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How Israel could use Gaza War to achieve peace with Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians

Palestinians at a temporary tent camp set up for evacuees from Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on January 30, 2024. (Photo: Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

Part 1: The Day Before and the Day After - How Israel could use the Gaza War to expand the Abraham Accords

Part 2 - The Explanation 

In this article, I attempt to explain some of the reasoning behind the points proposed in my first article. While I have encountered some of these ideas in readings and discussions with others, I have not seen them put together as a consistent proposal for how Israel could turn the Oct. 7 invasion into a means of expanding and strengthening the Abraham Accords. 

Some of the ideas presented here will not be palatable to the broader Israeli public, incensed over the brutality of the atrocities and the visible support they received among much of the Palestinian population. 

Without ignoring that outrage, I suggest how the Israeli government could move forward, and take away some of the recurrent conditions that enable such hatred to be propagated and perpetuated among Palestinians.

The subject of the day after the war in Gaza is still very much under discussion and debate, both internationally and within Israel. 

The controversy over the recent conference in Jerusalem, "Settlements Bring Security and Victory," which called for the creation of Jewish settlements in Gaza after the war, indicates how complicated the issue is even within Israel. The conference was attended by several ministers and coalition Members of Knesset.

Despite differences of opinion with Western nations like the United States, Israel still has good options for how to proceed after the war. However, first Israel has to finish the war; and do so in such a way that would be able to actively plan for 'the day after' in Gaza, without the Hamas terror organization at the helm.

However, given the complexity of urban warfare in Gaza, because Hamas has embedded and enmeshed its terror infrastructure into the civilian infrastructure of Gaza, planning must begin sooner, with several concrete steps taken before the war even ends. 

Hamas has designed its strategy around the civilians of Gaza suffering from any Israeli incursion disproportionately, using them as human shields, and using civilian casualties to provoke outrage toward Israel. The question is: How can Israel mitigate civilian casualties without displacing the civilian population and without hindering the IDF's operational freedom to fight Hamas?

In my policy proposal, I argued that Israel must do two things I did not see in any other proposals. First, Israel must demonstrate the inaccuracy of the genocide accusation by actively taking care of the needs of Gaza civilians, creating a safe humanitarian zone until rebuilding can begin. This is why I suggested that Israel construct two tent cities, one in the northern Gaza Strip, and one in the Negev across the border from the southern Gaza Strip. 

Supplies and funding for this extensive outlay could come from Arab nations with normalized relations with Israel, as well as those that have expressed interest in ties with Israel, such as Saudi Arabia, and Western nations that have been supportive of Israel. 

But part of the reason for doing this is not only to demonstrate humanitarian sentiment. In private conversations with Israeli soldiers operating in Gaza, I have repeatedly heard the same testimony, that almost every building in Gaza has a weapons stash or a tunnel. Hamas has so thoroughly embedded its terror infrastructure in Gaza, that we can assume the only way to destroy that infrastructure will be to raze at least 80% of Gaza. 

It’s a frightening thought. However, if Israel demonstrates its willingness to keep the Gaza residents safely “in place,” by housing them and providing for them in tent cities adjacent to the communities they evacuated, it will demonstrate that it is pursuing a just goal of eliminating Hamas, without attempting to drive the Palestinians out of their territory. 

I assume that Jordan, despite its tense relations with Israel over the last few years, could share its expertise, following the establishment of tent cities to handle the massive influx of refugees fleeing ISIS from Iraq and Syria. 

Those same conversations have led me to believe Israel will have a difficult time eliminating Hamas leaders in Gaza. I believe Israel should try to turn the members of Hamas against each other by offering a larger bounty on the heads of leaders like Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif.

While such policies have had limited effectiveness against certain ideologically motivated groups, providing a guarantee of immunity for past terror activity, in addition to a substantial monetary award for information leading to their capture, may convince a lower-level Hamas officer to turn against those leaders, especially as the IDF’s activity in the southern Gaza Strip intensifies. 

One related idea is that deputy Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders could be offered voluntary exile, with immunity from prosecution, to a country willing to receive them, such as Algeria or Tunisia, provided that they also renounce the “Palestinian struggle.” A return to terror activity of any kind would negate the immunity and consequently make them immediate targets of Israeli security forces. 

The question still remains: Who will govern Gaza after the war?

Israeli officials have recently pushed back strongly against the proposal of U.S. President Joe Biden's administration to have the Palestinian Authority take over governance of the Gaza Strip after the war ends. 

Biden published an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on Nov. 18, in which he wrote: “A two-state solution is the only way to ensure the long-term security of both the Israeli and Palestinian people.”

The American president also wrote: “Gaza and the West Bank should be reunited under a single governance structure, ultimately under a revitalized Palestinian Authority.” 

This view is consistent with Biden and early Obama administration policy, which continues to view the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a legitimate governing body in the Palestinian Territories. 

However, it ignores years of open disdain for the PA by average Palestinians and perpetuates the mistakes of previous U.S. administrations in supporting corrupt and inefficient leadership in Arab regions. 

Israel has broadly rejected the idea of including the PA in the future governance of Gaza. The day after Biden’s opinion piece was published, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded that the idea was unacceptable

In a press briefing, Netanyahu said, “It is impossible to put in Gaza an authority that supports terror, abets terror and pays terrorists.” 

During another press briefing on Dec. 2, the prime minister restated his unwillingness to accept PA rule in Gaza. 

One of the major sticking points for Israelis is the PA’s policy of paying terrorists and their families for the murder of Israeli citizens. The policy is often referred to as “pay-to-slay.” 

As a result of that policy, and the 2018 Taylor Force Act, passed by the U.S. Congress, former U.S. President Donald Trump significantly reduced U.S. funding to the PA through the USAID program and also stopped funding UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. 

The Biden administration has not enforced the Taylor Force Act, despite it being U.S. law. It also resumed funding of UNRWA, with disastrous results, as has recently been revealed.

One of Netanyahu’s political enemies, opposition leader Yair Lapid, has even begun to shift his stance from accepting the PA to demanding it first be reformed. 

In early December, Lapid agreed the PA should “be part of the civilian management of Gaza,” but said the organization “needs to go through a de-radicalization process," and reaffirmed this assessment in his policy proposal.

Even Biden's administration seems to recognize the problematic issues with the PA. U.S. National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby told ABC News: “Whatever governance looks like in Gaza, it has to be responsive to the aspirations of the Palestinian people and right now the Palestinian Authority doesn’t have that credibility.” 

The PA's lack of credibility is nothing new. A poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip between Sept. 7-9, 2023, found that 78% of Palestinians in the Palestinian Territories believe PA President Mahmoud Abbas should resign. 

I would agree that the PA, in its present form, is not a reliable option for Palestinian governance. 

Despite recent movements in the Arab world to initiate reforms within the PA, it is not likely the necessary changes to the notoriously corrupt organization could happen in time to assume governance in Gaza. 

For that reason, I have adopted the position that Israel treats Gaza independently following the war and that the Arab peace partners, led by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, use Gaza as a testbed for the ability to create a de-radicalized Palestinian government, following the federation model of the United Arab Emirates. 

This way Israel can not only help ensure a stable, prosperous situation in Gaza, one that isn’t dependent on handouts from Western nations, donations from Hamas supporters like Qatar and Turkey, or often illegitimate Islamic charities. 

At the same time, this proposal encourages the involvement and even the support of Muslim nations such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt. It makes them partners in ending both the oppressive, corrupt Hamas government and the beginning of a Palestinian system of self-government. A government based not on hatred of Israel and the Jews and dreams of their removal, but on acceptance of the reality of both peoples living together. 

I include Saudi Arabia prominently in this list because the Saudi government has been increasingly vocal about its desire for normalization with Israel while maintaining an insistence that such normalization includes a path toward Palestinian statehood. In a sense, the project of rebuilding Gaza and creating a deradicalized society there, similar to that in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, provides the ideal situation where the two countries, Israel and Saudi, are cooperating on a wide range of mutually beneficial developments. I also assume that such work could lead to joint security projects, originally stemming from Gaza, but allowing the two to develop further security cooperation that would guard against Iranian regional aggression. 

I argue, as others have done, that a joint Israeli-Saudi security pact would help alleviate US concerns in the area and allow it to more narrowly focus on other issues. It also provides the framework for Saudi Arabia and Israel to handle more of their own regional security interests without the direct involvement of the US, should the US drastically change its footprint or involvement in the region. 

For those who suggest that Israel would not accept rebuilding Gaza after what happened, I would only point out that the US helped to rebuild its two primary enemies following World War II, Germany and Japan. Both nations grew to become partners in the spread of democratic ideals after they gave up murderous, and even genocidal ideologies centered around racist systems of thought. 

J. Micah Hancock is a current Master’s student at the Hebrew University, pursuing a degree in Jewish History. Previously, he studied Biblical studies and journalism in his B.A. in the United States. He joined All Israel News as a reporter in 2022, and currently lives near Jerusalem with his wife and children.

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