Home inFocus The War of Independence 2.0 (Spring 2024) Gaza – A Modest Proposal for The Day After

Gaza – A Modest Proposal for The Day After

Ariel Cohen and Rena Cohen Spring 2024
Palestinians inspect the remains of a house was targeted in an Israeli air strike, in Sheikh Radwan area north of Gaza City. (Photo: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan)

“For now, we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face…” – 1 Corinthians 13:12

Politics, foreign and domestic, are based on interests – nothing new here. However, when the time horizon for calculating national interests collapses, such as under the pressure of impending presidential elections, decisions can be locked in with catastrophic consequences for the decades ahead.

As documented by Walter Russell Mead in Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People, America’s willingness to stand with Israel primarily turns on US national interests, domestic politics, and presidential political agendas.

When it comes to the Israel-Hamas war, the United States is weaving like a drunken sailor, embracing its ally one moment and slapping it the next. This not only endangers the staunchest US ally in the Middle East, it undermines the trust of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Frontline NATO members, from Finland to Romania, and Indo-Pacific allies, including India, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Taiwan are watching anxiously.

Can Foreign Policy Be Local?

President Biden had voiced early support of Israel’s right to self-defense in the wake of Hamas killings, rapes, and kidnappings on October 7. October 8 saw the start of an onslaught of pro-Hamas demonstrations on “woke” college campuses and in city squares of deep blue states. These were joined by large crowds in several European capitals, echoed by anti-Israel and often blatantly anti-Jewish voices on social media. Even some in the Washington bureaucracy came out against Biden’s initial pro-Israel stance.

At first, the White House met these pressure tactics with a show of integrity and determination. However, Michigan is a key swing state, and Biden continues to do poorly in national polls. Threats like Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s (D-MI) call to vote “uncommitted” in the primaries were hitting home.

By mid-February, the US was pushing for UN support of a “temporary ceasefire” in Gaza that would oppose an assault on Rafah, the last Hamas stronghold in the Strip, thus basically seeking to hinder Israel from actually winning its defensive war.

Mantras Galore

In politics, a leadership decision often morphs into a mantra. Under the pressure of time and perceived threats or political opportunities, common sense and caveats get stripped away, resulting in a mess. For example, “Get out of Afghanistan.” That worked terribly – for the Afghans and also for America’s international standing.

The recent appearance of mantras concerning “Gaza – the Day After” must be examined before failures to think clearly and thoroughly lead to proxy victories for Tehran and produce further suffering, terrorism, and death.

With Friends Like These …

On January 31, Secretary of State Antony Blinken instructed the State Department to prepare a report on the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state following the cessation of hostilities in Gaza.

On February 1, Britain’s top diplomat, Lord David Cameron (the architect of Brexit – how did that work out?) said that his country could officially recognize a Palestinian state after a cease-fire without waiting for Israeli consent. It is hard to believe that Britain would make such a move without consultations with Washington. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand followed suit, calling for an immediate ceasefire days before Israel announced its intent to enter Rafah in pursuit of murderous Hamas Gaza leaders Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif.

In the meantime, signals are being sent via the news media (and undoubtedly other channels) that Israel’s time to conduct this campaign has run out. Fevered reports of Israeli “violations” of international law and the law of armed conflict, mostly unfounded and/or unconfirmed, inundate the left-leaning global media. US electoral politics may be dictating the timetable of this self-defense campaign.

Certainly, Saudi Arabia appears to have gotten the memo from Washington. On February 8, the Saudis hosted a consultative meeting with high-level representatives from Qatar, the UAE, Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Results:

  • Demand for an immediate cease-fire.
  • Support for “irreversible steps” toward a two-state solution.
    •  Before October 7, Saudi Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman had stopped pressing for this as a prerequisite to normalizing ties with Israel.
    • Returning to the 1967 borders would mean evacuation of Jerusalem’s Old City, the Temple Mount, and the Western Wall; all of East Jerusalem, including French Hill and the Hebrew University’s Mt. Scopus campus; and large settlement blocs, including the Jordan Valley, Ariel, and Gush Etzion.
  • Support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA). To put this in context, the UN typically classifies refugees as those displaced in the first generation. UNWRA, however, classifies all Palestinians, even citizens of other countries, as refugees. If that were not enough to discredit this bloated bureaucracy, Israel presented convincing evidence that UNWRA staff were directly involved in the October 7 attacks; there have been numerous discoveries of Hamas arms caches in UNWRA schools and classrooms; and a Hamas command center was discovered directly under the UNWRA headquarters in Gaza.
  • Pressure against Israel going into Rafah, where there is some chance of finding the remaining Israeli hostages in the hands of Hamas and Hamas supporters (those who did not succumb due to insufficient food, rape, torture, and death threats).

Everyone seems to be singing off the same song sheet. Tehran, Moscow, Beijing, and Istanbul are all prepared to make their moves, as are jihadists everywhere. On February 16, with the world reeling from the news that Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny had “suddenly died” in the Siberian Arctic prison camp where he’d been frozen, starved, and kept in solitary confinement, Vladimir Putin invited Hamas and Hezbollah leaders for talks in Moscow.

“Good” and “Bad” Results

“There Will Be Consequences” Aunt Lydia, TV series A Handmaid’s Tale, based on the novel by Margaret Atwood

Foreign policy and strategy questions must be regularly re-examined given national interests. So why on earth should the United States press for premature Palestinian statehood in the wake of October 7? This would hand jihadi terrorism a prize. Torture, maim, and kill, and you get what you want. Moreover, such a state would become “the base of holy war” against Israel, or in Arabic, “Al Qaeda al-Jihad.” Sound familiar?

One would hope that history has taught both the United States and the Saudis that terrorism is not a tiger one can either disregard or ride – ultimately, it bites. Hard.

Declaring a Palestinian state now would play directly into the late Yasser Arafat’s so-called “multi-stage solution,” pushing Israel for concessions, repeatedly attacking, while every effort is made to isolate the Jewish state on the international scene.

Let’s also note that neither the United States (nor the “deeply concerned” international community) moved to establish temporary shelter outside Gaza for fleeing civilians, which Israel called for at the outset of the war.

To make real peace, a path to Palestinian permanent status must be prepared, so that a hastily arranged “state” doesn’t simply trigger yet more bloodshed regionally – and on the global scene.

An Alternative Proposal

For decades, the world has obsessed about Palestinian “rights,” including the “need” for a Palestinian state. However, when routine policies and frameworks fail to solve a problem, it is time to think outside the box. Clearly, the existing diplomatic toolbox lacks the necessary tools to solve this crisis.

Past performance is predictive of future results. Any solution to the problems of Israeli security, Gaza, and the Palestinians must consider repeated Palestinian refusals to accept proposals for self-rule and statehood. The Peel Commission (1937), the 1947 UN Partition Plan, the 1993 Oslo Accords, the 2000 Camp David II proposal, the 2001 Taba talks, and the 2008 Olmert Peace Plan – Palestinian leaders rejected them all. They have also rejected all Israeli attempts for mutual recognition and peace, instead clinging to the dream of destroying Israel. They have also failed to demonstrate any ability for successful governance or economic development.

In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza. After an election in which Hamas won a legislative majority and violently wrested control from its rival, Fatah, rocket fire and shelling from Gaza continued to rain on Israeli towns and cities. No sane government, no sane country, would tolerate repeated violations of its security.

The hollow arguments about whether a Palestinian state should be created now should stop in favor of finding a path forward. This must include:

  • Recognizing the right of Israel to security and territorial integrity as the Jewish state.
  • Demilitarizing all territories run by Palestinians.
  • Changing K-12 and college curricula in Arab/Palestinian schools to include recognition of Israel, disavowing “armed struggle,” abandoning the “right of return,” ending delegitimization and anti-Zionist propaganda in Arabic and other languages, and renouncing BDS.
  • Cease abusing mosques and Islam by glorifying Jew-hatred and terror in sermons and using mosques for weapons storage and terror.
  • A commitment from Palestinian Arab organizations to cut all contact with Iran’s “Axis of Resistance.”
  • Ending all claims for the return of 1948 refugees and their descendants to Israel. The 1948-49 Israeli War of Independence led to a population exchange – some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs and 850,00 Jews from Arab lands were displaced. The time has come to end multi-generational inherited “refugee” status, declaring all claims for abandoned properties null and void.
  • Provision of relocation assistance and citizenship for Arab refugees and their descendants. It is time for neighboring Arab countries to grant citizenship to Palestinians within their borders.
  • Disband UNRWA. Riddled with political/economic corruption, it has done tremendous damage to the people it claims to serve. Transfer all relief activities to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
  • Without enforceable commitments, any progress on a pathway to Palestinian autonomy, let alone statehood, will only contradict US and Israeli national interests and fuel future hostilities.

As a prerequisite to any claim to statehood in Gaza, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad must be eradicated, their leadership neutralized or allowed to relocate, ceasing all terror operations. The brutal Iranian regime wreaks violence through proxies such as Hamas, the Houthis, and Hezbollah in a relentless bid for regional hegemony. It is time for Israel, the US, and the West to hand the mullahs a resounding loss – anything less will only encourage Iran’s very dangerous ambitions.

A new generation of Arabs must be educated for peace. Without this, terror will be perpetrated by the extant Palestinian leadership, be it nationalists in Ramallah or jihadis in Gaza and Doha.

Develop Gaza’s Economy

Contingent upon a Palestinian commitment to peace, a Gaza Reconstruction Authority (GRA) should be set up soon after active fighting with Hamas in Gaza ceases as a “coalition of the willing” to include UAE, Saudi, and Egyptian membership, with Israel, the EU, and the US participating. The GRA should first clean up and reconstruct Gaza and then work on turning it into a thriving hub of business, commerce, and tourism.

Whenever feasible, the Gazans should be employed in rebuilding efforts. After years of aid that turned into terror tunnels and schools teaching children jihad and martyrdom, Gazans should instead have jobs that restore self-respect, self-reliance, and an interest in preserving what they have built.

Immediately after hostilities cease, Israel must take a medium-term security role in Gaza, with help from Arab elements not involved with any terrorist organizations. After about two years, security responsibilities should be transferred to a Gaza Peace Force (GPF) headed by UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia representatives. Israel should negotiate conditions for this transfer of authority, which must involve firm commitments that terrorist groups and the teaching of terrorism via mosques or schools will not be allowed to return. Israel should reserve the right to re-enter Gaza to root out terror if there is any evidence of re-emergence.

Businesses built in Gaza could include:

  • A port and an airport, developed and managed by Dubai Ports and the UAE airport authority
  • An oil port to serve as the Mediterranean terminal for a new Saudi-owned and administered pipeline crossing the Gulf of Aqaba and running parallel to the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline
  • Light industries, such as electronic assembly, textiles, and footwear
  • High tech
  • Education
  • Medical services
  • Agriculture and food processing
  • Tourism

Freed from the twin plagues of hatred and terrorism, with its location and climate, Gaza could attract significant reconstruction funds and provide jobs. The enclave could be transformed from a welfare-supported hell of terror tunnels, oppression, and cruelty to a viable going concern.

This is a unique chance for the Arab world, the West, and the rest to turn the tide on terrorism. Billions of dollars must be raised and allocated over 7-10 years, with stringent international auditing to supervise bidding processes and disbursements, rendering the flow of funds transparent.

If this chance is lost, the scourge of radical Islamism will spill beyond the borders of the Middle East and attack the West and the rest.

Israelis and Arabs can jointly create peace and prosperity, but attempts to refight 1948 must end, and all must accept that the future lies in coexistence, not in trying to destroy Israel.

An unflinching commitment to fighting jihadism, opposing the Iranian dictatorship, securing Israel’s multi-ethnic democracy, and holding to hope for a better day is the only way to resolve the Gaza post-war conundrum.

Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is a nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, Managing Director of the Energy, Growth and Security Program at the International Tax and Investment Center, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Rena Cohen is the founder of the Books for Israel Project, a volunteer effort that provides English-language books for low-income Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze schools in Israel.