On the back of so many deaths and cruelty, talking about peace may seem, at best, naive. Some would argue - correctly - that even before October 7, peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a remote prospect.
From a historical perspective, this is one of the few conflicts in which the idea of peace became so intensely real, with the Oslo Accords, only to be so tragically shattered in the decades that followed. As a result, the mere idea of peace is viewed as “naive”, or even dangerous, by segments of Israelis and Palestinians.
Even naming the Oslo Accords feels like talking about some sort of fantasy: A collective delusion both sides engaged in, and have since awoken from. The “agreements-that-shall-not-be-named” seem to discredit whoever dares pronounce their name. Decision-makers on both sides have long shifted, from an attitude that allowed for solutions to be considered, to one that lazily repeats old arguments. Each side sees itself as the victim of the other. The blame game about the past has become a toxic replacement for thoughts about the future.
Even as you (the reader) go through this piece, you will at times be tempted to wonder “but who is to blame?”. This is natural. But know this: True justice rarely comes in times of war or conflict.
When it comes to Gaza, specifically, the word peace has slowly been replaced by other words like “pause”, “ceasefire”, or “quiet”. In the past, when Israeli officials have often said the goal of previous operations was to “restore quiet” - not peace. Hamas itself only acknowledged ceasefires by saying that “quiet will be answered with quiet”. But quiet is not peace: Quiet is the pause between wars.
Talking about peace shouldn’t be a taboo, even as the dead are being buried. In fact, some of the families of Israeli victims, the same who were brutally killed by Hamas, who saw their parents executed in cold blood, still advocate for peace. It is a tragic irony that the same Israeli kibbutz Hamas attacked on a quiet morning on October 7, are in fact some of the last bastions of the peace camp in Israel.
Read more: Hamas might have miscalculated in Gaza
But it is also not a first. Hamas’s “career” has been built on the back of destroying peace. The same group is responsible for many of the suicide bombings that followed Oslo, with a clear aim: Preventing peace. Don’t believe me? Those were the words of Arafat in 1996: “We are confronting terror and we will confront terror and uproot it from our land because our dream of freedom, independence and self-determination could not prosper and be fulfilled amid a sea of tears and blood, but with thorough work to confront the terror of these extremist and dangerous wings from Hamas and Jihad”.
In Israel, adversaries of peace found a useful partner in Hamas: Netanyahu’s “divide and conquer” strategy, aimed at dividing Palestinians, has relied on Hamas to push back any pressure to resume peace talks. In that sense, Netanyahu is responsible for a much broader failure than the intelligence and military failure we saw on October 7.
Looking at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and others, from a historical perspective do suggest that there may still be a chance for peace. Sometimes, tragedies have unexpected consequences, even for those who caused them. A series of Palestinian attacks, in the late 1970s’, including what’s been known as the “Coastal Road Massacre” (the killing of nearly 40 Israelis, among them children), later led to the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon 1982. The expulsion of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) from Lebanon, and its increasing isolation from events in Israel and Palestine, gradually led it to think about peace.
Of course this is a poor comparison, nor does it mean all of these events (the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, or the Palestinian attacks at the time) were justified or necessary to get there. Hezbollah - a party that, like its patron, has been very savvy at using the Palestinian cause to serve its own interests - also emerged from the invasion of Southern Lebanon.