It is challenging to write on a week like this, with the situation on the ground between Israelis and Palestinians pockmarked with terrorism, IDF operations requiring tactics that are unprecedented since the Second Intifada, and shifts in Israeli settlement policies that are the most consequential in decades. It is a week where condemnations and outrage ring true for most people, while analysis and appeals for calm fall flat. Nevertheless, here are a number of points—some connected and some standing on their own—that I hope people will consider after taking a deep breath.

  1. There is absolutely no justification, legitimate excuse, or plausible defense for killing Israelis because of where they live. I never shy away from describing Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank for what it is, and the settlement movement is the embodiment of the deep and structural inequities that exist between Israelis and Palestinians living in the same territory. None of that means that Israelis who live in the West Bank deserve to die. If you view Israel’s construction of West Bank settlements as a violation of international law, so is terrorism directed at civilians living in them. Palestinian popular resistance must mean something other than this, for reasons of morality and for reasons of wanting to build support for independence and statehood. It is foolishly naïve to think, after the history of two intifadas, that terrorism is going to lead to a Palestinian state in the West Bank rather than a replication of what exists in Gaza.
  1. Israel’s settlement policy is a disaster that is not serving anyone’s interests, including those of Israelis. This is not about whether the West Bank is disputed or occupied, whether Jews have a fundamental and historic right to live in Judea and Samaria or are living there as interlopers violating international law, whether it is unfair for Jews to be kept from settling in the biblical heartland or unfair to prioritize Jewish claims and rights over those of Palestinians who have been there for a longer uninterrupted period. Strong and informed opinions exist on both sides of each of these points, and they all have a degree of merit. And none of that is what anyone should focus on, because the thing that should matter above all is the predictable consequences of Israel’s increasing determination to build and maintain settlements in places that create increasing costs to everyone.
IDF soldiers in al-Masara, West Bank, January 2012

As capable as the IDF is, it is not built to secure and defend isolated pockets of Israeli civilians deep inside the West Bank, in places where the ratio of Palestinians to Israelis can run as high as 50:1. Not only is it not built to do so, but forcing it to increasingly attempt to do so explicitly means security tradeoffs in other spheres. As Israelis like to frequently and correctly point out, its neighbors are not Sweden, yet the Israeli government’s diversion of critical resources and manpower to the interior of the West Bank means that it has to pretend it is located in Scandinavia rather than the Middle East.

The site of the June 20, 2023 terror attack that killed four Israeli civilians near Eli, West Bank.

And the problem is only getting worse as Israel plans and approves units that are disproportionately east of the security barrier. Building another 1,000 homes in Eli, as the Israeli government announced its intention to do following Tuesday’s terrorism in Eli, increases the chances of more horrific attacks that kill Israelis. That is not in any way to blame the victims of terrorist attacks—see point 1 above—but to note the unfortunate but predictable consequences of taking a difficult situation for Israel and making it more difficult.

The history of the last two centuries is replete with examples of strong states and capable militaries failing abysmally to secure their soldiers and citizens in the middle of a hostile territory where the local population has an overwhelming numerical advantage and wants them out. There is no reason to think that Israel has a solution to overcome this, and its own experience suggests that it does not. As the IDF was forced to use a helicopter gunship to secure the retreat of soldiers following an operation in Jenin this week and Israelis are increasingly attacked by Palestinian terrorists on West Bank roads far removed from the Green Line and significant Israeli population centers, it is an unfortunately opportune moment to consider where this is leading. This has absolutely nothing to do with the rights of Jews to live where they want, and absolutely everything to do with what the tipping point is where asserting a right or a principle becomes too costly to sustain. And if you are someone who believes that none of this is related to settlements and is entirely a result of Palestinian unwillingness to accept Israel’s legitimacy or unrelenting hatred of Jews, then Israeli policies that put more and more Israelis deep inside Palestinian territory are even more illogical since it means living by the sword until the end of time. There are some Israelis whose ideological vision and belief system thrive on this, but these policies are not serving the overwhelming majority of Israelis well.

Jenin, West Bank
  1. This does not mean that Israel should or must give up on having its citizens living in biblical Judea and Samaria. The problem is not with settlements as a catch-all category, but with the policy of purposely prioritizing the settlements that are the hardest to defend, that are farthest from Israel, that are the most isolated, and that cause the most friction with Palestinians who live in the surrounding areas. 60% of Israelis living over the Green Line are on 1.9% of the territory, only a few kilometers into the West Bank; if this is expanded to another 2% of the territory, it encompasses 75% of Israelis living over the Green Line. Yet of the 4,800 units that the Israeli government is set to discuss for approval on Monday, 2,300 are east of the barrier. Look at the events of the last week, of the last month, of the last year, and ask yourself if this makes sense. Settlements are not monolithic, yet defenders of building deep into Palestinian territory would have you think that not expanding the population of Ma’ale Amos with its 800 people is the equivalent of calling to uproot Ma’ale Adumim with its 38,000 people.
  1. Respect the humanity on both sides of this conflict, even if you detest the political choices of some. If you think that Israelis living in the West Bank—whether in places that are effectively outlying neighborhoods of metro Jerusalem, or in places so far-flung that they are the only Jews for miles around—deserve any violence that is inflicted upon them, then you have badly lost your moral bearings. If you think that Palestinians living in Jenin now deserve to have their city blockaded and their livelihoods choked off because they cheer the Palestinian gunmen who destroyed an IDF armored personnel carrier, or that Palestinians deserve to have their homes and fields burned because of something that other Palestinians did, you have badly lost your moral bearings too.
  1. For as currently in vogue as it is to sneer at two states and declare the death of a two-state outcome, moments like this demonstrate the utter folly of pursuing any other path. Are the type of Palestinian terrorists who mowed down four Israelis, including two teenagers, eating hummus at a roadside restaurant going to disappear if Israel—in Bezalel Smotrich’s words—creates and cements in them the awareness that there can only be a Jewish state west of the Jordan? Are the type of Jewish terrorists who torched Palestinian homes, cars, and fields on Tuesday night and rampaged through a Palestinian town on Wednesday as a reprisal for the murder of four Israelis going to embrace co-existence if Israel becomes a single, democratic bi-national state with citizenship for everyone living west of the Jordan? As the Israeli government inches closer to a decision to move the IDF into Palestinian cities in the northern West Bank in full force, are Israelis going to decide that complete freedom of movement for everyone across Israel and the West Bank and the end of territorial security measures—as would be necessary for a successful confederation—are the best way out of the conundrum?

We all know how far away a two-state outcome is, and how it appears to be moving farther away by the day. But all of the other ideas out there, irrespective of the real merit of some of their individual components, are destined to end in a manner far from how their proponents envision them. So will a two-state future, which is guaranteed to look different from how I or anyone else thinks it will. But it is built on the foundation of some core truths, which are that neither side will give up its aspirations for national statehood and—tragically and disappointingly—neither side is prepared to live enmeshed with the other.

The events of this week can easily lead to despair. The way out is not to search for moral virtue or to bludgeon one’s rhetorical opponents for the sake of being right. It is to take a deep breath, assess the positive and negative consequences of different choices, and work to make the lives of both peoples living in the Holy Land better.