Steven Teplitsky

Everyone has a game plan until they get punched in the face

The United States’ closest allies are calling for an “immediate cease-fire” that would put an end to Israel’s operations in Gaza. At home, the White House is facing increasing pressure from Democrats in the US Congress and parts of the Democratic base to change its current tactics in dealing with Israel.

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, the Biden administration has tried to walk a delicate line: backing Israel’s war against the group in Gaza, while pushing Israel to ease the humanitarian toll of its operations.

And yet, what the Biden administration understands—and what Israel’s many critics miss—is that a solution to the Israel-Hamas war cannot be dictated. If the international community wants Israel to change strategies in Gaza, then it should offer a viable alternative strategy to Israel’s announced goal of destroying Hamas in the strip.

Right now, that alternate strategy simply does not exist.

We must stop calling Hamas a “terrorist group”. Hamas is structured more like a conventional military force than a pure terrorist group and should be labelled as such. By the end of January, Israel destroyed 75% of Hamas’ battalions and killed two of five brigade commanders, 19 of 24 battalion commanders, more than 50 platoon leaders, and 13,000 of Hamas’ 30,000 soldiers. Over 30 percent of Hamas’ fighters and 40 percent of its tunnels have been destroyed.

According to military experts, conventional forces are considered combat ineffective once they lose more than 30 % of their strength and they are considered destroyed once they lose 50 % of their military capacity.

It took the United States several years to defeat the Islamic State. Israel is just over six months into what its leaders promised will be a very long war.

Israel’s critics have failed, and continue to fail, to offer a coherent alternative way forward. Instead, more often than not, there are vague references for the need for some ill-defined “political solution” to the conflict. To the extent that there is a coherence to this alternate strategy, it revolves around using the threat of diplomatic isolation alongside economic threats that might force Israel to agree to an “immediate cease-fire.” That cease-fire, in turn, would pave the way for a longer-term political settlement, likely around a two-state solution.

Problem solved? Not really.

International pressure and sanctions will not likely compel Israel to compromise. Israel was born out of the ashes of the Holocaust as a safe haven for Jews after millennia of persecution. Israel then spent its first quarter-century fighting for its very existence.

The idea that the world is aligned against Israel is deeply embedded in the nation’s collective DNA, and chants of “from the river to the sea,” coupled with surging global antisemitism, only ensure that those fears remain very much alive today and has served to galvanize the country and strengthen its resolve.

Economic pressure, such as sanctioning settlers or restricting military aid, is unlikely to work, either. In general, sanctions have a poor track record of compelling states to abandon core national security interests. And given the October 7 attacks, this war is nothing if not a core national security interest for Israel. Even if pressure did work initially, for a political solution to be sustainable, Israelis must voluntarily agree, not be pressured into it.

What if Israel caved into outside pressure and agreed to an immediate cease-fire? What would the day after look like? Hamas, as Israel and Hamas both acknowledge, would be left with a considerable military force, still numbering in the thousands. Israel would then need to engage in another very lopsided deal to free the remaining hostages. Hamas is still making ridiculous lopsided demands for a swap, anywhere from 5 to 1 or 10 to 1.

At a minimum, Hamas’ ranks would soon swell. And invariably, some of those released would be quite dangerous. After all, Yahya Sinwar was freed from an Israeli prison, where he was serving a life sentence for murder, in the 2011 trade of 1,027 prisoners for one captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. None of this recent history bodes particularly well for long-term peace.

In all likelihood, Israel would respond to a cease-fire by tightening its blockade of Gaza, citing Hamas’ continued existence as one reason for doing so. In particular, Israel would likely put severe limits on the quantities and types of building materials allowed into the Strip. After all, Hamas diverted an estimated 1,800 tons of steel and 6,000 tons of concrete to build its tunnel networks, and Israel would not want to see them rebuilt. The net consequence would be that desperately needed reconstruction would be severely delayed or even brought to standstill.

The fighting would not stop, either. Fearing that Hamas will make good on its promise to repeat the October 7 attack “again and again,” Israel would step up its preemptive strikes on Gaza and the West Bank, particularly whenever it got the first hint that Hamas might be planning an attack. At the same time, Hamas would continue to attack Israel, if only to reinforce its legitimacy and divert attention away from the likely dismal conditions in Gaza. In all likelihood, the situation would be right back where it started.

But the world, especially led by the US and the Quartet, claim that a Two State Solution is the answer. Even before October 7, the majority of Israelis did not believe in a two-state solution, or that peace was even possible. There are likely even fewer who believe that now, especially if a Palestinian state were to include Hamas in some form.

The US leadership should consider how unfathomable it would have been for most Americans to support the creation of a state with al Qaeda at its helm just five months after 9/11. There is no reason to believe that the Israeli public should be any different. Given considerable support for Hamas among the Palestinian population, it would be politically impossible to exclude Hamas from a new, democratic Palestinian government. And even if the new state’s government is less than democratic, it would have trouble excluding Hamas entirely, even if it wanted to, if the group still has thousands of men under arms.

But even assuming that overwhelming international pressure forced Israel to agree to a two-state solution, it is not going to guarantee peace in the short or medium term. There are still a host of thorny issues, including borders, water rights, air rights, the demilitarization of the Palestinian state, and the partition of Jerusalem, that would need to be resolved before a second state could come into being. Then there is the problem that only one-third of Palestinians favor a two-state solution themselves, and 9 in 10 do not trust the Palestinian Authority. For its part, Hamas has made it abundantly clear that it wants one state without Jews under an Islamist banner.

If a two-state solution did come about, it may not bring an end to hostilities. Two states did not solve hostilities between India and Pakistan, or North and South Korea, or North and South Vietnam. Israel would be under no obligation to grant Palestinians, now citizens of a separate country, work permits, which would likely tank the nascent state’s economy, just as it wouldn’t have to provide electricity and other services to Gaza, as it did before the war. At the same time, Palestinians would rightly wonder why their state should be demilitarized and not entitled to the sovereign privileges of a “normal state.” There would perhaps still be Jewish settlers living on the territory of the new Palestine, creating all sorts of problems. Without a genuine buy-in from both sides, a two-state solution would simply turn a local conflict into an international one.

If the international community is not simply grandstanding and actually hopes to solve the tragedy playing out in Gaza, then it needs to begin by offering feasible solutions that address both Palestinian grievances and Israeli security concerns.

“To its credit, the Biden administration is at least trying to move in this direction. It is pushing Israel to curtail civilian casualties, set up safe zones, increase humanitarian aid, and move to a longer-term political solution—all while still backing (or at least not outwardly opposing) Israel’s ongoing operations to root out Hamas. Some might call such a balanced approach overly tactical and unable to quickly end the war, but a good strategy is built on sound tactics.”

“Unfortunately, the Biden administration’s nuance is the exception both internationally and in the domestic debate over U.S. policy. Just as the political right needs to be continuously reminded that the Palestinian population is not going anywhere and Israel cannot kill its way to victory, the political left needs to be reminded that Israelis are also not going anywhere and their equities must also be taken seriously.”

“Ultimately, if Biden’s critics on the political left want a different war, then they need to offer an alternative strategy and subject that strategy to the same sort of analytical rigor that it trains on Israel’s current military effort. If not, the brutal logic of the current war will remain, and the ongoing tragedy will continue.”

-MIA: An Alternate Strategy for Gaza,-Raphael S. Cohen, RAND Corporation, March 3, 2024, some of the above information is derived from a RAND Corporation analysis conducted in February 2024

I am an advocate of an alternative to a “Two State Solution” namely a “Three State Solution”. This proposal calls for the State of Israel within post Yom Kippur War borders which include the Golan Heights and Gush Etzion and a unified Jerusalem. The second state would be The State of Palestine on the West Bank of the Jordan River. The third state would be The Palestinian State of Gaza, or for a complete rebranding it can be called The Philistine State.

The two Palestinian states would be established as “Protectorates” of Egypt for The Philistine State, and Jordan for The State of Palestine of the West Bank of the Jordan. As protectorates the new states would be accorded with all the rights of every nation state in the world, but they would come under the defensive umbrella of their “Protectors” with which Israel currently has peace treaties. This would solve a host of issues including demilitarization and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the current Palestinian territories.

The current Israeli settlements could remain intact and by the way of addenda to the current peace treaties remain “protected” dual citizens of Israel and the new states.

A word of note….Qatar was a British Protectorate from 1916 until 1971.

To ensure the success of this plan the “Protectorates” and the “Protectors” would have “Super Protectors” such as the US, the EU, the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia guaranteeing the success of this endeavor with a 2024 “Marshall Plan for Greater Palestine”.

Mike Tyson said it best. “When you get punched in the face you have to change your game plan.”

The United States and those pushing for a tired political solution have to ask themselves….
How’s that worked so far?
If their so-called solutions had been feasible and acceptable then they would have been implemented by now.
It is time to consider a new solution.

About the Author
Graduated from Brandeis University in Near Eastern and Jewish Studies in 1978 before completion of PhD (ABD) in "Relationship of US to Pre 1948 Yishuv". Active in Toronto Jewish community while pursuing business career. Made Aliyah in 2020. Last person to be admitted into Israel before Covid shutdown. Favorite movie quotes are "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" and "You can't handle the truth!" and "Whaddya think, I'm dumb or something?"
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