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Misconception 1:
The Conflict Can be Managed

For years, PM Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that the status quo of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be preserved forever, and Israelis were asked to simply live from one round of fighting to the next. On October 7, this delusion blew up in our faces.

March 2009

Netanyahu returns to power and begins applying the “conflict management” model

November 2012

Operation Pillar of Defense. Netanyahu: “We’ve sent Hamas a clear message”

April 2014

Negotiations with the Palestinian Authority are suspended and have never been resumed

July-August 2014

Operation Protective Edge. Netanyahu: “Hamas has suffered a harsh blow”

May 2019

Operation Closed Garden. Netanyahu: “We struck Hamas with massive force”

November 2019

Operation Black Belt. Netanyahu: “Our enemies got the message”

May 2021

Operation Guardian of the Walls. Netanyahu: “We’ve changed the equation”

May 2023

Operation Shield and Arrow. Netanyahu: “Hamas is deterred”

October 2023

The Hamas surprise attack on the Gaza periphery settlements

Since his return to the Prime Minister’s office in 2009, the security outlook that Netanyahu advanced – and that guided most of Israel’s right-wing camp in relation to the Palestinians – was the notion of “managing the conflict”. According to this view, the conflict is akin to a chronic illness, best dealt with through periodic treatment: Israel avoids taking any significant steps in the Palestinian arena, Israeli citizens face a round of fighting once every few years, and the security reality in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank remains static. The status quo, Netanyahu and his partners promised, can be maintained for a very long time.

The notion of “managing the conflict” is based on the belief of successive right-wing governments that the conflict with the Palestinians no longer constitutes a significant security threat.

 Netanyahu avoided making any significant move in the Palestinian arena and accustomed Israelis to another round of fighting every few years. The security situation in Gaza and the West Bank, he promised, would remain unchanged for many years.

While they regarded Iran as an existential threat and Hezbollah as a dramatic one, Netanyahu and his partners convinced themselves that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a negligible matter – “shrapnel in the rear-end,” as former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called it – that is, a problem whose existence is better to come to terms with than to risk solving. This means, on the one hand, not pursuing a political settlement with moderate elements on the Palestinian side; and on the other hand, not annexing the territories, which would require the absorption of millions of Palestinians into Israel and would provoke international opposition. In short, Netanyahu and the right decided not to decide, and turned their disregard of the Palestinian arena into a security doctrine.

While the Iranian threat was treated as an existential danger and Hezbollah as a dramatic menace, Netanyahu and the right wing persuaded themselves that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a negligible matter—what Naftali Bennett dismissed as “shrapnel in the butt.”

The doctrine of “managing the conflict” had many proponents. Thus, for example, Moshe Ya’alon, who served as defense minister under Netanyahu, stated that “in handling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict we should not apply terms like ‘solution’ in the foreseeable future, rather the terms should be ‘crisis management’ or coping in the long-term. He further explained that, “there is no chance of a permanent settlement in the foreseeable future even with those who are considered moderate among the Palestinians… With the correct use of sticks and carrots, we can maintain a tolerable reality and security stability.” Ya’alon dismissed the idea that there is some solution to the conflict as “the virus of solutionism.” Bennett, for his part, urged Israelis “not to sink into a depression” because of the Palestinian issue. “We’re not the only place in the world where there are protracted conflicts,” he explained. “There are perhaps 40 or 50 conflicts quite similar to ours in the world. Not everything is solvable.”

What did Netanyahu’s Governments actually do to keep the conflict from flaring up? They relied on a combination of sporadic military operations (rounds of fighting), development of sophisticated defensive measures (such as the Iron Dome and the high-tech security barrier around Gaza), and the provision of economic incentives in exchange for temporary quiet (such as enabling transfer of cash-filled suitcases for Hamas). Some called this security policy “mowing the lawn.” Prof. Ephraim Inbar and Prof. Eitan Shamir explained how it worked in an article lauding Netanyahu’s policy of “managing the conflict.” As they put it: “Israel is not aiming for victory or for ending the conflict.” Rather, every few years, Israel “mows the lawn” – that is, it embarks on a military operation of limited scope which “inflict damage on valuable assets and capabilities”, “lower… [the] motivation of the enemy to harm Israel,” and prevent them from building up forces along the border.

Moshe Ya’alon said that “we should not apply terms like ‘solution’ in the foreseeable future, rather the terms should be ‘crisis management’”. He promised that “with the correct use of sticks and carrots, we can maintain a tolerable reality and security stability.”

On October 7, “the quietest decade in the country’s history” – as the Netanyahu years were called until recently – turned out to be nothing more than a precursor to the most murderous and bloody day since Israel’s establishment. With the onset of the massacre in the Gaza envelope, all the underlying assumptions on which the house of cards known as “managing the conflict” rested collapsed, one after the other.

First, it turned out that the grass had not actually been mowed. Periodic military operations failed to prevent Hamas from building a vast tunnel complex, amassing arms, and significantly enhancing its operational capabilities. While Netanyahu and his allies were confident that there was no need to hurry and that time was on Israel’s side, Hamas used this time to train its people and increase its military prowess.

On October 7, Netanyahu’s security doctrine was shown up as a dangerous delusion. “The quietest decade in the country’s history,” as the Netanyahu years were known until then, turned out to be nothing more than a precursor to the most murderous and bloody day since Israel’s establishment.

Second, deterrence was not really achieved, neither in 2023 nor in the decade and a half before then. In fact, Israel was never really able to deter Hamas. Since the terrorist organization took control of the Gaza Strip, every Israeli defense minister claimed confidently that Hamas was deterred and had no interest in attacking Israel – and then Hamas attacked. Every military operation ended with the pompous declaration that Hamas had finally been dealt an unprecedented blow which would discourage it from attacking the future. And then Hamas attacked again.

Third, the defense measures that Israel built have proven to be useful but have led to dangerous complacency. The barrier around Gaza, the Iron Dome system, and the reliance on technological superiority along the border created a false sense of control and security, which crumbled along with the entire IDF defense apparatus on October 7.

In contrast to Netanyahu’s promises, deterrence was not really achieved, neither before the massacre on October 7th, nor in the decade and a half before then. Every military operation ended with the assertion that Hamas had finally been dealt a blow that would discourage it. And then Hamas attacked again

Finally, the notion that any attempt to resolve the situation, whether by diplomatic or military means, is more dangerous than maintaining the status quo, collapsed as well. The “shrapnel in the rear-end” that was ignored turned out to be a life-threatening, infected wound. The numbers illustrate this starkly: During the entire four years of the Second Intifada, 1,057 Israelis were killed. On October 7, as a result of the failed policy of “managing the conflict,” more than 1,200 Israelis were murdered in a single day. The assumption that the conflict could be maintained at a low intensity proved to be the most calamitous security doctrine in the country’s history.

A total of 1,057 Israelis were killed during the four years of the Second Intifada; on October 7, we paid the heavy price for “managing the conflict”—more than 1,200 Israelis were murdered in a single day.