Just as Palestinian leaders need to rhetorically and tangibly confront extremism in their society, so too does Israel need to show the Palestinian people that embracing coexistence actually serves their interests.


Even as Israel steadily progresses in its bid to wrest Gaza from Hamas control, the territory’s political future remains as opaque as ever. While the Jewish community in Israel and the diaspora still grapples with the abhorrent and devastating acts carried out by Palestinian terrorists on October 7, many have seemingly reached the conclusion that Palestinian society is forever stained by an irredeemable and inexorable hatred. 

There is plenty of evidence to support this view; to many Jewish observers, the ethos of armed resistance, including support for terror against Israelis, appears practically endemic to Palestinian society. According to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research’s September 13 opinion poll of Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh would beat current PA President Mahmoud Abbas in a hypothetical presidential race 58%-37%. 53% of Palestinians polled see armed resistance as the most effective strategy for bettering their conditions, as opposed to 24% and 20% in favor of peaceful resistance and negotiations, respectively. Within the specific context of Gaza, Palestinians there have been subjected to 16 years of Hamas propaganda and antisemitic incitement capitalizing on genuinely appalling living conditions and legitimate resentment toward Israel. The situation is hardly more promising in the West Bank, where university student body elections recently delivered decisive victories to Hamas, including at Birzeit and an-Najah. The PA Security Forces (PASF) have lost ground to armed militias and terror cells. Despite its avowed commitment to non-violence, PA itself frequently engages in incitement, including through its payments to martyrs’ families and Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Palestinians following an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, October 11, 2023

None of these trends bodes well for a future two-state outcome, nor, in the nearer term, for a Palestinian leadership that both enjoys popular legitimacy and wholeheartedly rejects violence in favor of coexistence. But the popularity so-called armed resistance enjoys across Palestinian society was not inevitable. Palestinian officials certainly bear primary responsibility for the normalization and proliferation of antisemitic and genocidal ideologies. Yet Israel also has a secondary responsibility for legitimizing Hamas’ approach in lieu of diplomacy. Just as Palestinian leaders need to rhetorically and tangibly confront extremism in their society, so too does Israel need to show the Palestinian people that embracing coexistence actually serves their interests.

Israelis and their supporters often cite Palestinian rejectionism as the reason for the failure of the peace process. There’s certainly some truth to that, but it obscures Israel’s role in undermining the legitimacy and efficacy of negotiations for Palestinians. During Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s first term in the late 1990s, settlement construction in areas Israel was purportedly prepared to hand over to a Palestinian state fomented Palestinian resentment and cast doubt on whether Israel genuinely intended to end the occupation. Hamas capitalized on this legitimate grievance to drive the violence of the Second Intifada in the early 2000s. In 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government disengaged from Gaza unilaterally—without coordinating with the PA—a move Hamas framed as a victory of its armed resistance. 

Former Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon

The pattern of Israel delivering victories to Hamas while sidelining the PA endured throughout the 2010s. Amid recurring rounds of Israel-Hamas armed confrontation in Gaza since Hamas violently seized the territory in 2007, Israel tacitly accepted Hamas rule as a fait accompli and treated it as a de facto government with which it could coexist by leveraging carrots and sticks. In 2011, Prime Minister Netanyahu freed 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, whom Hamas had abducted. In the wake of the 2014 Israel-Gaza war, Israel began allowing suitcases of Qatari cash to enter Gaza for reconstruction and humanitarian aid, but also as an economic concession that benefited Hamas itself in exchange for quiet. Netanyahu acknowledged that this policy sought to weaken the PA and prevent Gaza-West Bank reunification. He reportedly scuttled an intra-Palestinian reconciliation deal that would have returned the PA to Gaza. Following the May 2021 Israel-Hamas conflict, the Bennett-Lapid government continued treating Hamas as a rational actor that would refrain from violence if incentivized to do so—for instance, by allowing thousands of Gazans to earn relatively high wages in Israel that Hamas could tax. Despite a 16-year blockade and intermittent violent escalations, Israel and Hamas ultimately collaborated in maintaining a status quo: a breakaway de facto Hamas state in lieu of a united de jure Palestinian state. 

Protestors call on Hamas to release captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in return for the exchange of Palestinian prisoners in Israel, 2010

The PA, on the other hand, has little to show for its preference for diplomacy over violence. Politicians on the mainstream Israeli right, including Netanyahu, frequently frame the PA as an enemy rather than a negotiating partner—which is what the PA, unlike Hamas, was created to be and derived its legitimacy from. The entrenchment of the occupation and proliferation of West Bank settlements have further undermined the PA’s raison d’être. Given that Israeli policies in the West Bank have damaged rather than advanced a two-state horizon, Palestinians have come to see the PA and its collaboration with Israel as an arm of the Israeli occupation, not the vehicle for ending it.

Israel is not fundamentally responsible for Palestinian terrorism. Israel could make all the right choices in its policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians and there will surely still be elements within Palestinian society that want to “liberate” the land of Jews from the river to the sea. But an empowered Hamas was not inevitable, nor is its extremism destined to dominate Palestinian society forever. As Israel considers the next steps for Gaza, it must learn from its historic mistakes to empower and legitimize actors in the Palestinian arena who favor diplomacy over violence. Unlike Hamas, strengthening the PA (or any future Palestinian partner that favors negotiations over violence) requires actively advancing a two-state horizon and being prepared to offer concessions that do so through dialogue. Simultaneously, Israel must also meaningfully combat its own extremism, including West Bank settler violence, as I recently outlined in TIME

One of the most popular clichés about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that if the Palestinians lay down their weapons there will be peace, but if Israel lays down its weapons there will be no more Israel. While that may have some truth, it does not absolve Israel of its essential responsibility to ensure that those who lay down their weapons can actually deliver tangible results.