Biden doomed the Palestinians to another generation of war

By prioritizing false concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza, a chance to change Palestinian thinking and end the conflict in a more decisive way was lost.

Counterfactual history or “what if?” scenarios about things that didn’t happen can make for fun reading without necessarily shedding much light on the past. But it’s often impossible to resist the urge to wonder how history might have been changed. That’s especially the case when the subject concerns great tragedies like wars that might have been avoided had the counsel of wiser leaders prevailed or, as is sometimes true, chance events not set off a series of actions that led to catastrophe.

It is a lot easier to play this game in retrospect than in real time. We all walk into history going backward with our eyes firmly fixed on the past, often with little or no idea what will befall the world. And so great is the confusion about decisions taken amid the proverbial “fog of war” and political turmoil that it is usually difficult to discern how far-reaching the implications will be. Yet there are moments when the choices made by leaders, nations and movements have such immediate consequences that it is obvious the path of history has been altered—perhaps irrevocably.

I would argue that we are living through such a historical moment.

The Oct. 7 massacres committed by Hamas changed the nature of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In the aftermath of the worst mass slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust, the notion that Israel could coexist with a Hamas-ruled Gaza, which despite the anti-Israel propaganda about it being “occupied” functioned as an independent Palestinian state in all but name, was no longer tenable. No longer constrained by a belief that the status quo should be preserved, Israel adopted the goal of eliminating Hamas and its terror state.

Biden’s choice

Initially, the United States endorsed that goal and, at least in theory, it still supports the idea. But almost as soon as the words escaped President Joe Biden’s lips, he was taking them back in terms of the policies he pursued and the pressure he placed on Israel to prevent them from achieving that goal as quickly as possible.

Succumbing to pressure from the intersectional left wing of his own party that views Israel as a “white oppressor” and “apartheid” state, and implicitly accepting Hamas propaganda about civilian casualties, he characterized Israel’s war effort as “over the top,” and that it was guilty of “indiscriminate” killing of Palestinians. This was entirely false and remains so. But rather than treating the pro-Hamas and antisemitic protests that were breaking out on college campuses and in the streets of the nation’s cities, Biden seemed intimidated by the leftist attacks on Israel that were being echoed by the corporate media.

Just as important, he chose to listen to (as he has always done) the conventional wisdom peddled by some of the same foreign-policy alumni from the Obama administration still in decision-making roles.

They told him that Israel was wrong to try to defeat Hamas. They said Hamas was an “idea” and therefore couldn’t be defeated. What’s more, they urged him to use this moment to pivot back to the same patent nostrums the so-called experts in foreign policy have been urging the world to impose on the Middle East. That meant another round of diplomacy aimed at muscling Israel into accepting the creation of a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria, Gaza and part of Jerusalem. It comes even though the Palestinians—the “moderates” in the Fatah Party who run the corrupt and terrorist-supporting Palestinian Authority, as well as the Islamists of Hamas—have demonstrated over and over in the last century that they have no interest in such a scheme if it requires them to live next to a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn.

That American decision to put the brakes on Israel’s counter-offensive into Gaza didn’t force the government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to abandon their determination to destroy Hamas. But the American stand—echoed in part by the reluctance of many in Israel’s military and intelligence establishment to give up entirely on their longstanding belief in preserving the status quo with Hamas indefinitely—did slow down and ultimately prevent the Israel Defense Forces from achieving their objective. Hamas has been forced back into its last enclave in Rafah but continues to harry the IDF in places from which it has already been ejected.

Sending the Palestinians the wrong message

If and when the IDF does go into Rafah, it will bring down the condemnation of the world on the Jewish state. The accepted narrative about Israel committing war crimes or even “genocide” in Gaza is a lie. But the willingness of so many around the world to believe it and to see Hamas’s cause as one that progressives should support has vindicated the terror group’s belief that restarting the war to eradicate Israel’s existence with unspeakable atrocities has only bolstered their cause rather than undermined it.

With Israel’s superpower ally determined not only to punish Israel with arms cutoffs if it finishes the job in Gaza and to reward the Palestinians for Hamas’s attacks, Palestinians will see this as a reason to continue in their refusal to accept peace on any terms but the end of Israel.

That is a tragedy. And not just for Israel, which understands that the existential struggle for their state will not only continue but grow increasingly bloody and bitter since Hamas—whether in control of parts of Gaza or not—has now become the preeminent force in Palestinian politics. The fact that the world responded to Oct. 7 by condemning Israel and seeking to isolate it for having the temerity to defend itself after being attacked will provide an incentive to all Palestinian factions to be just as interested as Hamas in more such terrorist outrages.

No matter who leads Israel in the future, the nation and its citizens will not give up. And whether or not the United States continues to speak out of both sides of its mouth about the war against Hamas or not, the Jewish state will not accept an independent Palestinian state that, as Oct. 7 proved with respect to Gaza, would be a mortal threat.

This means that both populations are locked into a conflict that offers no escape for the foreseeable future. That means more isolation for Israel and the certainty of more bloodshed. It also means another generation of suffering for Palestinians. They will continue to engage in a war that many Americans and others chanting slogans like “from the river to the sea” and “globalize the intifada” think they can win but which, in reality, is a futile, if bloody, quest.

It could have been different

But it didn’t have to be this way. There was an opportunity after Oct. 7 for a very different scenario to play out that, though it would have involved much fighting and the shedding of blood, might have at least provided a chance for ending the conflict. And though this discussion could be dismissed as a pointless exercise in counterfactual history, I would argue that it was a more rational and indeed more moral alternative to the one pursued by the Biden administration, let alone the demands of the intersectional and Islamist left that seek a complete rupture in the U.S.-Israel alliance.

What if, instead of backtracking on his support for Israel, Biden had stuck to his Oct. 8 statements about backing the war on Hamas?

What if, rather than doing everything possible to slow the Israeli offensive, force it to allow aid into Hamas-controlled areas and act as if the Palestinians deserved impunity for starting the war and engaging in atrocities, the United States had done everything possible to aid a swift and decisive offensive?

What if, instead of using Oct. 7 as an excuse to resurrect the failed two-state policies of the past, the administration had said that such efforts were put on hold indefinitely until the Palestinians—the vast majority of whom had supported the attacks and the atrocities—had demonstrated that they were prepared to live in peace with the Jewish state?

What if, Israel had swiftly routed Hamas and, despite the difficulties of rooting them out of their tunnel strongholds, cut them off from all help—either from tunnels into Rafah from Egypt or the international aid that was stolen by the terrorists rather than going to Palestinians in need?

What if the IDF had, despite taking casualties and being condemned by Hamas supporters, had completed their defeat months ago rather than being in the current difficult situation it faces right now?

As is the case with any counterfactual, we’ll never know the conclusive answers to these questions. We should also recognize that part of the problem stemmed from the failures in the leadership of Israel’s political, military and intelligence establishments—before, on and after Oct. 7.

But let’s imagine a scenario in which Israel was prepared to act decisively after the attacks and Washington was just as eager as Jerusalem for a swift and total military victory in Gaza.

Accepting consequences

This wouldn’t have entirely stopped the international community from rallying to Hamas’s defense. But a decisive military campaign that stuck to the objective of wiping out Hamas would have largely forestalled the growing campaign to demonize the Jewish state that we’ve seen play out in Europe as on American college campuses. A fait accompli in which Hamas was wiped out and the Palestinians forced to accept the consequences of terrorism would not have been popular at the United Nations or among fashionable leftist academics. But it would have largely marginalized their protests.

Had the Palestinians seen that no one was stopping Israel, that the cause of continuing their century-old war on Zionism had garnered little or no backing and that the Americans fully stood by the Israelis, they still might have continued wallowing in their society-wide embrace of the politics of self-destruction. But they would have been faced with the consequences of Islamist lunacy in the form of a Gaza reduced to rubble by the fighting and isolation for their embrace of barbarism. There is a chance that this retaliation might have been the impetus for a sea-change in their political culture that is the only hope for eventual peace.

Just as important, and whether or not it’s possible to imagine this counterfactual scenario playing out in this way, such a confluence of events is the only realistic chance that the Palestinians might be dragged into coming to such a conclusion. And that is true no matter what mistakes Israel’s leaders have made.

The analogy to Israel’s position in Gaza wasn’t to post-colonial struggles in the Third World or to anti-insurgent warfare in Iraq or Afghanistan. Rather, it was to the Allies in Germany in 1945 when the brute force of military might killed the “idea” of Nazism along with the genocidal regime it spawned. A similar use of force accompanied by the determination of the international community not to further encourage their fantasies about a world without Israel might have forced the Palestinians to make the same choice the Germans made and abandon their ideology in order to be allowed to rejoin the community of nations. Perhaps the Palestinians’ sense of national identity is too inextricably tied to their belief that Israel should not exist. But the refusal of Biden and so many others to even consider this option will have devastating consequences for Jews and Arabs.

Learning from history

It is true that few, if any, historical events are truly inevitable. For example, we know now that those who opposed the appeasement of Nazi Germany in the 1930s were right. But as much as we are correct to laud Winston Churchill for his prescient warnings of what was to come, there was a reason most in Britain and elsewhere opposed him until it was too late to avert World War II and the Holocaust. They thought anything was better than another war with Germany and, as is often the case with shocking deeds, many if not most sensible people didn’t believe that what would happen was possible or even imaginable. We can’t help but condemn Neville Chamberlain, but we always need to do so with the understanding that neither he nor his supporters knew how history would turn out, even if we believe that they should have.

Still, there are times when it is possible with a degree of confidence to play “what if?” and say decisions being made have caused terrible things that are likely to occur and foreclose the possibility of better outcomes.

Biden and the foreign-policy establishment have had ample opportunities in the last 30 years to try and fail to create a Palestinian state, as well as to see what happens when one allows Islamists to survive rather than to seek their complete defeat. That is not true of Chamberlain, who had not tried and failed at appeasing a totalitarian and antisemitic power before he futilely attempted to bring “peace in our time” to Europe by handing Czechoslovakia over to Hitler.

But Biden and the so-called foreign policy “wise men” drew all the wrong conclusions from their experiences.

They failed to understand that Israel’s goal in Gaza was not an Iraq-style counter-insurgency in which, as Fareed Zakaria wrote recently in The Washington Post, the IDF should have sought to “win the hearts and minds” of Gazans who had cheered the crimes of Oct. 7. Nor were they right when, as The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof claimed, that Israel couldn’t and shouldn’t defeat Hamas or finish them off in Rafah. Both lacked the self-awareness to realize that their advice had been a self-fulfilling prophecy that might ensure Hamas’s survival even when that didn’t have to be so.

If Biden and these foreign-policy pundits had a scrap of honesty, they would have admitted that their willingness to ignore the truth about the Palestinians’ refusal to give up their eliminationist goals was proven over and over in the 1990s by the failure of the Oslo Accords to bring peace. If they had drawn appropriate conclusions from the last three decades of peace processing in which the obstacle has always been Palestinian rejectionism—a lesson that the Trump administration had absorbed and that guided their successful efforts to craft the Abraham 2020 Accords—they might have charted a different course post-Oct. 7. At the very least, it wouldn’t have brought worse results than hamstringing Israel with Hamas now clearly at the apex of Palestinian politics and with the Palestinians believing that the destruction of Gaza notwithstanding, the terrorists have gotten international opinion behind them.

Instead, Biden and the leftist voters whose support he seeks have vindicated Hamas’s belief that no matter what Israel did in response, the terror group—and its cause of destroying Israel and killing its Jewish population—would benefit from the attacks. Indeed, as far as they were concerned, the more Palestinians who were killed in the war the terrorists started, the better. They were counting on international pressure and sympathy for their cause would outweigh any horror felt about the orgy of murder, rape, torture, kidnapping and wanton destruction their “soldiers” and other Palestinians who followed in their wake had committed. And that is exactly what has happened.