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Analysis | Netanyahu, Ignore the U.S.' Ideas About Gaza at Your Peril

In Washington, there's a realization that Israel's war with Hamas is not aligned with or derived from any political objectives. So, after two months, the Americans are unilaterally proposing their own framework, though they know Netanyahu's extremist government will never agree to it

By Alon Pinkas, Haaretz/Israel News

Dec 7, 2023

When you look at the United States' relationship with the Middle East since 1945, you cannot but help but notice a certain similarity to the 1987 film "Fatal Attraction." In that Hollywood thriller, Glenn Close's increasingly disturbed character tells a terrified Michael Douglas "I won't be ignored" after he tries to end their affair.

Today, just like protagonist Alex Forrest, the Middle East is saying to an America that wants to disengage from the region and pursue other, greater challenges: I won't be ignored.

The one thing Israel and the Palestinians can always agree on is that it's America's fault. The United States "doesn't get it." American presidents, envoys and negotiators are naive, they just don't get the complexities, they don't fully grasp the lay of the land in the Middle East. They come up with lofty ideas and formulas that just won't work. American presidents have been too involved, micromanaging conflict resolution processes. Or, American presidents have been indifferent, aloof and not involved enough. Only Israelis and Palestinians can fully understand the history, the complexities, the plot twists and appreciate the intricate beauty of their conflict.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an exercise in human futility, zero-sum justice and plain political idiocy, no matter who's right and who's wrong at any given moment since Britain's Peel Commission report of 1937.

Since October 7, the United States shares Israel's objective of militarily eradicating Hamas and degrading it politically as much as possible. It has done so through President Joe Biden extending massive moral, military, material, political and diplomatic support. But the United States has also reached the conclusion that the war, in its current form and dynamic, has run its course.

Massive aerial bombardments have failed to drive a wedge between populations and their government. This was the case in World War II, in Korea, Vietnam and, most recently, Ukraine. In fact, there is a case to be made that this type of devastating war creates more terrorists and emboldens Hamas rather than eliminating it. Robert A. Pape from the University of Chicago presents a compelling case for that in Foreign Policy.

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Furthermore, there is a growing understanding in Washington that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to prolong the war for his own political ends.

The United States fully understands and has supported the proposition that in the aftermath of the horrors of October 7, Hamas needed to be hit, and hit hard. The calculation is a political and military one, not about vengeance. What the Americans asked Israel to do, aside from minimizing civilian casualties, was to start thinking creatively and seriously about Gaza's "day after" – if such a day will ever exist. Until now, Israel has refused to consider any policy regarding postwar Gaza other than deriding U.S. ideas.

In Washington, there's a realization that Israel's just war is not aligned with or derived from any political objectives. So, after two months, the United States is unilaterally proposing a framework, as sketched out by Vice President Kamala Harris last weekend in Dubai: no changes to Gaza's borders; no displacement of Palestinians; no besiegement; no Israeli reoccupation; Gaza cannot remain a platform for terrorism and should be linked to the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris shaking hands with United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan last weekend.Credit: UAE Presidential Court/Reuters

American ideas for a postwar Gaza are based on several premises, both short and long term:

* The status quo is not only unsustainable – a determination the Americans have made for decades – but has become intolerable, violent and prone to escalation. There are approximately 14 million people between the Jordan River in the east and Mediterranean Sea in the west. The demographic equilibrium between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs is reaching 50-50, in which case there are only three options: a binational state; two states; or continued de facto occupation, even if a majority of Palestinians are governed by the PA.

* At this point, the maximum that Israel could hypothetically offer does not meet the minimum the Palestinians could accept. In other words, the Palestinians cannot provide the security that Israel rightly demands, and Israel is reluctant to offer the political self-determination and sovereignty that the Palestinians demand.

* 500,000 settlers in the West Bank (and an additional 230,000 Israeli inhabitants of East Jerusalem) are a demographic, geographic and political impediment to any acceptable political solution, even before labeling it a pretentious "peace agreement." When then-President Bill Clinton negotiated with then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat at Camp David in July 2000, and later published his "Clinton Parameters," the number was half that.

* In the Gaza Strip, Hamas cannot be allowed to govern since it is a terror organization that turned the densely populated enclave into a launchpad for terrorism.

* Gaza should be linked politically to the West Bank and a "revitalized" PA should, in due time, extend its governance.

* Since the PA in its current state – ineffectual, corrupt and unpopular – cannot conceivably undertake that task, there needs to be a transitional mechanism. This would be an international force, or neotrusteeship, consisting of a sizable Arab component and based on a possible 10-year plan, at whose end a demilitarized Palestinian state could be established.

* Because Israel and the Palestinians, left to their own devices, cannot reach an understanding about such a framework, the United States reluctantly will offer one.

No one in Washington has any illusions that Netanyahu and his extreme, messianic governing coalition could agree to this. Netanyahu is not perceived as a dependable ally or a partner. But the point in time where Biden will make this a pronounced policy couldn't come any sooner.

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