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The horrific events that have unfolded in Israel and Gaza since the Hamas attack on Oct. 7 have roiled our campus. Some have spoken out strongly in support of Israel; others are passionate advocates for Palestinian rights. Tensions have flared. And then there are those, perhaps a quiet majority, who are unsure what to do: Which side should they support?
Well, if you are one of those people, I may have a glimmer of good news for you amid all the horror: You can support both. You can stand for the right of Israelis to live in safety and security in a Jewish state and, at the same time, support the right of Palestinians to self-determination in a state of their own. What’s more, the way to do this has been an open secret for many decades now. It’s called the two-state solution.
In the recent protests on our campus, the most common chant I heard was “free Palestine.” It is a powerful slogan, but also an ambiguous one. You should ask those who call for a “free Palestine” what they mean. If they mean an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, then they are in fact pro-Palestine and pro-Israel at once. But if they say they want an independent Palestinian state instead of Israel, ask them: What do you think should be done with the more than 7 million Jews who now live between the river and the sea? Their answer will help you understand what they believe and whether it is something you can support.
Okay, maybe the two-state solution is something that sounds good to you in principle, but you wonder: Can it be achieved? After all, the idea of partitioning the territory between a Jewish state and an Arab one has been around at least since the 1930s, and there were serious efforts to achieve it in the 1990s and more sporadic efforts since. Why have all those efforts failed so far?
This seems like a complicated question, and in many ways it is. But ultimately, it is not that hard. There were, and are, two main obstacles. On the Israeli side, it is the extremist settlers and their supporters, who believe that Palestinians have no right to govern any part of the land. On the Palestinian side, it is Hamas and its supporters, who are unwilling to tolerate Jewish sovereignty anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Could these obstacles be overcome? It will be hard. But we cannot give up on something so important just because it’s hard, especially when it’s the only hope we have of finally ending the carnage. Israel has removed settlements before, both in Sinai after the peace treaty with Egypt and in Gaza in 2005. The West Bank settlements are more numerous, so removing them will be harder. But it is not impossible, and I firmly believe that, in the context of a peace agreement, it could be done.
What about Hamas? Well, recent events have given us the most horrific reminder yet that if you support peace, you must reject Hamas. But this would not make you anti-Palestine. Quite the opposite. The weaker Hamas becomes, the greater the chances are for a peace agreement that would allow an independent Palestine to thrive alongside Israel. So, not only is it possible to be anti-Hamas and pro-Palestine: If you support a free Palestine, you should oppose Hamas.
Now, close your eyes and imagine a gathering of students, on the steps of Widener Library, who are both pro-Palestine and pro-Israel. What slogan would they chant? How about “free Palestine, free Israel, side by side”?
Yes, it’s a little clunky. You could probably come up with a better one. But it’s unambiguous, it’s humane, and most importantly, it’s the only possible path we have toward ending the cycle of death.
Erez Manela is the Francis Lee Higginson Professor of History.
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