Gaza: Israel is winning the battle but losing the warNov 13, 2023
As was to be expected, Israel is winning the battle for Gaza, albeit at an enormous cost in lives. But what are Israel’s and its backers’ plans for winning the peace, as without an enduring peace settlement the war can never be won. Is a US-led, UN mandated Trusteeship for Palestine the way forward?
Many of us are understandably appalled by the loss of life in the Israel-Hamas war, firstly on October the 7th on the Israeli side of the border, and subsequently the much greater slaughter and destruction in Gaza itself. But even if other nations are content to stand on the sidelines, and not intervene and insist on a ceasefire, it will be in all our interests to achieve a peace settlement that is acceptable to all so that it can last.
A lasting peace settlement will, however, only happen if we think about what it might look like now in advance. Without careful forethought and balance the peace may well not last, the fighting may resume, and the end-result may eventually be different.
For example, as history shows us, since the Second World War although the US and its allies have prevailed on the battlefield they have then gone on to lose each war. First, in Vietnam, and later in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military was dominant, but in the end the US lost the war.
Fundamentally, the problem was that insufficient attention was paid to what would follow after the US won the battles. There was no real consideration of what form of government would be necessary to secure an enduring peace after the US won the battle.
What we learnt is that military superiority can breed a self-confidence that obscures the compromises required to achieve an enduring peace settlement. Right now, all the signs are that Israel is about to repeat that US experience in Gaza.
Sure, as we keep being told, Israel has the right to defend itself, but what does that actually mean for the future of Gaza?
Israel’s immediate objective is to eliminate, or more accurately, exterminate Hamas. Many are already objecting that the cost of achieving that objective in terms of the number of civilian lives lost is far, far too high and is unacceptable.
But even, in the unlikely event that Israel did succeed on its own in completely eliminating Hamas, what follows then? What form of peace settlement and governance does Israel envisage after Hamas is eliminated, albeit at an horrendous cost. Without an enduring peace settlement, however, the war will never be won.
The future governance of Gaza
With the defeat of Hamas some other form of government in Gaza will have to be introduced to replace Hamas. But how will this new government be formed, what will it entail, how acceptable will it be to both Palestinians and Israelis, and therefore how successful will it be?
At worst, will the new administrative arrangements be so unacceptable to the Palestinian population at large that the remnants of Hamas and/or another group of militants will emerge and resume the challenge to Israel’s sovereignty? In the past, Israeli crackdowns that make life more difficult for ordinary Gazans have increased support for Hamas. If the current military campaign in Gaza has a similar effect on Palestinian public opinion, it will further set back the cause of long-term peace.
In addition, Palestinians in the West Bank are having their land seized and are prevented from travelling and working within their own country. It is this sort of occupation and provocation that further encourages support for the opposition to Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian organisations.
Israel and its key backer, the US, should be addressing these questions of future governance arrangements and sovereignty now, in advance. Waiting and leaving a vacuum regarding Gaza’s future governance will be a recipe for continuing chaos and strife.
A two-State solution?
So what should the future governance arrangements for Gaza and Palestine look like?
The US, Australia, and other like-minded allies continue to say that they support the two-State solution with an independent Palestine and Israel existing side by side. But for the foreseeable future that does not seems viable.
First, Israel will very likely oppose it, as they have effectively been doing for decades. Second, while the majority of Palestinians support the two-State solution, it is hard to see an effective Palestinian government that is acceptable to both them and Israel emerging from among the present Palestinian leadership, at least at this point of time.
The good news is that a majority of Gazans probably do not share Hamas’s goal of eliminating the state of Israel. In a recent survey conducted in Gaza and the West Bank just days before the Israel-Hamas war broke out, a majority of survey respondents (54 per cent) favoured the two-state solution outlined in the 1993 Oslo accords, with their borders based on the de facto boundary that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War (see Foreign Affairs, 6 November).
Also, most Gazans reported in that survey that they were frustrated with Hamas’s ineffective governance and did not align themselves with Hamas’s ideology either. When asked how they would vote if elections were held, just 27 per cent of respondents selected Hamas as their preferred party. While Gazans’ opinion of the Palestinian Authority (PA) that governs the West Bank is not much better, with a slight majority believing that the PA is a burden on the Palestinian people, and 67 per cent would like to see the leader, Mahmoud Abbas, resign.
But if the two-State solution is not presently viable, what will take its place, at least for the time being?
Possible alternatives to a two-State solution
One possibility is that Israel will seek to take over the governance of all of Palestine as well as Israel and amalgamate them into a single state. Important members of Israel’s government have declared their opposition to Palestinian statehood – not now, not ever. They reject the two-State solution and their encouragement of the steady expansion of settlements in the West Bank is another indication that they are determined to take over what they regard as the whole of the historical lands of Israel.
If these members of Netanyahu’s Government prevail, the attempt to establish a single greater Israel state might well be accompanied by attempts to expel Palestinians to neighbouring Arab countries, for which there are plenty of precedents. At the very least, it seems likely that Israeli rule would involve a form of apartheid as the Palestinian citizens have never been accorded equal rights in Israel.
But even if Netanyahu withstands this pressure from his colleagues to create a single greater Israel, he has been reported as saying that Israel would have “overall security responsibility” in Gaza “for an indefinite period” after the war with Hamas ends.
The problem then, however, is that even if Israel’s involvement in Palestine is limited to security only, it still leaves unanswered what sort of government would be responsible for all the other functions of government in Gaza. For example, how would this other government be chosen and from whom? And assuming it represents Palestinian interests, how well would the Israelis and this new Palestinian government work together and for how long?
Such a solution might well satisfy many Israelis, at least initially, but it would likely lead to continuing unrest. That may well be why the US Administration has been reported as not supporting continuing Israeli occupation of Gaza once the fighting ends. Presumably, the US understands that the war between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples would not end so long as Israeli occupation continued.
But if Israel is not going to stay in Gaza after the fighting stops, Israel will understandably want to know what are the alternative arrangements that will be put in place to ensure that terrorist attacks do not resume? Right now, there is no credible Palestinian security apparatus that would be willing and able to crack down on terrorism sufficiently well as to satisfy Israel’s legitimate demands.
Equally, a competent and acceptable Palestinian government is unlikely to emerge right now that could take responsibility for all the other functions of government and negotiate a long-term deal with Israel for Gaza and the West Bank’s future.
Instead, what is required is an interim solution for the governance of Gaza that can lead in due course to a Palestinian government that would be acceptable to all parties, and which would then be able to negotiate an enduring peace settlement with Israel. Realistically that is the only way to achieve an eventual two-State solution to which the US and its allies are committed.
Interestingly, such an interim solution to the Palestinian problem was suggested twenty years ago by a former US Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, who proposed a trusteeship for Palestine led by the US.
A trusteeship for Palestine
Indyk’s proposal for a trusteeship for Palestine was reproduced a few days ago in the US journal, Foreign Affairs, Nov. 5, 2023, for anyone interested in reading the full version. However, in brief, Indyk argues that to secure an enduring peace “would require the United States to lead an international push to create a trusteeship for Palestine.”
To be acceptable to Israel, the trusteeship would need to be a U.S. construct. From a legal standpoint, however, it would be preferable for the trusteeship to be legitimised by a UN Security Council resolution, which would vest it with authority to act as well as having sovereignty over the territory under its control.
The principal purpose of this trusteeship for Palestine would be to build an independent, democratic Palestinian state.
Thus, the trustees would oversee the establishment by Palestinians of democratic institutions, including the drafting of a new constitution, the creation of an independent judiciary, and in due course the holding of free elections. At the same time, the trustees, with assistance from the World Bank and IMF would supervise the establishment of economic institutions and an international funding effort to rebuild the Palestinian economy.
Since the trusteeship would replace the Palestinian Authority, a consultative body would need to be established to represent the Palestinian people to the trusteeship in the transitional period before a constitution is finalised and elections are held.
Equally important, to assuage Israel’s legitimate security concerns and ensure the withdrawal of Israeli forces, the trusteeship would also be responsible for managing security. In practice this could be achieved if a peace-keeping unit comprised of US commanded special forces units and other troops drawn from partner countries were put at the disposal of the US-led trusteeship.
As the process of democratic nation-building progressed, the trustees would gradually devolve authority to the Palestinian institutions they had helped to create. In this way, a Palestinian government could emerge with which Israel could confidently negotiate; a government in control of security services that would be able and willing to prevent terrorism and violence.
The notion that a U.S.-led fighting force would take responsibility for combating Palestinian terrorism and rebuilding Palestinian security capabilities is perhaps the most controversial element in the trusteeship proposal.
Increasingly over time, confronting terrorists would become a joint operation between the international force and the reconstituted Palestinian security services. This would make it clear that the Palestinians themselves would in due course have the primary responsibility for fighting terrorism.
Much will depend upon the willingness of the US to take the lead and push this proposal. It will not be easy, and the US is sick of involvement in foreign wars.
But without this US leadership, the likelihood is that this war will never end, and the risk is that instead it will expand to involve many more countries, and not only other countries in the Middle East, but possibly Russia as well. That is clearly in no-one’s interest, and especially not in the US interest.
While the Middle East is not a sphere of close interest to Australia, it would be good if the Albanese Government lent its support to encourage the US to take the lead in developing this Trusteeship for Palestine.