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The Rapid Return of Israel's Disastrous Policy


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Middle East Quarterly

"Judging by the way Netanyahu has managed Gaza in the last 13 years, it is not certain that there will be a clear policy going forward."
— Tal Schneider, Times of Israel

Daniel Pipes
Winter 2024

"Everything changed" in Israel on Oct. 7. But did it? Understanding the mistakes that led up to the Hamas massacre provides a basis to evaluate Israel's long-term response to that day. Contrary to general opinion, I shall argue that the presumptions behind those mistakes remain in place and will not change unless Israelis adopt a radically different attitude toward the Palestinians.

The Road to Oct. 7

Israeli military planners coined a Hebrew term, conceptzia, "the concept," in the late 1960s. It held that Egypt's Anwar el-Sadat would not go to war until 1974, when his military had acquired advanced Soviet fighter jets that permitted it to take on the Jewish state's air force. Israel's Agranat Commission, which investigated how the Egyptians and Syrians surprised Israel in the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, largely blamed the conceptzia for a blindness to the preparations taking place before its very eyes.

The future commission inevitably analyzing Israel's unpreparedness on Oct. 7, 2023, will surely blame that surprise on a second erroneous conceptzia. It held that, David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy explains,


In short, a ferociously anti-Hamas and anti-PA mood came to dominate Israeli politics, with only the two left-wing parties (Labor and Meretz) somewhat in opposition. Even a majority of Israeli Arabs recognized the danger that Hamas and the PA pose to their safety and well-being.

Victory had become a matter of consensus, or so it appeared.

Quick Revisions

But did that ferocity signify a fundamental shift in outlook or just a passing surge in emotions? Mounting evidence suggests the latter. American novelist Jack Engelhard noted in late November about the mood in Israel: "I am so damn depressed. ... I hardly hear any talk of victory anymore." Indeed, the robust rhetoric of victory following Oct. 7 ended as abruptly as it began, replaced by negotiating with Hamas over terms for the release of just some of the hostages. More profoundly, Israeli officialdom and public alike showed signs of hastily reverting to the attitudes and policies that had led to Oct. 7.

Those policies rest on two main assumptions: that economic benefits – more work permits in Israel, a larger fishing zone, outside funding – gives Palestinians something to lose, taming them and making them less inclined to aggress; and that an Israel so much mightier and more advanced than its Palestinian enemy can afford to make concessions.

Symptoms of the reversion include the following:

The security establishment approved the entry of 8,000 West Bank workers to Israel, mostly to engage in agricultural work. It did so in response to Israel's agriculture minister assuring his colleagues that the workers had been vetted and posed no danger. That thousands of workers from Gaza had spied on Israel and made themselves complicit in the Oct. 7 massacre seemed blithely to be forgotten.

On the West Bank itself, Israel's commanding general there issued oxymoronic orders limiting Arab access that appeared tough but changed very little. As explained by the Binyamin Regional Council, "There is no entry into Israeli towns for Arab workers. They will be permitted to enter industrial areas at night only." Do marauders and murderers carry out their crimes only in daylight?



I observed in a late October article that "the inflamed Israeli mood of the moment will likely fade with time, as old patterns reassert themselves and business-as-usual returns." I was wrong in one respect; it did not take time. Rather, it occurred almost right away, within two weeks. Contrary to the initial impression that "everything changed," at the time of writing – late November – almost nothing has changed.

This reversion also fits a much larger pattern. From 1882 until the present, the two feuding parties to this conflict have compiled extraordinary records of sterile continuity. The Palestinians maintain a mentality of rejectionism (no, no, and never to everything Jewish and Israeli), while Zionists stick to conciliation (accept us and we will enrich you). The two go around and around, hardly evolving or making progress. Change will only come when Israelis break with the traditional Zionist mentality and seek Israel Victory.


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