian civilians were killed. 

Typically, Hamas and Israel will both declare victory. Last night, there were celebrations across East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza; the video below shows fireworks throughout East Jerusalem to mark the ceasefire:

But there were no winners. There is no military solution to the conflict, even the one with Hamas.

When the adrenaline eventually wears off, we need a sober assessment, one that not only examines why this occurred and whether it could have been avoided—there are compelling arguments for and against—but what should be done now.


In my neighborhood in South Jerusalem, it seemed a fairly routine month. Our daily schedule was not interrupted by the exchanges between police and protestors in Sheikh Jarrah and Damascus Gate, nor by the Jerusalem Day Flag Parade that brought thousands of nationalist and religious Jews to the Old City. Obviously, everyone was aware of these events, but it didn’t bring the city, or the country, to a halt.

Even on the Monday evening when Hamas launched three rockets toward the capital, it didn’t seem terribly unusual. I heard a faint siren, but nothing like the one that usually blares in our neighborhood on Israel’s memorial days. I summoned my confused kids to their bedroom, which serves as the family bomb shelter. My eldest daughter didn’t know what the siren meant and spent ten minutes complaining that I had interrupted her evening popsicle on the balcony. Our conversation about listening to one’s parents was interrupted by the sound of the Iron Dome batteries downing two rockets in succession—but only briefly. A few minutes later, I went back to my evening routine.

Residents of Jerusalem’s Old City and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods had a very different experience. They were caught up in a cycle of protests, police crackdowns, and counter-protests that culminated in a violent exchange on the compound of the Temple Mount and al Aqsa mosque. Below, you can see police firing a stun grenade inside the mosque:

Nor was a normal month enjoyed by residents of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Netivot, Holon, Beer Sheva, Tel Aviv, Rishon LeTzion, or countless other towns within the radius of Hamas’s improved arsenal. They spent much of the past eleven days in bomb shelters, hoping Israel’s qualitative military edge would hold up.

Nor was a normal month enjoyed by residents of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Netivot, Holon, Beer Sheva, Tel Aviv, Rishon LeTzion, or countless other towns within the radius of Hamas’s improved arsenal. They spent much of the past eleven days in bomb shelters, hoping Israel’s qualitative military edge would hold up.

So now an Arab Islamist party has the power to make or break each of Israel’s hostile rival blocs. Both are now wooing the party—and Ra’am could very well ally itself to Bibi, bizarre though that sounds.

The exchange of blows between Israel and Hamas was a familiar, deadly dance. New, however, and even more deeply disturbing, were the gangs of Israeli Jews and Arabs who roamed the streets of Israel’s mixed communities, targeting property and residents. The emotional and psychological blow to Jewish-Arab relations in Lod, Ramle, Haifa, Yafo, Bat Yam, and Akko has left wounds that may take a generation to heal.


In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political rivals had been discussing the possibility of bringing his twelve-year stint as premier to an end. Netanyahu was juggling his executive responsibilities while standing as a defendant in court; this uncertain moment followed two years of ceaseless elections and political deadlock. No one seemed to be in charge.

Meanwhile, the older generation in the Palestinian Authority—including, of course, President Mahmoud Abbas—has lost credibility in the eyes of the young, who are frustrated by their government’s impotence. They no longer believe Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza are important to the international community. They want a different future. Social media allows them to spread their message more widely than earlier generations could. Abbas’s cancellation of upcoming Palestinian national elections compounded grievances within their society, fueling embers that long smoldered beneath the surface.

Lack of leadership does not necessarily translate to violence, but radicals often seek to take advantage of it. The Jerusalem protests were not exclusively incited by Hamas, but Hamas officials seized the opportunity to score easy points with a disillusioned Palestinian public.

With Israel’s political leadership distracted, extremists such as newly-minted MK Itamar Ben Gvir—a racist whose agenda was legitimized by Netanyahu during the last election campaign—stepped in front of the cameras to incite and provoke, knowing full well how deadly the consequences could be.

Israel is no stranger to extremism, but the country’s silent majority has a lot of soul-searching to do. The stability of any civil society is dependent on a consensus about norms and values. As Thomas Hobbes argued in Leviathan, “‘True’ and ‘false’ are attributes of speech, not of things. And where speech is not, there is neither ‘truth’ nor ‘falsehood.’” Without speaking our norms into existence, we leave our moral code subject to ambiguity, misinterpretation, and decay.

Most Israelis and Palestinians want quiet. They don’t want conflict, and they don’t want to live their lives in fear or anger. They want to live with dignity. But many would prefer to ignore the painful reality: Our fates are growingly intertwined, and total separation is not possible. By failing to make a priority of intercommunal dialogue and conflict resolution, we allowed extremists to dictate the terms of engagement, and thus empowered them.


Events in Jerusalem triggered this round of conflict. Hamas made a calculated decision to exploit these tensions, and in doing so, tugged attention away from Jerusalem. But don’t be confused. Hamas’s rocket fire did nothing to solve the deep frustrations of East Jerusalemites toward the Palestinian leadership and the State of Israel alike. To fail to address the conflict of interests in East Jerusalem is to ignore the core of the conflict and set the stage for future tensions.

Gaza requires a different set of tools. Since Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Gaza has been an ongoing security challenge for Israel. It has undermined the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority. Despite blockades and a series of military operations, the terrorist group’s military capacity has only evolved and improved.

But Hamas doesn’t pose an existential threat. Should Israel continue its current policies, in the logic that its military edge allows it to endure these episodes? Could a change in policy have a positive impact and weaken Hamas’s influence? Could Israel’s partners—who offered us significant public support—help us find political solutions?

Jerusalem and Gaza are priorities, but the West Bank can’t be ignored just because it was comparatively quiet this past month. Only a year ago, Israel’s government was considering the annexation of territories there. Nor have questions been resolved about the future of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas’s decision to call off national elections contributed to Hamas’s decision to strike Israel. What can be done to facilitate the peaceful transfer of power in the post-Abbas era? Is it important that this process be democratic? If so, who should be permitted to vote, and who should be permitted to run? How can Israel and the international community empower constructive partners in the West Bank?

Finally, how can the wounds between Jews and Arabs within Israel be healed? Who are the partners required to form a new social contract? How can we use democratic institutions to address structural inequalities within Israeli society—by which not just Arabs, but most of Israel’s minority communities are disadvantaged? Israel’s Arab population, of whom many if not most identify as Palestinian, is a party to the conflict. It can be a part of finding solutions. 

Each of these challenges possesses its own set of conditions and policy prescriptions. They are all part of a larger dynamic of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians. Finding a solution to only one challenge won’t be sufficient, nor will any silver bullet resolve them all at once. It will require an active, coordinated effort—at the national, local, and grassroots levels—over the course of decades.

There are still people here who want to engage in dialogue, share their worldview, and listen to the other side. But many Palestinians readily admit to me that their children—the new generation whose voices rang out in recent weeks—no longer believe in a two-state solution. Polling data indicates that the same dynamics are at work in Israeli society.

It’s easy enough to say that most Israelis and Palestinians want peace. But I also know the majority don’t believe peace is achievable under the current circumstances, and don’t necessarily want to make the personal effort required to reach that goal.

Violence forced the conflict back into Israeli public discourse, but as the ceasefire endures, we will inevitably hear the familiar tropes. “We managed the situation pretty well.” “There is no one to talk to on the other side.” “Better the status quo than the alternative.” The wounds will calcify on the surface. People will forget their pain just long enough to be surprised when the next war comes.


The reading list below offers many perspectives. I do not endorse these views; I endorse reading and thinking about the points raised by the authors. Unless you read diverse views and consider their value, you can’t see the world through fresh eyes.

  1. “The War That Shouldn’t Have Been,”by Neri Zilber.
  2. The For Heaven’s Sake podcast, featuring Donniel Hartman, Yossi Klein Halevi, and Elana Stein Hain.
  3. On property disputes in Sheikh Jarrah, I suggest a feature in Ha’aretz written by several Palestinian women who’ve chosen to adopt Sheikh Jarrah as their cause“This has nothing to do with Sheikh Jarrah,”by Bassem Eid, and “I grew up in a divided Jerusalem,” by Gilead Sher offer other perspectives. I also recommend this reading list, compiled by Yael Mizrahi-Arnaud.
  4. “Green-Lined Vision Is Blurring Reality in Israel-Palestine,”by Yousef Munayyer.
  5. Read together: “Moral Clarity Versus Moral Depravity in Israel and Gaza,”by Joshua Hammer, and “For Years, Israel’s Leaders Have Cultivated Ethnic Hatred. This Is On Them,” by Dahlia Scheindlin. Nasreen Haddad Haj-Yahya, Director of the Arab Society in Israel program at the Israel Democracy Institute, addresses ways for Israel to address the tensions in its mixed cities, where Jews and Arabs have lived side by side for decades.
  6. Michael Koplow, Policy Director at the Israeli Policy Forum, and Hussein Ibish, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, have written columns about the steps that need to be taken to avoid the next Israel-Hamas war and the future role of external actors in keeping the peace, and perhaps advancing it.
  7. Biden’s missing man in Jerusalem, by Nahal Toosi.
  8. Khalil Shikaki, the Director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and one of the most recognized experts on Palestinian public opinion, asks how this confrontation will affectthe prospects for a long-term peace. “On the Israeli-Palestinian front, the two-state solution might have received a mortal blow.”

Gabriel Mitchell is a policy fellow at the Mitvim Institute and a PhD candidate in Government & International Affairs at Virginia Tech University. This essay appeared in part on Invisible Boundaries, a newsletter about Israel and the Middle East.


  1. Spin Owsley | May 21, 2021 at 6:42 pm | Reply

    My eyes are too old and tired to be seen through, freshly. However…

    This strikes me as the issue at heart, and perhaps Gabi or others can provide me with a little fresh eyesight: “It’s easy enough to say that most Israelis and Palestinians want peace. But I also know the majority don’t believe peace is achievable under the current circumstances, and don’t necessarily want to make the personal effort required to reach that goal.”

    The question in this American’s mind is “Do they really want peace? And are they simply beholden to the recalcitrance of their political leaders?” Or, do they claim to want peace, but at the same time both sides’ public endorse policies that are untenable to the other sides’ public? If I’m an ethnic and/or religious Jew in Jerusalem, who claims to want peace, but enforce public officials and policies that the average Palestinian cannot support, am I contributing to the problem? And vice-versa.

    I don’t know the answer…so I’m asking.

    • Spin Owsley | May 21, 2021 at 6:43 pm | Reply

      I meant endorse, not enforce. Blame IT for not providing an edit button.

    • Claire Berlinski | May 21, 2021 at 7:59 pm | Reply

      I’ll make sure Gabi sees this question. I don’t know how he’d answer it.

    • Thomas M Gregg | May 22, 2021 at 1:45 pm | Reply

      Everybody wants peace. But definitions of “peace” tend to vary. The Palestinians, for instance, envision peace within the context of a Palestinian Arab state, purged of Jews, stretching “from the river to the sea.” Well, the Jews can hardly be expected to share that vision. So the only form of peace possible is an armed peace: Si vis pacem, para bellum.

      In a way, that Roman proverb expresses the logic of the Jewish state. For was not a principal reason for the founding of Israel to arm the Jews against their enemies?

      • Spin Owsley | May 22, 2021 at 2:26 pm | Reply

        I’ve spent time in both Jerusalem and Amman, speaking with Palestinians who do not believe what you say they believe. They tell me that they, and most of the people they know, support a single state, whatever it may be called, in which they and their families are free citizens, protected under the law. They may be the minority, but they don’t think they are.

        • Thomas M Gregg | May 22, 2021 at 4:41 pm | Reply

          I would just note that actions speak louder than words.

          • Spin Owsley | May 22, 2021 at 4:51 pm |

            Hence my question above. None of the people I spoke to have engaged in fighting, bombing, etc. But do they support policy that result in violence? That’s a question for someone who has spent more time than I have, who has more of an intimate knowledge of the mind of the public.

          • I find that the mental model of concentric circles around bad actors tends to help me picture the groups involved in this sort of mayhem.


            ” “Picture several concentric circles”: At the center are the most psychopathic and bloodthirsty true believers — the jihadists who “wake each morning yearning to kill infidels and apostates,” many of whom “seem eager to be martyred in the process.” Then there is a larger circle of Islamists who enter the political arena to impose a theocratic order on society by means of the ballot box. Beyond that is a wider circle of conservative Muslims who may well support militant Islam financially or philosophically, but lack the zeal of their brethren. “Finally, one hopes, there is a much larger circle of so-called moderate Muslims.” (Regarding this last group, Nawaz sensibly prefers the label “liberal” Muslims, which, unlike the insipid and imprecise “moderate,” denotes a concrete set of values.)”

            To transcribe this over to a segment of modern Israel, you could point to violent street groups in the bullseye, the next ring occupied by people who prefer for the state to act out violence against the “Enemy.” Around this circle you’d have their apologists. Finally, there’s a ring occupied by people who quietly vote to assist, as they experience the benefits of people who do violence for them. That last circle I think needs to be addressed by people seeking peace, as they’re the most natural allies and would have the most potential influence on the rings further inside. This visual dartboard of extremism can likely be applied to any violent political movement.

            Now, your question of what size each of the circles is: that’s going to require polling data more extensive than I believe exists. I’m happy to say it looks like the readers of CG have done some homework here.

          • Thomas M Gregg | May 22, 2021 at 8:36 pm |

            This assumes that there’s some kind of silent majority in favor of peace, and that if it could be mobilized, peace would follow. History, alas, refutes this pleasing vision.

            Power flows naturally to those who have no reservations about using it. Liberal democracy, broadly conceived, is a system designed to prevent this from happening. Thus Israel, though it possesses the power to destroy its enemies, moderates its response to attacks like the one we have just witnessed.

            On the Palestinian side, however, there’s no such moderating system in operation. Those with the fewest inhibitions have the most power, and there’s nothing to stop them from wielding it. I’m perfectly prepared to believe that a majority of Palestinians want peace and would be willing to compromise with the Jews to obtain it. But that majority, assuming it exists, has no power, nor any way of obtaining it except by violent revolution.

            That’s why a peaceful end to this long-running conflict remains an illusion.

          • Thomas M Gregg | June 1, 2021 at 9:08 pm |

            That’s a fair point. But then most Germans never raised a hand against the Jews between 1933 and 1945. I will concede that the question of responsibility, shading into guilt, is a sticky one. Still, history gives us examples that help to answer it.

          • Spin Owsley | June 2, 2021 at 1:28 pm |

            In this context, I’m not so interested in historical examples. Nor am I interested in responsibility, shame, or guilt. I’m interested, in this specific set of circumstances, in learning if those who profess to want peace don’t in fact create the violence because they desire policy outcomes that are untenable to the other side.

      • It’s very strange to me that my first exposure to the phrase “river to sea” was originally from early Zionist sources.

        “For was not a principal reason for the founding of Israel to arm the Jews against their enemies?” This is certainly part of the equation, but the reasons for early Zionism stretch from the communist to the spiritual. The last 70 years have simply honed the justification for military needs.

        • Thomas M Gregg | May 22, 2021 at 4:55 pm | Reply

          Well, yes. That’s why I used the indefinite article: “a principal reason.” The course of events from the Dreyfus Affair to the Final Solution had a profound influence on the development Zionism, but you’re right that there were other factors in play, e.g. the ideology of nationalism itself, which was in the ascendant when the Zionist idea first took shape.

          • I often wonder if the Israelis were left holding the bag after the tides of history changed. Colonialism was all the rage leading up to the aftermath of the WWI, showing up in a country with some “other” people living in it and setting up shop was just the sort of thing Europeans did. Suddenly Europe is being compelled to stop bumping people out of their homes by an increasingly powerful (and hypocritical) US propaganda machine, and the founders of Israel just happened to be left picking up the check after everyone else bounced. Now they’re facing criticism through a lens none of the earlier powers had to face up until this century.

            Granted, I’m not mentioning what passes for “colonialism” today in some academic circles, as this is really just about showing up where somebody else lives and finding ways to take ownership.

          • Tim Smyth | May 25, 2021 at 1:35 pm |

            I have always thought of Zionism as much more of a post World War I era ideology when there was a big push to create ethnically homogeneous nation states out of the ashes of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Israel and Zionism did not actually get off the ground until after World War II however, and that point sentiment was shifting towards things to then new multi-ethnic version of what we know as today’s European Union.

            In particular there was also somewhat pronounced split in European Judaism. Some of the key figures in the creation of and the development of European Union were European Jews like Simone Veil and other who did not emigrate to Israel(Veil was a survivor of Auschwitz). Second the Western occupation authorities in German where very unhappy actually with Zionist advocates for emigration. Lucius Clay, Jean Monnet and others wanted to rebuild the Jewish community in Germany as part of a reformed Germany not have the remaining community that survived the Holocaust pickup and leave for Israel. The Allied armies actually made a big point of reopening the synagogue in Cologne as soon as the Nazi German army was defeated. In fact the Cologne synagogue re-opened well before the fall of Berlin. In turn Jews in Israel essentially excommunicated the Jewish community remaining in Germany after 1945 although this was later reversed decades later.

    • Claire Berlinski | May 25, 2021 at 6:44 am | Reply

      Skip, I asked Gabi. His reply:
      You’ve asked a great question. Let’s put aside the philosophical question of “what is peace” and assume that it is the absence of war. Consistent polling by institutes like the Israel Democracy Institute and the Geneva Initiative, as well as Palestinian public opinion polling, indicate that both populations want to see an end to the conflict. Where it gets more complicated is that the same public opinion polls over time indicate support for the two-state solution is declining and that positions are hardening on final status issues like territorial withdrawal, Jerusalem, etc. So even if you have a broad majority who want to live their lives in peace, getting there is more challenging and divisive than ever before. Yet, when Israelis are polled about whether they would support a process led by the prime minister (doesn’t matter whether it is Netanyahu or someone else) that guarantees a two-state solution, those percentages go up. This suggests that many Israelis (and quite possibly many Palestinians, but this is a guess) want their leadership to take the lead. This creates a real dilemma, as the current leadership is uninterested in advancing a meaningful peace process. That is why I believe that the silent majority in Israel needs to speak up and demand that their elected officials think outside the box and start addressing the issues that can be addressed at the present moment. Obviously, given the lack of democratic process in the Palestinian Authority and the divide between the Palestinian national movement’s two main parties (Fatah and Hamas), it is a steeper climb on the other side.

      • First things first: “Skip”?

      • I think that I am understanding Gabi to say:
        Yes, broadly, they all want peace.
        But they also, broadly, want their ‘side’ to be in power once the peace happens. (i.e., hardening positions on final status)
        Yes, they largely see themselves stuck behind poor leadership (not necessarily leadership hell bent on violent conflict)

        Are there solutions to the present moment issues that are palatable to Israelis and Palestinians? That’s the million shekel question, I guess. If we knew that answer, things wouldn’t seem so intractable.

      • Thomas M Gregg | May 26, 2021 at 12:11 am | Reply

        If there was a two-state solution that could be guaranteed by any Israeli prime minister, this conflict would have ended a long time ago. But there is not: The two-state solution is a mirage.

        There are three reasons for this. (1) The factions in power on the Palestinian side don’t want a two-state solution. Not only does their ideology reject such an outcome, but they fear that the actual establishment of such a state threatens their position at the top of the heap. In the status quo they perceive a guarantee of their hold on power. (2) As a direct consequence of (1), the Palestinian people are powerless; so the fact, if it is a fact, that they want peace is more or less irrelevant. (3) The Israeli people get it. They know that however desirable it may be in principle, a two- state solution is unachievable without drastic changes on the other side.

      • As always, thank you for the follow through.

  2. Thomas M Gregg | May 21, 2021 at 11:49 pm | Reply

    Given sufficient military power, there’s always a military solution. The question is: Would it serve the political objective? Obviously, the IDF could crush Hamas under its boot heel. But that would not answer for policy.

    As things stand, Israel’s policy is—or should be—simply to stand pat. Her enemies cannot destroy her, nor are they willing to negotiate in good faith. Thus they can be ignored unless they make a nuisance of themselves, in which case they can be slapped down, as has just happened to those Hamas rats. Admittedly this is not an ideal state of affairs for the Jewish state. But for Israel’s enemies, it’s even less satisfactory.

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