You all may think I am crazy writing this, but believe me, there will be a day after tomorrow. This horrible war will come to an end. We will all be traumatized by what we have gone through. We will see all around us the devastation, destruction, wounded people – mentally and physically – and a lot of death. We will bury our dead and we will not forget what has been done and who did it. That will remain with us for many years to come.
These days and weeks and maybe months will reshape our narratives and Israelis and Palestinians will never agree about what happened to us. For Israelis the attack on October 7 was the most severe military invasion and terrorist attack in 75 years. For Palestinians that day and the days to follow have become the harsh and acute continuation of the Nakba. These are very dark days and all of us are impacted by what is happening.
I am hoping for what I call “a Belfast moment.” Perhaps it is an incorrect term and if so, I apologize to the people of Northern Ireland. I am referring to the time when we, the civilians, not our governments, look around us and see all the death and destruction and say: No More. ENOUGH!!! We have to invest our time, energy, resources, faith and devotion not in killing each other anymore, but in building a new reality. We have to recognize that even after this horrific war, Israelis and Palestinians will remain here on this land between the River and the Sea and no one here has more right to be here than anyone else. We have to look each other in the eyes and say we must all have the same rights. Then we can begin to rebuild a new reality.
Israel is very likely to re-occupy Gaza. At the time of this writing, it seems unavoidable. I don’t know what will be the fate of the Israeli hostages. I have spent countless hours trying to advance an agreement on the release of the women, children, elderly and sick hostages in exchange for the 43 Palestinian women and 190 Palestinian children who are prisoners in Israeli jails. I have pushed for a humanitarian ceasefire to implement the deal and to enable food and medical supplies to enter Gaza. Once the Israeli ground operation begins, it will probably be too late. At that point the only hope for the hostages will be rescue operations, of which some will succeed and others will not. The number of civilian casualties in Gaza will skyrocket and the destruction will be beyond imagination.
On the day that Israel completes its occupation of Gaza, it must announce that Israel will leave Gaza within 8 months or 12 months – whatever – as long as Israel makes clear it will not stay in Gaza. The Gush Katif settlers are not going back to Gaza. There will be no Israeli settlers in Gaza. Israel must then also announce its plans, which have to include working with the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank to end the conflict and to rebuild a peaceful Gaza. It has to be done with the Gaza business community and peace-seeking civil society.
This work will not be done by the present Israeli government because on the day after the war, Netanyahu and his government, and people from previous governments, are going to face their day of reckoning. The people who brought us to this situation must pay the price for their colossal failures. The military people who devised the policies that led us to the brink also have to go home and pay the price for their part in the failure. The Palestinian leadership, too, will have to face their day of reckoning and take responsibility for their failures in dividing the Palestinian people and creating an extreme fanatical leadership that set the Palestinian cause back 75 years.
The process of rebuilding and reconstruction and creating a new reality will have to be done by the people – with new leadership on both sides. Not the same people we have seen for years, but new people with a new vision. This task of rebuilding our lives will have to include our neighbors – Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, hopefully Saudi Arabia and others. It will have to be supported financially by the international community. But it is we, Israelis and Palestinians, citizens, civil society, people with new dreams and hopes, and a new vision – we are the people who have to lead the process.
Let me remind you, when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 the Lebanese villagers in the south threw rice and candies at the Israeli soldiers who liberated them. Three months later they were placing roadside bombs to kill them. No one agrees to be occupied. No one in Gaza or the West Bank or East Jerusalem will ever agree to be occupied – not yesterday, not now, and not tomorrow. Israel may reoccupy Gaza, but if it stays in Gaza, more Israeli blood will be shed, as well as Palestinian blood of Palestinian resistance.
That is why it is essential that Israel’s military cabinet have the first elements of a plan that begins with: We will not stay in Gaza. We will leave Gaza by the following date.
We must set a new course. I have begun talking to some serious strategic-thinking Israelis and Palestinians about creating a working group on this now. Only people who think strategically are capable of even imagining such a working group while we are still at war. But we all know how wars begin, and we never know how they will end. We must be prepared for an exit strategy that is substantially more than just having the army leave Gaza. We have to be prepared with the plans for the day after tomorrow when we will all be engaged in building a new and hopefully peaceful reality.