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Rumblings About Gaza And a Palestinian State

There is a fundamental difference between normalization leading to possible Palestinian statehood in the future, and preconditioning normalization on a Palestinian state now.

As can be seen now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was right when he sought to postpone the debate on the postwar political status of Gaza, suspecting that the subject would give rise to divisive arguments while the war was still on, as it did–but domestic and international political pressures had their way, and now, alas, we are in the midst of the controversy.

The Biden administration is advancing an initiative linking the reconstruction of Gaza after the war to cooperation with a group of Arab countries, on the one hand, and the revival of the normalization process between Saudi Arabia and Israel, on the other. While this is still something in the future, Washington is pressing Israel to allow more humanitarian aid, including fuel, to enter Gaza, without, however, making this contingent on the release of hostages–aid that, if allowed in, could result in the lengthening of the war.

The purpose of the visit a few weeks ago by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to a number of Arab capitals, Israel and the Palestinian Authority was to move the initiative forward, and, according to some reports, he did receive from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a commitment to join in the eventual effort to reconstruct Gaza, together with an agreement in principle to normalize relations with Israel. The Saudis have a number of reasons for establishing formal relations with Israel (informal ones have existed for some time), though their main objective in the envisaged process is obtaining a formal security pact with the US, notwithstanding the official thawing of their relations with Iran. However, Saudi Arabia also raised a reservation (apparently not objected to by the US): a process leading to Palestinian statehood, as part of the process of establishing formal ties with Israel.

 

Is the Arab World Really Working To Build a Palestinian State?

A regional process involving Arab states in the reconstruction of Gaza, as well as in other matters–also in view of Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons, its hegemonic designs in the region, and the terrorist activities of its proxies–would be a welcome development for Israel, complementing the Abraham Accords, which, from the first, had also been intended to eventually lead to a solution to the Palestinian conundrum.

But there is a fundamental difference between normalization leading to possible Palestinian statehood in the future, and preconditioning normalization on a Palestinian state now. In any case, Palestinian statehood is not relevant to the Gaza issue or to Hamas, as the latter totally rejects the two-state formula or indeed any solution other than obliterating the State of Israel and its people.

Unfortunately, Britain’s new foreign secretary, former prime minister David Cameron, who was brought back from the political wilderness, was not helpful when he called for an immediate end to the war, i.e., before the threat of Hamas had been finally eliminated, and for Britain to recognize a Palestinian state. In any case, Israel, as has been its position since 1967 under all governments, left or right, will insist that responsibility for security in Gaza, as in the West Bank, will remain Israel’s alone. A recent article in Foreign Affairs, a magazine that often echoes or predicts American foreign policy trends, anticipates a softening US trend toward Iran, even hinting at a possible Iranian role in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this context, the declaration by Blinken that “a Palestinian state” is the best way of isolating Iran might lead some people to think that Washington was looking at the Middle East through the wrong end of the binoculars, since by all realistic indications a sovereign and irredentist Palestinian state would not lead to Iran’s isolation but, rather, to the creation of another Iranian terrorist proxy, a few hundred meters from most of Israel’s main population and economic centers. Also, not making Palestinian statehood predicated on Palestinian recognition–not only officially and diplomatically but also ideologically–of Israel and of the right of the Jewish people to a state of its own (a condition that President Joe Biden himself had previously raised) means not peace but unending wars. Dr. John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and a former US deputy defense secretary, expressed this very well when he wrote: “After what happened to Israelis on October 7, it is hard to imagine that they will trust any Palestinian government at this stage.”

The war in Gaza does indeed have extensive global and regional complications, and, acknowledged or not, it is part of the global struggle between the democratic and liberal world led by the US–and the axis of China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, with Israel clearly having a vital interest in the continued predominance of America and its political attitudes, and though The Washington Post wrote that the US will wait for “the day after Netanyahu,” no less and perhaps even more relevant could be the question for Israel of the day after Biden.

With the Republican primaries moving to their conclusion, and though Nikki Haley is still in the race, Donald Trump is leading by a wide margin, and it increasingly appears that he will be the one to oppose Biden–and, according to polls, he has a better than even chance of winning. There are some in Israel who are thrilled by this–understandably, in light of his pro-Israel moves during his previous term–but nevertheless it is perhaps worth considering that with regard to the war in Gaza and the horrors that preceded it, Trump declared that “with me it would not have happened,” adding that it would be better for the US to keep a “hands-off” attitude.

He and some of his supporters also announced their opposition to any military action against the Houthis in Yemen or the Shi’ite militias in Iraq, whose drones had just killed three US servicemen. Also relevant might be considering that Trump’s important steps in support of Israel took place against the background of a political reality in Israel whose future existence is not clear. Conversely, though one may rightly disagree with some of Biden’s past and present political decisions on Israel, one cannot make light of his decisive stance in backing Israel after October 7, notwithstanding the opposition of parts of his own party and among sections of the public. Be that as it may, those who will decide next November are not us, but the Americans, and whatever the outcome, Israel, looking at a world that is becoming increasingly dangerous, will strive to coordinate its interests and positions as much as possible with its major strategic ally, America.


The writer, a former MK, served as ambassador to the US from 1990 to 1993, and from 1998 to 2000.

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