After a Dramatic Year, What’s Next for Israelis and Palestinians?

War in Gaza, intercommunal violence, and a new government have not led to any breakthroughs when it comes to peace.

Israel's controversial separation wall runs between the Israeli settlement of Pisgat Zeev (left), built in a suburb of East Jerusalem, and the Palestinian Shuafat refugee camp (right) on Feb. 11.
Israel's controversial separation wall runs between the Israeli settlement of Pisgat Zeev (left), built in a suburb of East Jerusalem, and the Palestinian Shuafat refugee camp (right) on Feb. 11.
Israel's controversial separation wall runs between the Israeli settlement of Pisgat Zeev (left), built in a suburb of East Jerusalem, and the Palestinian Shuafat refugee camp (right) on Feb. 11. AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images

2021

The year 2021 was a dramatic one for Israelis and Palestinians. Israelis voted in a national election for the fourth time in two years, while Palestinians in the West Bank were deprived of the right to vote when their undemocratic leader, Mahmoud Abbas, postponed legislative elections he feared he might lose. After years of inconclusive elections, a coalition of strange political bedfellows including far-right forces and an Israeli Arab party banded together to dethrone Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

As they were ironing out a coalition deal, tensions mounted in Jerusalem over the eviction of Palestinian families and Israeli officials’ heavy-handed tactics at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Hamas then fired a barrage of rockets at Israel, and the Israeli army invaded Gaza once again while deploying its Iron Dome system to defend Israelis from incoming rockets. The two-week war killed around 260 Palestinians and 13 people in Israel, and it sparked unprecedented violence in Israeli cities between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel.

In addition to chronicling these events, Foreign Policy contributors took a step back, with many arguing that the old paradigm of peacemaking no longer applies to a conflict that has evolved to render many well-known approaches to peacemaking obsolete. They also proposed new, and sometimes controversial, approaches.

The year 2021 was a dramatic one for Israelis and Palestinians. Israelis voted in a national election for the fourth time in two years, while Palestinians in the West Bank were deprived of the right to vote when their undemocratic leader, Mahmoud Abbas, postponed legislative elections he feared he might lose. After years of inconclusive elections, a coalition of strange political bedfellows including far-right forces and an Israeli Arab party banded together to dethrone Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

As they were ironing out a coalition deal, tensions mounted in Jerusalem over the eviction of Palestinian families and Israeli officials’ heavy-handed tactics at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Hamas then fired a barrage of rockets at Israel, and the Israeli army invaded Gaza once again while deploying its Iron Dome system to defend Israelis from incoming rockets. The two-week war killed around 260 Palestinians and 13 people in Israel, and it sparked unprecedented violence in Israeli cities between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel.

In addition to chronicling these events, Foreign Policy contributors took a step back, with many arguing that the old paradigm of peacemaking no longer applies to a conflict that has evolved to render many well-known approaches to peacemaking obsolete. They also proposed new, and sometimes controversial, approaches.


1. Green-Lined Vision Is Blurring Reality in Israel-Palestine

by Yousef Munayyer, May 12

“For decades, there has been a one-state problem in Israel-Palestine. Since 1967, one state has militarily ruled over the territory from the river to the sea. That state, of course, is Israel,” wrote Yousef Munayyer in a broadside against those who insist on viewing the so-called Green Line, or pre-1967 Israeli border, as a meaningful marker.

That’s because, Munayyer argued, “The ultimate power in the West Bank shaping Palestinian lives is the state of Israel and not the Palestinian Authority,” while Palestinians in Gaza are besieged and bombarded. The Green Line is useful in theory, he acknowledged, “because it delineates where belligerently occupied territory is,” but it has ceased to have meaning in an era when “it is entirely disregarded by an Israeli state which disdains international law, increasingly rejects the concept of occupation, and has been deepening its grip on the territory signaling its intentions to annex it permanently.”


2. Biden’s Old Playbook Won’t End Israeli-Palestinian Violence

by Zaha Hassan and Daniel Levy, May 13

As war raged in Gaza in May, former members of negotiating teams from both sides of the table took to the pages of Foreign Policy to jointly criticize the Biden administration’s antiquated and—in their view—counterproductive approach to the conflict. “U.S. policies … enabled a sense among Israelis that the denial of Palestinian freedoms is manageable at a low cost, encouraging a nonchalance and hubris,” Zaha Hassan and Daniel Levy wrote, while chiding the White House for not forcefully insisting on democratic Palestinian Authority elections.

They recommended a dramatic policy shift in Washington focused on ending the Gaza blockade, preventing land seizures and evictions, stopping mass imprisonment of Palestinians, and punishing state and settler violence. “A U.S. policy that remains on autopilot will fail,” they warned, “… and the United States will be left carrying an ever-heavier Middle Eastern burden as it seeks to focus its energy elsewhere.”


3. How Israel Lost the Culture War

by Alia Brahimi, May 25

Palestinians in Gaza lift a banner protesting the killing of Eyad al-Hallaq and George Floyd.

Palestinians in Gaza lift a banner protesting the killing of Eyad al-Hallaq, a Palestinian man with autism shot to death by Israeli police, and the killing of George Floyd on June 11, 2020.MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images

After 9/11, the Israeli government’s narrative that democracies must fight back against Islamist terrorists captured the world’s attention. But 20 years later, in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in the United States and as the cause of racial justice goes mainstream, Palestinians protesting Israeli occupation are capturing the global zeitgeist, Alia Brahimi wrote. And that is bad news for the Israeli government, which, she contended, is “prosecuting an old colonial campaign in a rapidly changing global culture.” While the era of the so-called war on terror was well suited to Israel’s public relations operations, “Palestinians now have access to the language of the moment.”


4. ‘Economic Peace’ With Israel Won’t Help Palestinians

by Ibrahim Shikaki, June 2

The idea that economic ties will smooth the way for a political settlement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become popular among certain policymakers. But “[t]he underlying economic dynamic in Palestine is of extreme, one-way economic dependency on Israel,” argued Ibrahim Shikaki, an assistant professor of economics at Trinity College.

Rather than seeking closer and more extensive economic ties between the two sides, international powers should help build a genuinely independent Palestinian economy, Shikaki wrote. “Hiding behind debunked notions of market fundamentalism to promote unchecked economic cooperation between the two economies will only entrench this dependency while stifling development,” he added.


5. Unite Jordan and Palestine—Again

by Hasan Ismaik, Oct. 15

Jordanian businessman Hasan Ismaik wrote a long and controversial piece arguing that the simplest solution to the seemingly intractable conflict would be for the Kingdom of Jordan to reannex the West Bank as it did in 1950—but this time to grant Jordanian citizenship to remaining Jewish settlers as well as all Palestinians, including Gazans. The article sparked a wave of reaction in the Arabic-language press and two responses published by Foreign Policy.

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