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It's Time Sobered Up

The loop in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been trapped in for decades has again reached a familiar, decisive crossroads: either an enduring, comprehensive negotiated agreement or continuing the endless cycle of warfare. What right-wing leaders once called "managing the conflict" or "we shall forever live by the sword" is now called, in the latest astonishingly infantile Likud newspeak, "total victory."

Contrary to the claim that the events of October 7 constituted a regional "paradigm shift," they were in fact an extreme and vicious escalation of that paradigm: interminable rounds of terror and war. The loop in which all of us are trapped is not a closed cycle that repeats itself. It is a spiral that deepens. With each return to the ostensibly identical point on the axis of history (escalation-calm-escalation), the force of reality climbs a notch.

Thus, it is not surprising that the agreement now proposed by the Biden administration in response to this extreme escalation has also gone up a notch. It no longer talks about "returning to the understandings reached in the wake of Operation Protective Edge" (the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip) or "an extension of fishing limits and the number of Israeli work permits granted to Palestinian" or "an economic peace," but rather a long-term plan for the actual establishment of a Palestinian state.

Suddenly, everyone realizes that we don't have the time and the privilege to imagine that the normalization agreements with distant Muslim countries are what will bring about the sought-after calm, and that it's time to treat the open wound itself, not its accompanying symptoms.

This proposal is a historic opportunity, that will presumably not come again in the same configuration. Soon we may not be able to return to a similar critical juncture. In the United States, which is undergoing a transformation on both sides of the political divide, sits the most Israel-sympathetic administration imaginable. In Ramallah, there is still the most moderate and pragmatic leadership the Palestinians have ever had. These constellations will not remain as they are for long. We are headed for an irreversible turn in the spiral of our lives.

The Israeli right likes to claim that its solutions have never been tried, whereas in fact their solutions are the only ones that have been tried, under the interminable rule of its leader. They like to say that the left's solutions are naive and irrational, while themselves dancing in a frenzy, as if possessed, while calling to make 2 million Palestinians disappear, as if by magic. As if they haven't noticed how every bloodthirsty right-wing leader suddenly sounds different once the responsibility is in his own hands, when it turns out that populist promises to annihilate and exterminate are unrealistic.

The right must sober up from its infantile illusions before it is too late and we are genuinely trapped, as promised, in an endless cycle of bloodshed. If we reject the American proposal now, we will one day look back wistfully at the days when Joe Biden was in the White House and Mahmoud Abbas was in Ramallah. In Israel too, the right's matryoshka nesting dolls will keep generating leaders who are even more extreme than Itamar Ben-Gvir.

The Biden administration is giving us a rare opportunity to stop strengthening Hamas, and the more extreme organizations that will follow it, and transfer responsibility for the Gaza Strip to the pragmatic wing of the Palestinians. But the right never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Just before October 7, in covering the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, Haaretz warned of the next debacle. The introduction to my contribution states that if there is one lesson to be learned from the hubris that preceded the 1973 war, it was not to ignore the powder keg in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip." The left is not the side that needs to sober up. We saw the danger clearly.

Noa Landau