What is almost universally agreed is that an enduring peace settlement for Palestine must be based on a two-State solution. However, getting that settlement accepted will require active intervention by the US to broker the deal.
It is now four months since the horrendous attack by Hamas on Israel that resulted in around 1200 Israeli deaths and the taking of 240 hostages. Over the four months since then Israel has responded by killing more than 27,500 Palestinians, mostly women and children, reducing many of the buildings in Gaza to rubble, displacing most of Gaza’s population and allowing so little food, water and medicines t0 enter Gaza that famine and diseases are now spreading.
Furthermore, apart from the loss of lives, the longer this conflict continues, the greater the chances that other countries will be drawn in. Already various surrogates of Iran have joined the fray, and the US has started bombing Syria, Iraq and Yemen in response.
Clearly it is way past time for the war to stop. But that will require the US to play a leading role in defining and mediating the possible peace terms in Gaza as only the US has the necessary credibility with all the parties to this conflict to broker and ensure an enduring peace settlement.
In a previous article (Pearls & Irritations, 9 January) I was critical of the US for its lack of leadership. But a week ago the US State Department was reported as saying that: “We are actively pursuing the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with real security guarantees for Israel, because we believe that is the best way to bring about a lasting peace and security for Israel, for Palestinians and for the region.”
Thankfully Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, is presently on his fifth tour of the region, and he has been talking to Israel and Qatari and Egyptian mediators and the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, about how to turn the catastrophe of Gaza into an opportunity for peace. The US has also been talking to Saudi Arabia in an effort to get it to normalise its ties with Israel in return for Israel’s acceptance of an independent Palestinian state.
Today’s news reports that Hamas has proposed a 4½ month ceasefire during which all hostages would go free, Israel would withdraw its troops from the Gaza strip, and an agreement would be reached on a peace settlement to end the war.
Perhaps, not unexpectedly, the Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu immediately rejected that offer. A week ago Netanyahu said that “I will not compromise on full Israeli security control over the entire area west of the Jordan – and this is contrary to a Palestinian state.” Now, according to Netanyahu, total victory over Hamas is within reach, and he insisted that total victory was the only solution to the Gaza war and return of the hostages.
Blinken’s response, after talking to Netanyahu, was that “There are clearly non-starters in what [Hamas has] put forward”, “But we also see space in what came back to pursue negotiations, to see if we can get agreement. That’s what we intend to do.”
While Blinken did not nominate the “non-starters” in Hamas’ peace proposal, it is pretty obvious that the principal non-starter would be the assumption of Hamas’ continued existence. Netanyahu’s over-riding demand is that Hamas, which presents an existential threat to Israel, must cease to exist if a peace settlement is going to endure.
In short, a permanent ceasefire will only be acceptable to Israel if Hamas not only releases all the hostages, but also lays down its arms and has no future role in the governance of Gaza.
At the same time, however, if the peace settlement is going to remove any threat to Israel’s security, it is equally important that the same guarantee applies for Palestine. Hamas will continue to be supported by Palestinians as long as denial of their rights endures. In other words, as has been almost universally recognised, a permanent ceasefire will have to be based on acceptance of the “two-state solution”.
And in that case, it seems likely that the Arabs will insist that the Palestinian state must be based on the pre-1967 borders, and the present Israeli settlements on the West Bank would need to be dismantled.
In addition, the other difficult problem is, if not Hamas, who else could be responsible for the government of Gaza? The answer would seem to be the Palestinian Authority, but the Authority has so little respect and support that it would need to be reformed to provide a credible government.
The good news is that Blinken seems to have succeeded in his talks with the Arab states, and they seem ready to help the Palestinian Authority to undertake the necessary reforms. But the Arab states will not send peacekeeping troops to Gaza to replace Hamas, nor will they help pay to restore Gaza, unless there is an Israeli commitment to Palestinian statehood.
So far so good, but the key outstanding question is whether Israel’s government, and Netanyahu in particular, will accept a peace settlement along these lines?
The problem is that Israel is unlikely to change its stance unless they feel that they have no choice. The Arab leaders have accordingly been reported as wanting the US to exert more pressure on Netanyahu.
The reality is that apart from smashing Gaza, Israel’s bombardment has contributed very little to the achievement of Israel’s war aims. The Hamas leadership in Gaza is still intact, and Israel has only freed one hostage directly by its actions, while inadvertently killing some others.
On the other hand, Israel is very dependent on the US for its armaments, and also for diplomatic support in the UN and other international forums. In the end, it seems likely that if the US insisted, Israel would have to agree to a reasonable peace settlement along the lines outlined above.
Of course, the US pushing Israel to sign up to peace terms in this way will not be easy, especially in an election year. Trump has a record of supporting Israel, and he might well take the opportunity to criticise the terms of any US sponsored peace settlement. So Biden must be prepared to c0ntradict Trump arguing that his support for Netanyahu’s policies will result in an endless war continuing and very likely escalating.
Furthermore, it would not be the first time that the US has dictated peace terms to Israel in its national interest. Back in 1956 America’s closest allies, Britain, France and Israel invaded Egypt to retake control of the Suez Canal, following its nationalisation by Egypt, but the US intervened and forced its allies to stop their brazen and illegal attack, including through a U.S.-sponsored United Nations General Assembly resolution.
In sum, the US has a history of getting its way with Israel when that is the right thing to do. And this time under the proposed terms of agreement, Israel’s critical demand that Hamas cease to exist as the government of Gaza would have been met. While clearly a peace settlement to end the Gaza war for all time will not happen without that US pressure.