Most eyes are focused now on Gaza, for good reason. The catastrophe is there for all to see. But I want to begin with the Palestinian village of Mu‘arrajat, in the Jordan Valley on the occupied West Bank. In mid-March I stayed overnight there with other activists, in what we call “protective presence”—a concerted effort to protect Palestinian villagers from the rampages of armed Israeli settlers who are terrorizing them day and night. Mu‘arrajat now has two settler outposts at its throat, one deep in the grazing grounds of the Palestinian shepherds (forbidden territory for them since the war in Gaza began) and another on the hill above the village. In October settlers from these outposts were stopping Palestinians’ cars on the highway and telling their occupants that they had twenty-four hours to leave their homes and that they would be killed if they refused. A few weeks ago these settlers came into the village and dug a row of empty graves near the school—a sign of what they want to do to the people of Mu‘arrajat.

Violent intrusions by masked, heavily armed settlers, often together with soldiers, are by now routine. The honorific term “soldiers” in the Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills really refers to paramilitary units, in uniform, made up of settlers who have been armed by Itamar Ben-Gvir, the convicted criminal and Jewish supremacist whom Benjamin Netanyahu appointed minister of national security in November 2022. They are a law unto themselves.

The settlers’ mantra—“Get out or we will kill you”—has been repeated in nearly all the villages in the Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills. Most of our friends in the villages have heard it. Usually it is uttered in the course of attacks on Palestinian homes, sheep pens, food supplies, water tanks and wells, wind turbines, and anything else the invaders can wreck. Sometimes these settlers shoot at the villagers and kill sheep and goats. We know of at least sixteen Palestinian villages that have been evacuated over the last few months because of ceaseless settler violence backed by the army; many more are barely hanging on. International pressure has had some meaningful impact on the situation, but for the most part the settlers are winning this miniwar. They tend to be fanatical men or adolescent boys, brainwashed, apocalyptic, and messianic, who have emerged from the dark and brutal undercurrents of religious Zionism. They want to rid the West Bank of all non-Jews (and maybe some secular Jews as well) in order to hasten the arrival of the Messiah, who is scheduled to turn up as soon as this campaign of ethnic cleansing is completed. But the ideological motivation is only part of the story; we who have seen these people in action, who have met them in the field, can confirm that many of them are driven by sheer sadistic pleasure.1

Is it even possible today to imagine an end to the occupation and to the settlement enterprise on the West Bank? Maybe not. The entire political system, with the exception of the tiny constituency on the far left, is mortgaged to that project. But none of this happened in a vacuum. Palestinians have to examine their own acts just as Israelis must examine theirs. The suicide bombers of the second intifada (2000–2005) more or less destroyed the Israeli peace camp—by far the Palestinians’ most important ally in the 1990s—and the atrocities of Hamas on October 7 probably wiped out most of the remaining pockets of moderation and hope in Israel.

Maybe when, or if, the Gaza war ends, this mood will change. But the present government and the man who heads it see the Gaza war, with its unthinkable losses and devastation, as instrumental in the long-term goal of maintaining Israel’s occupation. Netanyahu and his ministers are disconnected from reality; they live comfortably enough with the humanitarian disaster of Gaza, and they are incapable of conceiving of a viable future for the state of Israel. They are in denial when it comes to the very real possibility that Israel, under their direction, is on the fast track to self-destruction.

Reading the news these days is like watching a horror film, with the nontrivial difference that the horror ends when the film is over. For the last fifteen months, since this government was sworn in, we have watched the accelerating disintegration of the state and its institutions. No one, not even the most optimistic of our enemies, could have predicted this swift decline. We have a prime minister whose main talent is to contrive ever more unscrupulous schemes for his own political survival; an army bogged down in the dust and mud of Gaza with no exit strategy and subject to constant attack by Hamas guerrillas; a society hovering on the brink of civil war; a sick economy impoverished by unimaginably vast transfers of citizens’ tax money to the ultrareligious factions and their yeshivas; a civil service that has been gutted by the appointment of political hacks and sycophants in place of professionals; a legal system, once more or less functional, in danger of being destroyed by the minister of (in)justice, Yariv Levin; the once-banned, violent Kahanist extremists, relegitimized by Netanyahu, in the Knesset and high-ranking positions in the government; and in the occupied territories, the marauding gangs of Jewish settlers. This is the short list. I won’t ruin your day with the long one.


Were he not so incompetent, and if he had at least an iota of integrity, Netanyahu could almost be a tragic figure—an intelligent or at least cunning man who sold his soul to the devil. In a sense, he is a sinister accident of history. He had no business being in politics. At first his one credential was being the brother of Yoni Netanyahu, who was killed in the 1976 raid on Entebbe, in which Israeli commandos freed the hostages who had been hijacked to Uganda by Palestinian and German terrorists. In his six terms and more than sixteen years as prime minister, his record is, in a word, abysmal. His singular achievement has been resuscitating the existential threat to the state that had more or less disappeared since the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan decades ago. But he has won several elections with a noxious blend of antidemocratic, racist-supremacist, and ultranationalist populism; it’s clearly a winning formula. Over a million Israelis voted for him in the last election in 2022, enabling him to cobble together the present government of thugs and thieves. At least a quarter of the electorate are “Bibists,” hypnotized by Netanyahu, whom they think of as a king; and they are filled with hatred for the secular liberals they see as a privileged elite.

By now there is no need to rehearse Netanyahu’s failings. They are evident to anyone with eyes. It is, however, relevant to the current debacle to state clearly that he bears responsibility for what has happened, and that he characteristically refuses to acknowledge that responsibility. He fomented profound internal divisions in Israel with his attempt to undermine the supreme court and, in effect, the entire legal system, which provoked mass protests and created the conditions for the Hamas attack—since Hamas correctly noted that Israeli society was unraveling. Netanyahu also chose to ignore urgent warnings from the highest echelons of the army and the security forces that such an attack was imminent.

He is now pursuing a deadly war that probably cannot be won, and there is good reason to think that every decision he makes—including in the negotiations for an agreement to release the Israeli hostages in Gaza—is tainted by his personal interests, namely his survival in power and his ability to evade the criminal charges he is facing. According to recent polls, roughly half the Israeli population thinks he is prolonging the war because of those interests. To make matters worse, he has bonded with Ben-Gvir, whose very presence in the government is the most shameful appointment in the entire history of the state. It is as if the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan had been appointed head of the FBI. But although deposing Netanyahu is a matter of utmost urgency, he is not the only problem we have. We need to look deeper.

If Israel is to survive, physically and spiritually, it needs to undergo, collectively, a sea change in its vision of reality—a change on the order of what the South African apartheid regime experienced, with much bloodshed, as it began to collapse. Israelis will have to face unpleasant though rather obvious facts:

Palestinians are human beings, no different from the Jews or anyone else. (They have a rotten political system, but so do we.)

They are not going anywhere.

There are two national movements in the territory west of the Jordan River, with their own legitimate claims and bloody record of atrocities; the two populations are now equal in size, some seven million each.

Israel cannot suppress Palestinian and other Arab resistance by force alone. (The foundational axiom of the Israeli polity has always been that only brute force works.)

Survival depends on sharing the land between these two peoples.

The settlement project in the West Bank has to end.

The barbarian extremists on both sides, as if colluding together, will, given half a chance, kill us all.

God, if there is a god, is unlikely to save us from ourselves.

None of these points is going to be easy for Israelis to swallow. I can attest that most people find it easier to sacrifice the lives of their spouses, siblings, and children in a futile cause than to change how they feel and how they understand the world.


We have wasted several blood-soaked decades on the obscene dream of annexing the territories and expelling the Palestinian population there. Israel steadfastly refused to make peace on the basis of the Saudi Initiative of 2002, unanimously endorsed by the Arab League, which could and should have led to a normalization of Israel’s relations with much of the Arab-Islamic world. The Saudi Initiative, also called the Arab Peace Initiative, offered an end to the Arab–Israeli conflict if Israel would withdraw from all the occupied territories (with minor territorial adjustments to be negotiated), a settlement of the Palestinian refugee problem on the basis of UN Resolution 194, and the creation of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Authority accepted the plan immediately, as did the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, with its fifty-seven member states. (It describes itself as “the collective voice of the Muslim world.”)2 There was never a good reason to reject that plan as the starting point for negotiations on final status—that is, peace. Instead, the right-wing governments of Ariel Sharon and later Netanyahu have done whatever they could to undermine the plan (this includes Netanyahu’s persistent funding for Hamas, via Qatar, as a way to divide Gaza from the West Bank, thus precluding the possibility of a Palestinian state). It’s not so hard to prevent peace from breaking out.

There is only one way out of the current morass. As it happens, it’s a good way and, in theory, feasible if we had a minimally rational government capable of articulating a way forward for the people of Israel. What we now call the Biden plan would revolutionize Israel’s place in the Middle East and in the world at large; at the very least it would reverse the present murderous escalation. Its guiding idea is that Israel would become part of a regional system bound together by ties of normalization and full diplomatic relations between it and each of the moderate Sunni states, thus creating a bulwark against Iran and its proxies; the new configuration would necessarily include, indeed depend upon, some acceptable solution to the Palestinian thirst for freedom. That means a demilitarized Palestinian state and the dismantling of the occupation. In the absence of some such systemic solution, Israel will continue to fight recurrent, catastrophic wars.

In the end, the state will be overwhelmed. That, in fact, is the Hamas plan, with Iranian backing. The Iranians think they can destroy Israel by 2040, if not earlier.3 The most effective, perhaps the only antidote to that plan is for Israel to make a decent peace with those who share the land with us.

The irony is that Netanyahu, and the Israeli right in general, are the greatest allies of Hamas in this doomsday scenario. Netanyahu likes to say that there is no difference between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority: both have the same goal of destroying Israel. This politically convenient and utterly anachronistic excuse lumps together all Palestinians as a murderous (though nonexistent) nation. I suppose Netanyahu has no direct experience with living Palestinians, and I think he has no more than rudimentary Arabic. In any case, he remains locked in his idée fixe that a Palestinian state must be prevented at all costs. If he manages to survive in power until the next Israeli election, he will undoubtedly run on a platform built around this false premise. He may win, though only 15 percent of Israelis say they want him to remain as prime minister, according to polls from January.

Hardly anyone believes a word Netanyahu says. But I do believe him when he says that he will never allow Palestinians to have anything even remotely like a state—that is, some political framework that embodies their national aspirations, as the state of Israel does for the Jews. If he gets his way, we can expect the imminent Hamasification of the West Bank. Already Hamas is riding high in the Arab world and, according to the wartime polls, to some extent on the West Bank; it clearly aims at taking over the Palestinian national movement. Nothing would enhance its chances of doing that as much as a continuing Israeli refusal to make peace with the Palestinian mainstream, or whatever is left of it.

We will be lucky if this government doesn’t precipitate a full-scale war in Lebanon or beyond. So far it lacks any intelligible plan to end the fighting in Gaza and any political goal of some positive import. Even worse, from the start it has been playing into the hands of Hamas’s leader, Yahya Sinwar: first draw the Israeli army into Gaza, then turn it into sitting ducks in a guerrilla war that can continue indefinitely; let Israel kill enough Gazans and wreak enough destruction to turn international opinion against it, while Hamas hangs out safely in the tunnels it has created until the Israelis go away, with nothing to show for their sacrifices. Wars are won only when they have an attainable political goal.

Meanwhile, Israel is well on its way to becoming a pariah state. The wave of anti-Israel feeling that is engulfing large numbers of people in the Western world has emerged not merely from the Gaza war, with its unbearable civilian casualties and now mass starvation. What that wave reflects, more profoundly, is the justified disgust with the ongoing occupation, its seemingly eternal and ever more brutal continuation, and the policies of massive theft and apartheid that are its very essence. It remains to be seen if the people of Israel and of Palestine have the resources, and enough remnants of the classical humanistic values of both Judaism and Islam, to extricate themselves from today’s terminal process of self-destruction.

There is another glimmer of light in this darkness. We have a new generation of committed Israeli activists in the territories. They embody the best of human virtues, including a nonchalant, ethically grounded courage. And there are the ordinary Israelis whom we meet in the antigovernment protests, week after week. They are sick of Netanyahu’s lies and capable of articulating the dream of equality, honesty, moderation, peace. They will fight for those goals. Little by little, recognition of the moral corruption of the occupation and of the need to put an end to it has seeped into these mainstream demonstrations. It is possible that they will slowly swell, like the demonstrations that nearly unseated Netanyahu a year ago, until millions join us in the streets.

—April 11, 2024