During these dark and traumatic days for Israel, and in the spirit of the Hanukkah holiday we just celebrated, it is appropriate to mention three sparks of light and suggest ten principles for ending the war and the post-war period.
First and foremost, the heroism of the Israeli defense forces from all political persuasions who have been fighting day and night, with determination and courage, sacrificing their lives in defense of Israel, the defeat of Hamas, and the release of the hostages.
Second, the solidarity and spirit of voluntarism of the Israeli people and Jews everywhere in support of the hostages, the communities who were destroyed, and the people displaced from their homes.
Third, the unwavering American support for Israel that has been expressed in so many ways by President Biden and others in his administration: morally, emotionally, materially, and diplomatically. This support is a significant asset and should not be taken for granted.
Now, Israel’s leaders face the challenge of defeating Hamas, securing the hostages’ release, and maintaining international support, particularly from the United States. To address this challenge, Prime Minister Netanyahu must articulate a pragmatic vision for ending the war and for the political and military arrangements in Gaza post-war. It is essential to outline a clear, long-term vision for a stable ceasefire and a path towards lasting peace. This vision should align with the evolving American position regarding Gaza’s future, whether expressed publicly or behind closed doors. This vision should be based on what is emerging as a growing international understanding of the future of Gaza after the war.
The following are ten assumptions and principles for ending the war and the post-war period. I believe that these principles would prevent a long war of attrition and pave the way for a long-term ceasefire and stability in the region.
1. Hamas: There will be no return to the status quo ante before the war in which Hamas is in control of Gaza. Hamas must be removed from power and its weapons surrendered. Hamas cannot be part of the future of Gaza. Given the uncompromising ideological and religious foundations behind Hamas’ violent actions, the expectation that it will abandon its radical ideology, renounce terrorism, and accept Israel’s right to exist is unrealistic.
However, although Israel’s goal should be to destroy Hamas militarily, this desired goal may not be fully achieved. No matter how badly Hamas will be defeated, the organization may not completely disappear because it is deeply rooted in Palestinian society and politics. This sad possibility is hard to accept after the horrible atrocities it committed – but it cannot be escaped.
2. Ceasefire, hostages release, and Palestinian prisoners: A permanent ceasefire will be declared. All Israeli hostages will be released as part of this agreement. Israel will release Palestinian prisoners in a ratio to be agreed upon.
3. Israeli withdrawal: Israel will not occupy any part of Gaza. All Israeli forces will withdraw to the pre-October 7th line. The idea of a security zone held by Israel would be a prescription for a prolonged war of attrition, insurgency, and many Israeli casualties similar to Southern Lebanon after the first Lebanese war between 1985-2000.
4. International forces: a new security regime will be created in Gaza based on the deployment of international peacekeeping forces under a UN mandate. These forces could be deployed for an interim period of six months and could be comprised of forces from NATO and Arab countries. Their task will be to ensure law and order, manage basic services, and monitor the confiscation of remaining rockets and heavy weapons from Hamas.
5. Demilitarization: Gaza will be demilitarized. The local security force, which will be part of the Palestinian Authority, will carry only light arms.
6. Departure of Hamas leaders: as part of the agreement to end the war, a few dozen senior Hamas leaders will be given the option to leave Gaza (similar to the PLO departure from Beirut) to countries ready to accept them. Despite their ideology of martyrdom, I believe they may choose this option rather than a certain death.
7. Displaced residents of Gaza: Palestinian residents of Gaza will not be permanently displaced.
8. Transition of control to the Palestinian Authority: An agreement will be reached on modalities, a timetable, and conditions for the Palestinian Authority (after it completes fundamental reforms) to take control of Gaza from the International forces. The previous civilian administration in Gaza will be integrated into the Palestinian Authority’s administration.
9. Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction of Gaza: Humanitarian aid will be allowed into Gaza as needed. An international conference will convene to adopt a plan for the reconstruction of Gaza’s ruins and a timetable for the return of civilians to their homes.
10. Resumption of Peace Talks: A timetable and a framework will be agreed upon for a resumption of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on an interim agreement toward the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state. Simultaneously, negotiations will resume between Israel, the U.S., and Saudi Arabia with the Palestinian Authority’s active participation toward an agreement that will include the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. This agreement will also include tangible steps addressing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and a framework for peace based on the two-state solution, former Prime Minister Olmert’s proposal to Abu Mazen in 2009, and the Arab Peace Initiative.
President Biden, who has handled the conflict so far with prudence, audacity, and determination, could invite the main actors in this conflict: Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, for intensive talks at Camp David in early 2024, to work out a basis for a formal agreement based on these principles. The summit should be carefully prepared, and the participants must accept these principles. The summit will also help bridge the deep mistrust between Israel and the Palestinians.
The adoption by Israel of the principles described above will help to guarantee the continued support of the United States, which is critical for Israel. It will also strengthen the weak Palestinian leadership in Ramallah in their efforts to lead their people to a reasonable political compromise with Israel.
These principles or any agreement reached could be brought before the Israeli people soon in earlier elections as a referendum and as an opportunity for political change because the current Israeli Government is unlikely to accept them.
These principles will also provide hope and a point of departure that will bring home Israeli hostages, end the death of Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians in Gaza, and end the suffering and pain of the Israeli and Palestinian people. It could be a roadmap and opportunity for progress toward peace.