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Jeremy Issacharoff
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Ultimately, victory rests on compromise with the Palestinians

Rebuffing the Iranian threat and rebuilding Gaza will require strong alliances with the US and moderate Arab partners

Since October 7, Israelis have been contending with the trauma of Hamas savagery, its cynical refusal to release all the hostages abducted to Gaza and reports of IDF soldiers being killed or wounded. It is essential to destroy the ability of Hamas to govern or function, but the deeper implications of this war go far beyond the emotional and operational dimensions of Gaza and there are broader strategic questions that must be addressed well before we reach the ‘day after’ this conflict.  At this time, Israel cannot limit its thinking to military actions alone, but must urgently adopt clearer policies regarding all aspects of the overall national security predicament now facing the country.

Israel is already in an operational multi-front military theater, including Gaza, the West Bank, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iranian involvement in Syria, Houthi attacks from Yemen, and not least, the ongoing Iranian nuclear program. These are considerable military threats orchestrated by Iran that demand a series of immediate policy and diplomatic responses, in parallel to the fighting in Gaza and before Israel has been able to consider fully the deeper national security implications of October 7. While the problem is rooted in the Palestinian dilemma facing Israel, it does not end there.

The present Israeli government and its predecessors over the years, have not adopted a clear and coherent policy to resolve the Palestinian problem in the belief that the conflict could be managed and contained. This belief has now been shattered by the most brutal terrorist attack against Israel in its history. The attack by Hamas on October 7 was also intended to destroy any chance of reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians, undermine the Palestinian Authority and prevent any expansion of normalization in the region between Israel and Saudi Arabia. If we now relate to all Palestinians as being Hamas supporters and reject any Palestinian control over the territories in Gaza or the West Bank (not “Hamastan or Fatahstan,” as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put it), this will guarantee the continuation of the occupation, fulfill the Hamas objective, and deny moderate Palestinians any incentive in reaching a political compromise with Israel. In short, Hamas will achieve its goals.

The Palestinian Authority is indeed weak and needs reform and the chances of a two-state solution at present offer little hope. There is however no alternative approach that will resolve a conflict between two peoples and enable Israel to remain a democratic state with a Jewish majority. Even if a Palestinian state is not immediately feasible, the PA can provide the basis for an ongoing political process that can eventually reach understandings and mutual commitments closer to that goal. It would also provide an important signal to our friends and allies that we are not undermining this objective.

Crucially, any political solution with the Palestinians after the Gaza war must incorporate substantial political, governmental, logistical, and financial support from moderate Arab states that have embraced the rationale of the Abraham Accords. The Accords can be sustained and expanded but this will require an ongoing parallel process to resolve the Palestinian problem.

A Palestinian-Israeli process that includes recognition of respective national aspirations, building governmental institutions in the territories, developing an equitable economic infrastructure, and providing comprehensive health and educational facilities while ensuring Israel’s legitimate security concerns, is the path to a workable political solution of coexistence in the region with the Palestinians and our Arab neighbors. This would be the ultimate defeat of Hamas.

For now, the Israeli government and the Biden Administration do not have a joint vision for a viable Palestinian solution. Israel also disagrees with its partners to the Abraham Accords (present and potential) in this respect. Any possible coalition in the region including Saudi Arabia would require a serious ongoing process leading to a two-state solution, particularly after the defeat of Hamas. This could also significantly countervail the expansion of Iran’s subversion and influence through its axis of terror and will remain a vital component of regional security.

It would be a profound mistake to ignore or misinterpret President Biden’s personal commitment to a two-state solution. Israeli actions that make this solution even more remote could seriously harm the immense aid and assistance we receive from America and prevent a broader coalition to ensure our joint strategic goals, particularly with respect to Iran and its axis of terror. Israel’s strategic partnership with America is no less important than finding a reasonable paradigm for living alongside the Palestinians.

A policy realignment by Israel with America and moderate Arab states could provide an essential basis for a coalition to deal with the immense challenge of restructuring Gaza, creating a partnership with a moderate Palestinian leadership, formulating a broader response to Hezbollah in the north, reversing Iranian involvement in Syria, neutralizing the Houthi threat in the Red Sea, and rolling back the Iranian nuclear program. These are substantial regional threats that equally endanger moderate Arab neighbors and American interests. These challenges do not and should not rest on Israeli shoulders alone.

The strategic threat that Iran posed before 7 October has increased and the Iranian nuclear program has never been as advanced as it is now. Iran’s higher levels of enriched uranium place it closer to acquiring a military nuclear option in a much shorter timeframe. Urgent international efforts are therefore needed to deter Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold, proliferating more missiles and drones and manipulating its proxies in the region. Iran’s efforts are part of an overall strategy that will work against any moderation and stability in the region.

President Biden said during his visit to Israel soon after October 7, that “while you feel that rage do not be consumed by it.” In the final analysis, Israeli anger will not vanish anytime soon, but Israel must now take some clear decisions regarding next steps with the Palestinians in the context of broader regional threats. It could be crucial in consolidating American and European support in defeating Hamas in a reasonable operational timeline. It could also provide a political horizon to help forge a viable Israeli Palestinian process to underwrite the regional coalition needed to address the evolving humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of October 7. This could be the opportunity this crisis needs.

About the Author
Jeremy Issacharoff is the former ambassador of Israel to Germany and was previously the Vice Director-General of the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.
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