“My insistence is what has prevented — over the years — the establishment of a Palestinian state that would have constituted an existential danger to Israel,” Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday. “As long as I am prime minister, I will continue to strongly insist on this.”
There is politics here, as everywhere. A two-state solution is dismally unpopular in Israel. A Gallup poll found backing for it among 25 percent of Israelis. The Israel Democracy Institute posed the question to Jewish Israelis with even more torque: Would you support a two-state solution if it were the only way to continue receiving American assistance? A majority said no.
Perhaps the only thing as unpopular in Israel right now as a two-state solution is Netanyahu himself. A recent Maariv poll found 28 percent of Israelis believe Netanyahu is still suited to be prime minister. If elections were held today, his party would be crushed. There are few paths to victory, much less absolution, for him, but this is one of the few that might work: persuade Jewish Israelis he’s the only leader tough enough to beat back American and European pressure to form a Palestinian state.
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Then there’s what I think of as the straddle generation. This is my generation. We only ever knew Israel as the strongest military power in the region. A nuclear Israel. An Israel that occupied Palestinian territories, sometimes brutally. But we also knew an Israel that seemed to be trying to find its way toward peace and coexistence. We knew the Israel of Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak. We saw that the collapse of the 2000 Camp David summit was met by the second intifada, by years of suicide bombers rather than years of counteroffers. We also watched Israel build settlements across the West Bank, creating a one-state reality even as it spoke of a two-state solution. Polling shows, predictably, that our views of Israel are more mixed.
Then there’s younger Americans. They know only Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel. He has, after all, been prime minister almost continuously since 2009. They know an Israel that is the strongest country in the region, by far. They know an Israel where messianic ethnonationalists serve in the cabinet. They know an Israel that controls Palestinian life and land and intends to keep it that way. They see this as simpler: a country that oppresses and a people that is oppressed. They are not entirely right — too little agency is offered to Palestinians in this telling — but they are not entirely wrong.
Is there antisemitism on campuses? Absolutely. But I visit colleges constantly. Antisemitism isn’t what is bringing most of those students out to the rallies. Antisemitism is not why most 18- to 29-year-olds see Israel as the aggressor nation. Antisemitism is not why the images and facts out of Gaza horrify. They are opposed to the Israel they know: an Israel that has no interest in peace — that has actively sabotaged efforts at peace — and that can imagine no security for itself absent the endless control of Palestinian lives.
Which is one reason I think the response to the protests on campus has been misguided. This is not a problem you can solve by firing college presidents or blackballing student radicals. Israel is losing the support of a generation, not a few student groups. And it is losing it because of what it does, not what it is.
Netanyahu’s comments reflect a reality: There is no two-state solution in the offing. This is a region gripped by fury and fear and grief and hate. Gaza is rubble and Israeli hostages remain in captivity and the dead are legion. I am sympathetic to those in the region who rage at Americans who insist on fantasizing about a partition that they themselves will not live within. I would not, as an Israeli, want to live next to a state where most people applauded the massacre of my neighbors. I would not, as a Palestinian, want to live next to a state that had just flattened my home and killed tens of thousands of my countrymen.
But there was nothing inevitable about the seeming impossibility of peace. It was built out of political decisions on both sides. It was built by suicide bombers and Hamas leaders. It was built by messianic settlers and Benjamin Netanyahu. And it is not in America’s interest to support Netanyahu as long as that is the vision he is pursuing, which he freely admits, even now. Biden knows an Israel that Gen Z does not. But Gen Z sometimes seems to be listening more closely to what Israeli leaders are saying than Biden is.
Ezra Klein joined Opinion in 2021. Previously, he was the founder, editor in chief and then editor at large of Vox; the host of the podcast “The Ezra Klein Show”; and the author of “Why We’re Polarized.” Before that, he was a columnist and editor at The Washington Post, where he founded and led the Wonkblog vertical. He is on Threads.
A version of this article appears in print on Jan. 27, 2024, Section A, Page 20 of the New York edition with the headline: Gen Z Is Listening to What Netanyahu Is Saying. Is Biden?. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
View this New York Times Op-Ed from January 26th