Lever Time with David Sirota

On this week’s episode of Lever Time, David Sirota is joined by author and Washington Post Editorial board member Shadi Hamid to discuss the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza, specifically how this current iteration of the decades-long hostilities is being debated, protested, perceived, and exacerbated by people in America and across the globe.

In what has already been a bitterly polarizing decade in American history, the deadly conflict unfolding in Israel and Gaza has somehow managed to intensify that division. While there has been some progress, like the growing number of elected officials who support a permanent ceasefire agreement, the majority of our public discourse surrounding this crisis is heated and unconstructive. But an issue like this requires patience, humility, and a lot of listening. That’s true from the holiday dinner table to the White House.

In today’s discussion, David speaks with Shadi about why this particular conflict has drawn more global attention and instigated more public debate than other global conflicts. They also discuss reconciling the right to exist for both Israelis and Palestinians, how to construct a practical path forward that can meaningfully address genuine grievances, and what the changing politics of Israel-Palestine inside the Democratic Party might mean for the 2024 election.

A transcript of this episode is available here.

BONUS: Last week’s bonus episode of Lever Time Premium, exclusively for The Lever’s supporting subscribers, featured our interview with journalist and author Cole Stangler about his new book Paris Is Not Dead: Surviving Hypergentrification in the City of Light. Cole’s book explores how gentrification has affected the cultural makeup of Paris, and the public housing policies that have helped maintain the city’s diverse, working-class character.

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What is Lever Time with David Sirota?

From LeverNews.com — Lever Time is the flagship podcast from the investigative news outlet The Lever. Hosted by award-winning journalist, Oscar-nominated writer, and Bernie Sanders' 2020 speechwriter David Sirota, Lever Time features exclusive reporting from The Lever’s newsroom, high-profile guest interviews, and expert analysis from the sharpest minds in media and politics.

David Sirota: [00:00:00] Hey everyone, and welcome to another episode of Lever Time. I'm your host, David Sirota. On today's show, we're going to be discussing the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza. Specifically, we're going to be discussing how this current iteration of this decades long battle is being debated, protested, perceived, and in many cases, Escalated by people in America and across the globe.

My guest today is Shadi Hamid, who is a member of the Washington Post editorial board and who has been doing some incredibly important and nuanced writing on this fraught topic. For our paid subscribers, we're also always dropping bonus episodes into our Lever Premium podcast feed.

Last week, we published our interview with journalist Cole Stangler about his new book, Paris Is Not Dead, Surviving Hypergentrification in the City of Light. It [00:01:00] explores how gentrification has been affecting the cultural make up of Paris, as well as the public housing policies that have helped maintain the city's diverse, working class character.

If you want access to our premium content, head over to levernews. com and click the subscribe button in the top right to become a supporting subscriber. That gives you access to the Lever Premium podcast feed, exclusive live events, even more in depth reporting, and you'll be directly supporting the investigative journalism that we do here at The Lever.

Okay, we're going to jump right into the main interview today, about everything that's been unfolding in Israel and Gaza. This is a conversation between myself, a Jewish person, and Shadi Hamid, an Arab, a Muslim, and a Washington Post columnist who's been doing some incredibly important writing on the subject.

I think right now, especially, it's super important for these kinds of cross cultural conversations to happen. Conversations where we acknowledge our own roots and heritage. and acknowledge how that [00:02:00] informs our views of the conflict and of foreign policy. And I think that while you may not agree with everything either of us said, this conversation ended up being respectful, informative, and very productive.

Here's the thing. If your experience over the past two months has been anything like mine, discussing the ongoing crisis in Israel and Palestine has been many things. Terrifying, depressing, infuriating, mournful, resentful. All of it, in what has easily been one of the most polarizing decades in American history, this particular crisis has somehow managed to intensify that polarization.

It feels like both sides have dug in and no one is willing to cede ground to the other or concede the stories that each of these peoples tell each other. As the violence continues in Israel Palestine, there's a rhetorical arms race around this conflict, which, in my view, [00:03:00] doesn't help anything. But if we don't patiently dig into this issue, to sift through the bullshit, nothing will get solved.

That's true. Anywhere from the holiday dinner table, all the way to the White House. And that's why I wanted to speak with Shadi. We spoke about why this particular conflict has drawn more global attention than other recent violent conflicts across the globe. And we talked about how we can start thinking about reconciling the right to exist for both Israelis and Palestinians and how Israelis and Palestinians need to begin accepting each other's stories.

Stories from history, their stories in the region. We talked also about the changing politics of Israel Palestine inside the Democratic Party and what that might mean for the 2024 election. And we discussed practical path forward that could meaningfully address genuine grievances and finally [00:04:00] end the This horrible conflict.

Hey, Shadi, how you doing?

Shadi Hamid: Hi, David. Good. Thanks for having me.

David Sirota: Thank you for being here. And thanks for all the great columns that you've been doing on the Israel Palestine issue of Late. I think they are must reads for anybody trying to understand what's happening and the politics of what's happening. I want to start with

question that I don't have a good answer to, and maybe you do.

It's a question about why this particular conflict seems to draw so much of America's attention and really global attention in comparison to so many other Crisis. I mean, you've got the

Ukraine crisis. You've got, uh, China and the Uyghurs with two million Muslims in, uh, essentially confined camps in China.

These issues [00:05:00] get So much less attention than the Israel Palestine conflict. And I don't exactly know why that is. I don't have a good answer for that. And maybe you do. What is it about this that kind of captivates people's attention?

Shadi Hamid: Yeah, well, I think first of all, Israel is a close US ally. So if we as Americans are talking and debating, there's more that we can do to influence events on the ground. What the Biden administration does really, really matters.

US is Israel's primary military patron. So that's part of it, but that doesn't quite explain it fully.

I think that Israel Palestine in some ways is a proxy for a deeper set of issues and preoccupations. It brings in all the big questions. So religion, civilizational fault lines, Islam and the West, um, [00:06:00] democracy versus autocracy,

anti semitism, Islamophobia, uh, All of this is wrapped into the conflict, so that makes it hard to really tease out sometimes what people are actually debating, because sometimes it's deeper than whatever they're saying about the specifics of the issue.

Um, so in the end, it's not really about what happens in Gaza the day after. That's relevant from a policy standpoint, but that's not what's really animating. People and getting them into this broader topic. And I'll just say that as someone who works on the role of Islam and public life, and Middle East politics more broadly.

There is a sense that, you know, if you talk to Arabs in the region who are understandably quite critical of Israel and Israeli policy, that Israel's repression of the Palestinian people. It reflects and represents a [00:07:00] deeper set of humiliations. This idea that, um, the Muslim world used to be one of the greatest civilizations the world had ever seen.

But in the last couple centuries, there's been this precipitous decline and fall from grace. And you see. The Muslim world, and specifically in the Middle East, being just incredibly weak, powerless, subjugated under brutal dictatorships. And Israel, on the other hand, is quite successful as a vibrant democracy for all of its flaws.

So I think that contrast is also quite striking.

David Sirota: I want to talk about, The belief on both sides about who has a right to exist and who doesn't have a right to exist. It seems to me that at the core of a lot of this, uh, beyond the details of the specific, Hamas attack and then the, the Israel counter offensive, that there is this deeper issue. with Israelis [00:08:00] feeling like the Muslim world, the Arab world, does not believe it has a fundamental right to exist and the Palestinians believing that Israel does not believe the Palestinians effectively have a right to exist as a people with their own country.

And, and I don't think we're going to get to a solution to any of this until we ultimately get To that core problem, there's one essentially strip of land, uh, two sets of peoples and they won't accept each other's stories. I just wonder if you think that is fundamentally at at the core of this and and if you do, the way to deal with that to accept both stories to accept both peoples as having a right to exist in a state form in this particular place.

Shadi Hamid: You're exactly right. The right to exist is crucial to this and that's why this is really an existential conflict and that makes it [00:09:00] quite zero sum that Palestinians feel that if they give up on any of their claims or concede anything to the other side, then that is threatening their very existence and then vice versa.

And obviously that makes it very difficult to come to conclusion. Any mutual understanding, and I'm not actually sure there can be I mean, for us as Americans as observers, we can do some of that in our own analysis, but I think it's very hard for either Palestinians or Israelis to, be generous to the other side and take the others claims seriously from a moral and political standpoint.

then the question is what to do about that fact. And I think here. Palestinians don't have to accept Israel's right to exist, but they do have to accept the reality of Israel's existence, because the word right is one that is very loaded. And I just don't know how realistic it [00:10:00] is to expect people to, to, to kind of, Take those steps and accept the right of the other to exist, but they do, they just do have to be realistic.

Israel is not going to disappear. it is a fact on the ground, and I think Palestinians have to live within those constraints for better or worse, and you know, Israelis have to accept that Palestinians aren't going anywhere. And that, um, they're not gonna just be subsumed into other Arab countries.

There isn't going to be a so called Jordanian option. Palestinians have a strong sense of national identity that has been forged over the last many decades. and so you, Palestinians and Arabs are not equivalent. They're not the same. So at some point Palestinians are going to have to be able to express their national identity in the form of an independent state.

Now, I just don't see what the other option is. Well, the other option, I [00:11:00] suppose, is the status quo and just accepting that we're going to have the just perpetual conflict for the rest of our lives. And I suppose that is a possibility, but I think we should expect more and call for more.

David Sirota: I would say this, that when I look at what's going on, I know as an example in my own, my own mind that, that in a deep way, I can feel myself get triggered when I see protestations of Israel that imply that the Jewish people do not have a right to a history. A state that has been sanctioned, voted into existence effectively by the United Nations.

And I'm sure, I'm sure that Palestinians and I'm sure that Arabs and Muslims across the world feel similarly triggered. When they see the protests for Israel, implying that the Palestinians [00:12:00] have no right to to exist as a people, as a nation with it with their own state. So I feel like this is underneath just Everything.

And and I I struggle with how we get beyond that. I mean, I just as a follow up question, I wonder if you think that the protests on both sides, if it's fair to for people on either side to see the protests on on each side as questioning We're challenging whether these peoples have a right to their own state, whether that's underneath what makes this fervor, what makes the protest so intense.

Shadi Hamid: Yeah. So I do think that's part of how the protests on both sides are being interpreted. So for example, I think unfortunately on the pro Israel side of the debate, there's a lot of equating pro Palestine protests. with being pro Hamas

David Sirota: Mm hmm.

Shadi Hamid: or being anti Semitic, [00:13:00] that anyone who is going out with a Palestinian flag and saying sometimes, you know, offensive things like from the river to the sea or intifada, and there's a big debate around some of the terminology, that immediately you assume the worst of these people, that they want to erase your existence, when actually I think the intent of Each person has to be analyzed more carefully that for many Arabs intifada means uprising, and it doesn't have specific content that is quote unquote genocidal, so I think those, but All of the words that are being used, there's no real effort to understand the context behind them and what the speaker really means by them.

and I think that, um, I don't really know what to do about that except to say. That we, each of us who are thinking about this topic, [00:14:00] we need to do what we can to not assume the worst. I personally think, and this is what I've advised to pro Palestine activist friends, Hey guys, don't use from the river to the sea.

We get that you don't mean it in a really bad way, but you can understand why American Jews would hear that phrase. And they would feel threatened by it, or they would feel like this is questioning their right to exist as Jews. So I think that we can kind of call on people to be more careful with their words.

But obviously, emotions run high, and I just don't know how realistic that is. And you go to a protest, and you have tens of thousands of people, of course some of them, Are going to say offensive things. That doesn't mean that we assume the whole protest or the intent of the entire protest is beyond the pale.

Another example of this is when, you know, there's [00:15:00] there's an immediate assumption that if you have people calling for a ceasefire, that it's somehow pro Hamas. I hear this a lot from folks on the right from Republicans. See, calling for a ceasefire equals sympathy. For Hamas, even I've gotten that in my own writing.

I mean, Ted Cruz, just, uh, just the other day, attacked me specifically for being a quote unquote, chill for Hamas in part, because I was calling for, you know, a ceasefire and just being generally. pro Palestinian in my, in my comments or whatever it might be.

And I think that that's just where we're at. And there's just a lot of folks, especially in my view on the Republican side, who just think that any expression of sympathy towards Palestinians or the Palestinian plight. Means that you hate israel and want to destroy it. So they're taking a zero sum approach, too I would like to think that you can you can call [00:16:00] for palestinian rights while also being okay with israel's right to exist That's my position And I do believe that israel has a right to exist as a jewish state.

I support a two state solution I think that's the only realistic option I don't think it's possible to get Palestinians and Israeli Jews to live in the same state considering how much hatred there is on on either side, which is why, at the end of the day, you have to separate them into two.

David Sirota: I and I agree with that. I absolutely agree. I think the notion of a one state by national, uh, solution is is it may sound nice. I don't think that's realistic in practice. I think a two state solution is the is the thing that makes the most sense in practice. And and look, I hear you about about it.

talking about ceasefire. I mean, I, I, it's portrayed as having sympathy for or wanting to surrender in the face of Hamas. And I don't see it that way at all. I think that's, [00:17:00] I think that's deliberately, um, kind of escalative language. And I think we're in a rhetorical kind of arms race here on from the, from some of the sort of.

extreme voices or voices of the loudest voices of protest

it encourages you to assume the worst about people on either side protesting. I would give you another example. You know, there's this idea, I hear from some Jewish friends, you know, I will stand with Israel. What's wrong with saying I stand with Israel? Well, are you saying you stand with the Netanyahu government?

Like the, the, the, the, the, the leadership of that country's government right now and its specific policies right now, which I find its policies and I find Netanyahu abhorrent, no, but that, but the problem is, is that quote unquote, I stand with Israel can like the term river to the sea. Can you can just mean I think Israel should exist, but it can be interpreted in the worst possible form, even though it's not [00:18:00] necessarily the intent of the speaker to mean it in that form.

Now, it may be the intent of some speakers, but it's it may not be the intent of lots of other speakers. And so I feel like we're in this kind of miasma. where it's hard to not assume the worst that the discourse is encouraging us to assume the worst. And, and I am like depressed and kind of frustrated about how we've arrived at that point.

And, and I, you know, I want to, let's, let's pivot now. It's a good, a good segue to where we are in, in, in the political space. You've written a column about, how this is potentially could all, play out. In the next election on Joe Biden in running for reelection, losing support among Arab Americans. Now, you had written in this piece that that the Democratic Party has been losing support from Arab Americans for a whole host of other reasons.

Do you think this is going to really be a [00:19:00] pivotal issue in the next election? And as an additional question on that. If it is going to play out as an issue in the next election, and Joe Biden is running against Donald Trump, it doesn't seem like the alternative to Joe Biden for, uh, Muslims, Arab Americans, and the like, it doesn't seem like Trump is offering a kind of better set of policies.

Shadi Hamid: Yeah, so a lot can happen in a year. The election is quite a bit away. So maybe passions will dim a little bit and people will focus on other issues. But at the current moment, what I've heard from Arab and Muslim American friends and colleagues, this really does feel like a hinge moment. And the polling supports this.

It's not just a bunch of anecdotes that I had at Thanksgiving. dinner tables, which is where I started to think about that particular Washington Post column. But if you look at a Mzogbi poll from [00:20:00] late October, only 17 percent of Arab Americans say that they plan to vote for Biden. And that's a drop from 35 percent earlier in the year.

And then it's a drop from a high of, I think it was 59 percent in 2020. And as you said, there were other issues that Arabs had become, you know, disillusioned with Democrats on because Arab, Arab Americans tend to be more socially conservative. So in some of the woke stuff, um, that was, and gender identity and so forth, that.

Had become a flashpoint in the Arab American community, but now we see a clear drop in a very short amount of time, and it's based primarily around the perception that Biden has unquestioningly supported Israel. And now that might not be entirely true, but certainly for the first few weeks of the Gaza war, there was concern.

This approach from [00:21:00] president Biden of not having much daylight between the U S position and the Israeli position. And Biden also said something that went viral in the Arab American community, where he questioned whether dead Palestinians were actually dead. And it just seemed very offensive that

David Sirota: was a horrible moment. Yeah, it

Shadi Hamid: yeah, exactly.

So I think that regardless of what Biden's policy actually is. You know, how we decide to vote is a very emotional and personal thing. So, you know, people see Biden saying these offensive things about Palestinians and, and his seeming inability to really sympathize with the Palestinian plight, Biden's heart just doesn't seem like it's there.

He, he kind of relates much more instinctively. With the Israeli side of that. And we know, we know that from his history as well, that he's been a pretty consistent pro Israel voice since God knows when, from whenever [00:22:00] he started being in Congress. I always forget how long ago that was. So he has that long history, right?

So that's kind of what's going on here. So then you might say, as, as, as you said, rightly, well, Trump will probably be worse on a lot of these things, but Trump is not what people are thinking about right now. They're thinking about Biden and the Democratic Party, and how they have higher expectations for the Democratic Party, because we as Arab and Muslim Americans are part of the patchwork coalition, and we just want our party to respect us, and to treat us well, and to not dismiss our concerns out of hand.

Where with Trump, our expectations are very low. So it's hard to feel betrayed by Donald Trump because you know he's kind of, you know, he's a jerk who doesn't really care about not just Palestinian lives, but really any lives other than his own. So I think it's really partly here an expectations game that we expect [00:23:00] more from the Democratic Party.

And I think there's also a sense of being take, taken for granted that, oh, well. They'll vote for Democrats when push comes to shove in 2024 because the alternative is so much worse. Well, that's kind of patronizing and I feel like that's an issue you have with a number of minority groups, whether it's Hispanic Americans or black Americans who often, there's often a sense, well, Democrats just expect us to vote for them when actually we want them to earn our vote.

David Sirota: Let me ask you if you think there is a realistic Democratic politics, Democratic Party politics, could be the Republicans, but They've seemed, they've kind of gone, gone insane, but is there a realistic politics in which, uh, a president or a party Can support the following things support the right of the state of Israel to exist support the right of a palestinian state to exist Use our pressure the United States [00:24:00] government's leverage to create Those conditions and stop the right wing Israeli government from doing what it's doing and to also use its its leverage to try to degrade, weaken and ultimately destroy Hamas.

I guess my question is. A politician who is all of those things, is there a constituency in the Democratic Party for that? Or does that kind of politics alienate everybody? Jews, Muslims, Arabs, etc. Right, like, like, I'm wondering if there is a politics where you can have those seemingly rational positions and find a political constituency as a national Democratic politician.

Shadi Hamid: I think you can. I think that more politicians should try, but I don't think they should try because there's some sort of unspoken for constituency that would love this. I don't think this is the kind of issue where you [00:25:00] play politics and try to find like a certain constellation of voters. It's just very hard to predict that on an issue as emotionally charged as this.

I just think that you need politicians. Say and do the right thing because they believe it. And I think the toughest part of the element of the elements that you mentioned is using American leverage on Israel. And that means making our military assistance to Israel conditional on certain basic expectations that if Israel continues to have this.

Disregard for Palestinian lives if it, the day after, if it says, well, actually, we don't care about Gaza. We're just going to leave it to fester. And if you have Netanyahu or someone on the far right saying, well, no, we're never going to be okay with a Palestinian state, then you know what then we should really [00:26:00] question whether we should be giving the same amount of of aid to Israel because without that kind of leverage, I don't see how the Israeli government actually changes its behavior.

It's not enough to just ask them to do these things. There have to be consequences. If they don't pursue a two state solution, if they don't commit to a genuine peace process and whether we like it or not, Israel is the more powerful party in this and it is reasonable for us as American observers to ask the more powerful party to do more and to offer more concessions and compromises to Palestinians.

But once you start calling on aid to Israel, for it to be conditioned, that is going to bring you a lot of heat. It's going to be seen as quite controversial. And there's only a handful of democratic politicians who have really, I think, taken the moral high ground and, and made these [00:27:00] demands of Israel, Bernie Sanders being one of them.

And I think that there is a kind of Bernie model here of being a moral voice on Middle East issues. And I think that is, that could actually be compelling to large numbers of Americans in the Democratic base. But you can't be going into it like, oh, So I'm, this is the smart political thing to do. You got to believe it in your guts because when a Republican start attacking you for being soft on Hamas and not being a true ally of Israel, you got to actually fight back and hold your ground. And that takes courage on the part of politicians and, and unfortunately I don't see the democratic party as being a party that has a lot of courageous politicians. I hope that changes in the future,

David Sirota: I would agree. I would agree. Yeah. And, and, and look, to your point, it should be a non controversial position to condition aid to Israel on some basic things, [00:28:00] as we reported at the lever only eight months before Joe Biden approved another arms deal for Israel in the middle of the, of the war in Gaza, he himself Had signed a, uh, a directive to all agencies saying, do not do, you cannot do these arms deals to countries where it is likely that the arms will be used against civilian targets.

Point being that even Joe Biden put pen to paper and signed a directive like that. Now, it was a directive in rhetoric, as we see, as opposed to in practice, but it shouldn't be controversial what you've said, but it is. It has been controversialized by the power of the pro Israel lobby, uh, and, and the way we've, we've come to discuss the Israel Palestine question for the last 10, 15, uh, 20 years.

So I want to ask you now a series of, of questions that are, are kind of fraught, but really important in how people think about this. [00:29:00] I want to start with the question of the word, because you mentioned it once, the word genocide. Do you believe Israel is conducting a genocide? And I want to say, before you answer, I want to say that I'm sure there are people listening to this who have used that term and who deeply believe that Israel is deliberately, calculatedly trying to conduct a genocide.

What do you think about that? Is that correct?

Shadi Hamid: I don't use the word genocide. I disagree with that kind of framing. I think, again, it's needlessly inflammatory. Genocide is a big word. It has specific definitions in international humanitarian law and so forth. And I just think it distracts us from what Israel is doing. is bad. You don't need to find other words that actually create division.

and confuse matters because then [00:30:00] people are debating the semantics of, is it genocide? Is it not, you know, for all of Israel's faults? I don't think that, uh, I don't think most Israeli military officers, I mean, certainly not on the senior level are waking up every day and thinking, Oh, yay.

How do we kill more Palestinians? I just feel that let's just, let's just try to be proportionate in how we talk about these issues. And that's the same thing I would say about using, as I mentioned earlier, from the river to the sea, Or global intifada. The Palestinian cause, in my view, is already just and moral on its own.

You don't need to embellish it further.

David Sirota: let me ask the question then on the other side, uh, the question about, uh, Hamas and the Palestinians. I think it's true that there is a fundamental difference between the Palestinians and Hamas. I think that Hamas, in many ways is oppressing in [00:31:00] a lot of ways the Palestinians.

It has, it has, it has prevented, the Palestinians as a people from securing, uh, things that, that, that it needs all. But, but on the other side, as you have cited, there is real support for Hamas among the Palestinians. Uh, you've cited polls showing, uh, that, that, that The Palestinian people, a certain plurality, in some cases a majority, have said they support Hamas or Hamas affiliated or Hamas adjacent groups.

So, knowing those poll numbers, what do you say to people who say, well, look at those poll numbers. The Palestinians are Hamas. There really is no functional difference. What's the response to that?

Shadi Hamid: Yeah, well, so I think that There's different ways to look at the polling on this, as I've discussed in my columns. The way that I look at it is Palestinians are not inherently violent because no people is [00:32:00] born supporting violence. I mean, that's a race, that's a racist position to take. And we also know that it's not even accurate because in the 1990s at the height of the Oslo peace process, the polling was quite different.

The vast majority of Palestinians. Supported peace because there was a genuine peace process at that time The vast majority of Palestinians opposed violence against Israelis at that time So something clearly changed between the mid 90s and the present day that Palestinians Especially in Gaza have lost hope.

They are desperate. And we know contextually that in situations where there are populations under oppression and being subjugated, they sometimes support violence against their oppressor. We don't have to like that, but this is not something that is unique to Palestinians, where we say, Oh my God, they have a [00:33:00] culture of violence.

Look at their indoctrination, all of that. Palestinians can be incentivized away from violence going forward, but there has to be a constructive path forward. We have to, we have to be able to tell Palestinians there is another way and, and this is actually something the, you know, I like to bring this up that the Bush administration post 9 11 and the neocons.

Made actually a similar argument about, the causes behind 9 11. George W. Bush said that if we want to fight terrorism in the medium to long term, we have to give Arabs in the Middle East a way to express their legitimate grievances. through a peaceful democratic process. If they don't have that peaceful democratic process, they will be more likely to consider violent options.

David Sirota: Yeah, let me just echo that. I mean, that's a version of the JFK quote. [00:34:00] Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. I mean, that's, that's the principle that worked at work here. So, and I agree with you, the Palestinians are not inherently violent people.

People any more than anybody else in the, in the world is an inherently violent person or people. I just, that's nonsense. Conditions matter. Context actually matters. So, so with the remaining time that we have here, I want to. Ask you a final question and put you in the position of you are, uh, you have a magic wand, you get to wave a wand and make things happen, uh, in, in pursuit of a particular outcome that you want, an outcome, but let's make a two state solution outcome where there is a piece, if maybe it's a cold piece, maybe it's a warm piece, whatever point is not a perpetual conflict.

How do you wave your wand? What do you do? What are the three, four, [00:35:00] five things that happen in, in, in this fantasy here where you can make these changes?

Shadi Hamid: Yeah. Well, step number one, um, my deal situation and it's not even that ideal, but that Hamas would voluntarily, well, obviously under pressure, give up power to the Palestinian authority and they, and in exchange for Israel halting its bombardment of Gaza. and I think that that should actually be put on the table.

I think that Israel should try to take the moral high ground. And propose something to that effect and call on Hamas to give up its rule of Gaza and to, in some sense, accept defeat. Um, and, and Hamas, in my view, has an, has incentives to do that because they don't want to be completely decimated either.

And they want to be, and this is where I think Ham, Hamas members, you can't kill every single member of Hamas. We're talking [00:36:00] about. around 30, 000 fighters and, and more members and affiliates, you can't kill every single one. So I think there has to be a serious discussion around. whether low and mid level Hamas cadres can be reincorporated into a future governing structure because we don't want something like de bathification, during the, during the Iraq war, where you have a lot of young men who have been armed and you don't give them a path forward.

so I think there have to be really careful distinctions made there. So that would be my kind of short term preference is that you find a way. To have a more durable ceasefire and part of that means that Hamas agrees to give up power and to halt rocket fire and obviously to release all remaining hostages.

If we're talking more medium to long term. I think we actually know what a durable solution to the conflict looks like. You have, um, a contiguous state [00:37:00] in Gaza and the West Bank with East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. That would of course require dismantling, um, many of the settlements in the West Bank.

So the Israeli government would have to pressure its own citizens. to do that as part of a two state solution. so obviously there's a lot of complicated specifics, including right of return. So in other words, how many Palestinians would have a right to return to Israel proper? usually what's been talked about in the past is that you have a symbolic number It's pretty small number that are allowed to return to Israel, but the vast majority of Palestinians who want to return would have to return to the West Bank and or Gaza.

And of course, Gaza would have to be rebuilt. So you're we're talking about billions of dollars, um, in order to, to reconstruct a territory that's been reduced to rubble and it's really worth [00:38:00] just underscoring that because one, as many as 1. 7 million of the 2. 2 million Gazans have been displaced, they won't be able to return from their homes, most of them because, uh, because of a destruction from Israel's bombardment of Gaza City, which is the major city in the Gaza Strip.

So these are, I think, Common sense things that are, should probably go without saying, but they should be said because it doesn't seem like Israel has any interest so far in, in thinking seriously about how Gaza can be rebuilt. Um, but ultimately Israel will have to accept a Palestinian state. along its borders and it will have to be contiguous and it will have to be a real state, not just a bunch of carve outs, a bunch of crumbs to the Palestinians because after everything Palestinians have suffered through, they're not going to accept that.

I think the Palestinians and the representatives are only [00:39:00] going to accept a real state where they can live in dignity. And that's very important here. We're talking about a people that has been deprived of dignity for many decades now. And so any solution has to take that into account.

David Sirota: One, one postscript question, and it's a, it's a more personal question. You've been following this, you've been reporting on this for a long time. I've been following it and reporting on it for a long time. I, I, I have found moments of incredible despondence and depression around this. I mean, I, I am Jewish.

I'm a practicing Jewish person. Uh, I take my spirituality and my religion seriously. I take my heritage seriously. Um, I, I have thought a long time for My entire life about about Israel. I feel all sorts of internal conflicts about it. Certainly I can't stand the current regime. The current government there.

I wonder, have you gone through a similar set of feelings? And and at the end [00:40:00] of those feelings, do you feel more despondent than ever? hopeful, so like sort of depressed despondent, but with a silver lining, like where are you, you know, where do you think people should be or, or, or where are your friends and colleagues when they think about this?

Shadi Hamid: Yeah, well, look, I'm not going to pretend that I'm an object, an entirely objective observer. I actually don't really believe objectivity is really a thing. I think that we come to every issue, not just on the Middle East, with our own biases and presumptions and so forth. I mean, I'm not Palestinian, but I am Arab and I am Muslim, so naturally I'm going to be, you know, more inclined to a particular narrative in part because I'm more familiar with that narrative.

I think that the Palestinian cause is something that if you're in any kind of Arab community, that will come up a lot, you know, and you're going to be shaped by those conversations and discussions with friends and family and so forth.

David Sirota: In the same way, by the way, in the same way Israel comes up in, in almost any [00:41:00] gathering of, of Jewish family, Jewish friends, et cetera, et cetera. For sure. It's, it's, it's, it's, uh, the similarities here in terms of the, of the experiences, the social experiences, and how central these issues are in those social experiences, there's, they're so similar.

I'm sorry, I didn't mean to cut

Shadi Hamid: Exactly. No, it's, it's a really good point and I think it's just good to be open about that, that we all come at it with those kinds of personal connections. You know, as for whether or not I'm despondent, this time, I know people say this every time, but actually I think it's accurate here. This time, this war in Gaza feels different.

It feels like friendships and relationships are strained in a way that I've never seen before in the U. S. That there's certain friends that I can't, I'm just like, I'm not going to talk to them about this issue because it's just not going to be good. It's not going to be constructive. And it's going to hurt the friendship and what's the point so that's that's just that's hard to see because I was, [00:42:00] I think that we had a lot to be proud of in terms of Muslim Jewish relations in the US that we had, I think, avoided a lot of the acrimony that you see between Muslims and Jews and parts of Europe, for example, and where there is unfortunately, Considerable anti semitism in certain Arab communities in Europe.

I think that we haven't had a lot of that. And I just worry that, a lot of that is being, is being lost in this, in this, you know, most recent round of conflict. I think there's also From my standpoint, as someone who works on Middle East politics more broadly, it's not just about Israel Palestine, but it's about U.

S. policy towards the Middle East, just sucking in a more general way. For decades, the U. S., whether it's Democrats or Republicans, has supported brutal dictatorships, whether it's Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE. I mean, the list is long. The U. S. did get [00:43:00] better at supporting democracy in other regions of the world towards the end of the Cold War in Latin America, parts of Africa and Asia, where we had supported right wing dictatorships in a lot of these places, but as the Cold War became, uh, rounded to a close, we were able to move beyond that and I think do better in some of these parts of the world, except for the Middle East.

We have not done that. been able to as Americans to, to really align our interests and values in a way that I think in a way that I would have liked to see. And I think that it's created a lot of resentment. And a lot of instability in the broader Middle East, the fact that, you know, the U. S. wasn't able to really support in a serious way the Arab Spring and, and to actually help these countries democratize.

And here I have in mind Tunisia and Egypt in particular. That's a bigger and longer story, but I think that if [00:44:00] if we as American observers are trying to think, how do we go forward in the broader region? I really hope there can be a fundamental rethinking on a whole host of levels because a lot of these things are intertwined in complex ways.

Israel is part of a broader region. And actually, I would argue that one of the reasons that we've supported autocratic regimes in the Arab world is because we see them as more pliant and as more quote unquote pro American and pro Israel. And we worry about democracy in the Arab world because if Arabs have the right to vote in free and fair elections, they sometimes vote for anti American parties.

Or anti Israel parties because Arabs writ large are not understandably the biggest fans of Israel. So if they have the right to vote for their own leaders, that's kind of what democracy is about. It's about respecting people's choices, even if we as Americans disagree with those choices. So I think there's a lot of bigger foundational questions that [00:45:00] we have to start asking.

and um, I hope that a younger generation of American Policymakers will have a different approach, and we already see this generational divide in the Democratic Party that Biden and some of the older Democratic politicians are stuck in the old ways of looking at the Israeli Palestinian conflict, but you see a lot of dissent among younger staffers in the Defense Department, in the State Department, in the White House who have signed these open letters.

You know, there's been a handful who have resigned or have considered resigning. Because they just can't, from a moral perspective, be okay with how the Biden administration has approached, this most recent round of fighting. So I, I do think that that gives, that can be constructive. It does give me some hope that in 10 years and 15 years, there will be.

a larger number of, of Democrats who are young now, but hopefully will be less young in the future who can actually bring to bear [00:46:00] their moral commitments on this issue in a way that, you know, um, does us proud as Americans, because I don't think we have been living up to our values in the region.

David Sirota: That is a, a, a definitely a hopeful sign that there, that the pressure on the establishment of the Democratic Party, really the, the political establishment at large, the pressure for a more, uh, even handed, uh, set of policies. I can't remember. A moment like this in the last 15, 20 years, probably all the way back to the to the Clinton era peace process where there was pressure for an American government to take a more even handed.

I don't love that term, but but a position where that's not so one sided and is much more constructive. I think that is a very, very, very hopeful sign. Shadi Hamid is a member of the Washington Post editorial board, a must read columnist at the Washington Post. He's also the [00:47:00] author of the book, The Problem of Democracy, America, the Middle East, and the Rise and Fall of an Idea.

Shadi, thank you for your writing, thank you for your work, and thank you so much for taking time with us today.

Shadi Hamid: Thanks so much for having me, David. Appreciate it.

That's it for today's show. As a reminder, our paid subscribers who get lever time premium, you get to hear next week's bonus episode, which is our interview with journalist Cole Stangler about his new book about the gentrification of Paris and what it means for public housing policy.

To listen to Lever Time Premium, just head over to levernews. com to become a supporting subscriber. When you do, you get access to all of Lever's premium content, including our weekly newsletters and our live events. And that's all for just 8 a month or 70 for the year. One last favor. Please be sure to like, subscribe, and write a review for Lever Time on your favorite podcast app.

The app you are listening to right now, take 10 seconds and give us a positive review in that app. [00:48:00] And make sure to check out all of the incredible reporting our team has been doing over at levernews. com. Until next time, I'm David Sirota. Rock the boat.

David Sirota: The Lever Time Podcast is a production of the Lever and the Lever Podcast Network. It's hosted by me, David Sirota. Our producer is Frank Capello with help from Lever producer, Jared Jacang Mayor.