An apparent sea change took place in the aftermath of Oct. 7, when Hamas massacred an estimated 1,400 Israelis. The idea of Israel attaining victory over the Palestinians went from the margins to the mainstream, from peripheral to consensual. Politicians and polls both support this idea. Israelis seem to be a transformed people. But are they?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made victory his constant exhortation: "Victory will take time. ... Now we are focusing on one goal, and that is to unite our forces and storm ahead to complete victory." He told soldiers: "The entire people of Israel are behind you and we will deal harsh blows to our enemies to achieve victory. To victory!" And "We will emerge victorious."
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant quoted himself informing President Biden that Israel's victory "is essential for us and for the United States." To his soldiers, Mr. Gallant declared, "I am responsible for bringing victory."
Bezalel Smotrich, the minister of finance, announced the halt "of all budgetary outlays and redirected them to one thing only: Israel's victory." He called the goal of Israel's war with Hamas to be "a crushing victory."
Benny Gantz, a member of the wartime Cabinet, deemed it "the time for resilience and victory."
But these politicians represent what is widely called "the most right-wing government in Israeli history."
What about others in the country? Many others do indeed agree that Hamas must be eliminated:
- Naftali Bennett, former prime minister: "It's time to destroy Hamas."
- Brigadier Gen. Amir Avivi: "We need to destroy Hamas. We need to deprive them completely from their capabilities."
- Chuck Freilich, former deputy national security adviser (in Haaretz): "Israel must now deal Hamas an unequivocal defeat."
- Tamir Heyman, former Israel Defense Forces intelligence chief: "We have to win."
- David Horovitz, Times of Israel editor: "There is a war to be won."
- Yaakov Amidror, former national security adviser: Hamas "should be killed and destroyed."
- Meir Ben Shabbat, former national security adviser: "Israel should destroy everything connected to Hamas."
And Israel's population as a whole? To find out, the Middle East Forum commissioned a poll on Oct. 17 of 1,086 Israeli adults. It found extraordinary support for the destruction of Hamas, for a ground operation to achieve this, and for not making concessions in exchange for formal ties with Saudi Arabia. (Shlomo Filber and Zuriel Sharon of Direct Polls Ltd. carried out the poll; it has a statistical sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.)
When asked "What should be Israel's primary objective" in the current war, 70% of the public answered to "eliminate Hamas." In contrast, only 15% answered to "secure the unconditional release of captives held by Hamas" and 13% "disarm Hamas completely."
Remarkably, 54% of those Israeli Arabs (or, more technically, voters who supported the Joint List, a radical anti-Zionist Arab party), made "eliminate Hamas" their preferred objective.
Given the option of a ground operation in Gaza to eradicate Hamas or avoiding a ground operation in favor of another way to deal with Hamas, 68% chose the former and 25% the latter. This time, 52% of Israeli Arabs concurred with the majority.
A similar number of respondents, 72%, rejected making "significant concessions to the Palestinian Authority" as the price for formal ties, with only 21 percent saying yes. Here, 62% of Israeli Arabs voted with the majority.
In short, a ferociously anti-Hamas and anti-Palestinian Authority mood dominates Israeli politics, with only the two left-wing parties (Labor and Meretz) in opposition. Even a majority of Israeli Arabs recognize the danger that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority pose to their safety and well-being.
The big question then is: Does this ferocity signify a fundamental shift in outlook among Jewish and Arab Israelis, or just a passing surge in emotions?
As a longtime observer and as an historian of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I tend to see the latter as more likely. From 1882 to the present, the two feuding parties have compiled records of remarkably sterile continuity. The Palestinians have a mentality of rejectionism (no, no, and never to everything Jewish and Israeli), while Zionists stick to conciliation (accept us and we will enrich you). The two go around and around, hardly changing or making progress.
Accordingly, I expect the inflamed Israeli mood of the moment will likely fade with time, as old patterns reassert themselves and business-as-usual returns.