October 7 has taken well-entrenched opinions and convictions and entrenched them further. We should all do a better job going forward of questioning the things we are certain about.

No matter how you slice it, 2023 was a devastating year on the Israel front. It began with a new government that managed to simultaneously be the most extreme, most inexperienced, and most bloated in Israel’s history. In the first week of 2023, that government announced plans to remake the relationship between the government and the judiciary and fundamentally alter the existing balance of power between the branches, which—irrespective of how you feel about the merits of the judicial overhaul—touched off a political and social crisis unprecedented in Israeli history. The divisions impacted everything, including the economy and military preparedness, sparked weekly protests, and raised fears that the bonds of Israeli society were coming apart in ways that would be impossible to sew back together. Amidst all of this, terrorism against Israelis and killings and assaults of Palestinians in the West Bank were both at heights unseen since the Second Intifada. And then October 7 happened.

Supreme Court building in Rishon LeZion

With only a handful of well-documented—and in hindsight, extraordinarily tragic—exceptions, October 7 took everyone by surprise. It also left everyone wrong in one way or another, and in big ways to boot. If you thought that opening up Gaza’s economy would bring bottom-up pressure on Hamas not to ruin everything and force it to moderate its behavior through gritted teeth (typed with my hand raised), you were wrong. If you thought that Israeli military force through repeated “mowing the grass” airstrikes and constructing a subterranean barrier to block attack tunnels into Israel had deterred Hamas, you were wrong. If you thought that keeping Hamas in power in a weakened state in Gaza in order to perpetuate the split within Palestinian politics, society, and territory was smart policy for Israel, you were wrong. If you thought that Gaza could be ignored and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be managed without real consequences until the end of time, you were wrong. And if you think that keeping Israeli settlements inside Gaza would have prevented October 7 despite seeing what Hamas did to Israeli communities inside of Israel and on the other side of the Gaza border fence, you thankfully did not have the opportunity to be proven wrong but rest assured that you are. There are no wins from October 7; if you had strong opinions about anything related to Gaza, Hamas, and the Palestinians before the attacks, there is a 99.9% certainty that you were badly wrong about something.

I don’t write this as an exercise in self-flagellation or as a call for others to be chastened. I write it as a corrective for the future. Amidst the horrible death and destruction of October 7 and what has followed, it is easier than ever for everyone to retreat to their respective camps and harden their positions. If you believe that Palestinians will never accept Israel’s right to exist and are determined to fight until they have liberated the land from the river to the sea, then there is plenty of evidence from the past two months to confirm your priors. If you believe that Israel will never be secure without a political solution, then there is plenty of evidence from the past two months to confirm your priors. We can all go on as before if we wish and insist that October 7 proves the certainty of what we believed before. But the smarter and more responsible thing to do is to be less certain, and to not automatically dismiss evidence that does not neatly fit into our preferred framework or worldview.

Here is an obvious example that is gnawing at me. Khalil Shikaki’s latest poll of Palestinian public opinion in the West Bank and Gaza is not surprising, but that does not make its findings any less alarming. 72% of Palestinians believe Hamas’ decision to launch the October 7 attacks was correct and the same percentage is satisfied with Hamas’ performance during the fighting, only 10% believe that Hamas has committed war crimes on October 7 and its aftermath, and 60% want Hamas to control Gaza once the war is over. The regional actor that receives the highest level of satisfaction is Yemen at 80%, as it shoots ballistic missiles at Israel and shuts down international shipping in the Red Sea. In a head-to-head presidential matchup between Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, Haniyeh receives 78% to Abbas’ 16%, while Hamas is the most popular political faction at 43%, which is double what it was three months ago. Seven in 10 Palestinians support a return to armed struggle and intifada, up by just more than 10% from before October 7, and support for two states remains stuck in the low thirties. All in all, the results paint a picture of a Palestinian public that views October 7 as a heroic act and not as a devastating setback for the Palestinian cause, and lends credence to the idea that Israel would be reckless to reward Hamas’ attacks with a political process that demonstrates that violence and brutality are the most effective path forward for Palestinians.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh

Facing such numbers on October 6, there are a number of things I would have told you to qualify them. I would have pointed out that Palestinian support for Hamas is not an absolute preference and cannot be separated from the perception that the PA is powerless and ineffective. I would have highlighted the vast split between Gaza, where Hamas is much less popular with the Palestinians who suffer under its yoke and know it best, and the West Bank, where satisfaction with Hamas is more than 30 points higher than in Gaza. I would have argued that Palestinian views of two states are directly tied to the Palestinian assessment that it is no longer feasible, demonstrated by the nearly identical numbers of those who think it is still possible and those who support it. And I would have cautioned against the notion that these numbers are set in stone and not tied to Israeli behavior in light of the fact that Palestinians believe that two states is not feasible, as opposed to it not being desirable—as demonstrated by the plurality of Palestinians who view building a state in the West Bank and Gaza with a capital in East Jerusalem as the most vital goal—and that the factor most driving the sense that two states is not feasible is Israeli settlement expansion.

In a post-October 7 world, all of these qualifications still exist, and they may be as true as ever. It does not mean that the October 6 version of me was wrong, and nothing I have seen these past few months has convinced me that there is any path forward for a secure, Jewish, and democratic Israel other than two states. But I am not so quick to dismiss the possibility that these are excuses masking the unpleasant conclusion that Palestinian society is overwhelmingly fine with Hamas’ brutality, and that taking any chances for peace that will risk Israeli security given rampant views like this is madness.

Americans rally for Israel in New York in October, 2023

If an earth-shattering event like October 7 has caused you to rethink nothing, you are doing it wrong. And that applies across the board, not only to people on one side of the ideological spectrum. I focus on my side because that is what is most important for me and my own analysis, but it is just as easy to rip apart convictions on the other side, such as the idea that settlements equal security and that searching for political solutions is risky and irresponsible. As we turn the page on this dark year and enter one that may turn out to be no better, we all need a dose of humility and a greater willingness to challenge ourselves. The failures of October 7 demand nothing less.

This is the final column of this year. Thank you to all of my readers and to all those who reach out to engage with the ideas and arguments in this space; whether you mostly agree with me, mostly disagree with me, or find yourself somewhere in between, I hope that you have found something in here that has made you think and has sparked a desire to learn more. This column and Israel Policy Forum more largely only exist due to the generosity of our funders, big and small, so if you appreciate having me show up in your inbox every Thursday, please consider making an end of year donation to Israel Policy Forum. Best wishes to all for a happy New Year, and most importantly to better days ahead.