The US project for Gaza's 'day after' and conditions for peace

Al Majalla reviews the US roadmap for ending Israel's war on Gaza and puts forth a more realistic and comprehensive resolution for a lasting peace in the region.

Palestinians protest during a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on January 10, 2024.
Palestinians protest during a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on January 10, 2024.

The US project for Gaza's 'day after' and conditions for peace

Lately, the United States has been vigorously advancing its initiative for the post-war governance of Gaza. Central to this initiative is the restoration of a "renewed" Palestinian Authority in Gaza, which would train a significant number of Palestinians to assume security responsibilities.

Furthermore, the US administration seeks the backing of Arab nations in support of the Palestinian Authority's efforts in Gaza, which would entail deploying Arab forces to provide assistance until the Palestinian Authority can firmly establish its presence while also sharing the financial responsibility for the reconstruction of Gaza.

In his recent tour of Turkey and key Arab nations, which included stops in Saudi Arabia and Ramallah, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed that these countries, along with Turkey, have signalled their willingness to contribute to Gaza as long as it aligns with a political initiative aimed at realising a “two-state solution.”

To promote this project, the media positions the objectives of the United States and Israel as in conflict with one another. The former advocates for the reinstatement of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, whereas the latter wants to maintain security control there.

Three assumptions

Whether this "dispute" between the two is authentic or an attempt to make the American project seem different from the Israeli one, the foundation of the American project rests on three contentious assumptions.

The initial assumption is that Israel will be able to eliminate militant factions in Gaza, establish control, and subsequently transfer authority to the Arab-backed Palestinian Authority. However, the ongoing war in Gaza makes this scenario highly unlikely.

Palestinian militant factions are still able to launch rockets into Israeli cities and inflict substantial losses on Israeli soldiers. Meanwhile, they still have the captives.

Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from Gaza, as seen from southern Israel on January 21, 2024.

The second assumption — closely tied to the first — surmises that the war will conclude within a matter of weeks. However, several observers expect it to be a drawn-out war. Even Israeli government officials, both civilian and military, have explicitly said the war could last months — and potentially years — to eradicate armed factions fighting in Gaza completely.

The third assumption is that the war will be contained within Gaza. In practice, despite the regional countries' disinterest in widening the war, this doesn't mean it can't happen.

The Red Sea has become a volatile arena for confrontations, a facet of which was the recent military strikes initiated by both the US and UK against the Houthis.

The US has warned commercial vessels against sailing the Red Sea, and many countries are rerouting their commercial navigation around the horn of Africa instead.

The US recognises that an Israeli military victory in Gaza is highly unlikely, so it's trying to secure a political victory instead.

Meanwhile, tensions between Israel and Hezbollah are escalating, and the Israeli government — spearheaded by Defence Minister Yoav Gallant — seems to be pushing for an all-out war on Hezbollah. This is, in large part, because Israelis in northern Israel are refusing to return to their homes until the threat of Hezbollah is neutralised.

Therefore, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Gallant need to prolong the conflict as much as possible until they secure a decisive victory and restore the lost confidence of the Israeli public after the 7 October attacks. 

People watch as smoke billows over hills near the southern Lebanese village of Odaisseh on the border with Israel on January 20, 2024, during Israeli bombardment.

A political instead of a military 'win' 

The US undoubtedly understands these realities and is trying to turn the PA and Arab states' attention to Gaza to place a clear separation between Israel and the militant factions operating there.

The US understands that Israel's chances of securing a military victory in Gaza are highly unlikely, so it's trying to secure a political victory instead — even though Israel has made Gaza uninhabitable. 

To achieve this illusionary 'win' for Israel, the US needs to do two things. First, it needs to find a way for Israel to withdraw its troops from the shifting sands of Gaza, where they seem to be sinking, without giving the impression that Israel has lost the war.

To do this, they want the PA to return to Gaza under close Arab protection and distant Israeli oversight. If this can be done, it could then declare the end of the war in Gaza and avert regional escalation, which the US is keen to prevent. Washington is determined to avoid deeper involvement in the region at all costs.

An alternative approach is turning the Arab-backed PA into a force primarily tasked with safeguarding Israel's security and confronting militant Palestinian factions. This would effectively mean putting the burden on Arabs to deal with the factions that Israel doesn't want to deal with.

This option is unappealing to both the PA and the Arab states and comes with no apparent benefits for the Palestinian people. Talk of reforming the PA seems to be masking its true intent, which is to make the PA simply an arm of the Israeli state.

After two decades of General Dayton's efforts to foster a "new Palestinian" willing to accept and coexist with the occupation, it becomes evident that this undertaking is a mere illusion.

An ineffective model 

The truth is that the US, EU, Russia, and the UN have been actively supervising the reform of the Palestinian Authority since 2002, after the establishment of the International Quartet and the inauguration of its office in East Jerusalem, helmed by Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, from 2007 to 2015.

Quartet on the Middle East members, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L), US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2ndL), Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (2ndR), and EU Commissioner Catherine Ashton (R) in 2011.

While currently without a designated leader, the Quartet office has never ceased its operations in Occupied East Jerusalem.

Under the oversight of American General Keith Dayton, the International Quartet has recruited tens of thousands of Palestinians into the security apparatus. It has trained and armed them with the approval of Israel.

The Quartet has also undertaken the restructuring of the Palestinian security forces, and according to its plans, more than 35% of the Palestinian Authority's budget is now allocated to these security apparatuses.

However, after two decades of General Dayton's efforts to cultivate a "new Palestinian" willing to accept and coexist with the occupation, it's clear that this undertaking is not realistic. The PA failed to live up to the role envisioned by the US and Israel, specifically in its inability to eradicate militant Palestinian factions in the Occupied West Bank.

Today, it is widely recognised that Israel deploys its military forces in the West Bank, carrying out daily incursions into villages, camps, and Palestinian cities, directly confronting militant factions. Since 7 October, Israel has killed more than 370 Palestinians in the West Bank.

The PA army is neither equipped nor capable of protecting Palestinians from these Israeli incursions. It also cannot ensure Israel's security without drawing comparisons with Antoine Lahad's army in Lebanon among its own people.

In summary, what the US is currently pursuing has already been tried and tested and has not worked. This method has only enabled Israel to build more settlements in the Occupied West Bank, establishing facts on the ground that make a two-state solution practically impossible.

The US proposition, which prioritises normalisation and security over Palestinian statehood, appears to be unsellable.

Talk of corruption in the PA and revision of school curricula is riddled with misconceptions. Corruption emerges as a natural consequence of a security-focused authority deprived of a political vision, which is the very rationale for its existence.

The educational curriculum has been revamped under the careful oversight and scrutiny of the EU. But it's illogical to think that any curriculum can convince Palestinians to love those who harm them and their children, demolish their homes and seize their lands. These fantasies may be found in Hollywood but have no basis in reality. 

Going back to the central theme of this article, the scale of the Israeli occupation's ongoing crimes in Gaza is unprecedented, and words cannot truly convey the horrors Palestinians are experiencing there.

This aggression rivals, if not surpasses, the 1948 Nakba or 'catastrophe' that befell the Palestinians upon Israel's creation, both in terms of death toll and devastation. 

A Palestinian man reacts as he holds the remains of his mother wrapped in a blanket amid the rubble of a building destroyed in an Israeli strike on the Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on November 2, 2023.

Read more: Israel's war on Gaza: 100 days of death and destruction

An unsellable proposal

The proposal put forth by the US administration — as articulated by Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor, and Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State — seems to be a difficult idea to sell.

Their argument centres on the idea that normalisation and security for Israel must precede any peace process aimed at creating a Palestinian state.

From their standpoint, prioritising normalisation and security comes before engaging in a peace process that might stretch indefinitely, much like the Oslo Accords, which has resulted in six wars in the past 15 years alone.

Read more: 30 years after Oslo, Palestinian state elusive as ever

This prioritisation reveals an apparent inability to recognise that the entire region is on the verge of explosion.

Presently, the risks of the conflict expanding to the Red Sea, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon are substantial. The implications of such an expansion imply that no entity in the region will remain immune to the far-reaching repercussions.

The status quo has become untenable, and the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is now deemed crucial to the security of the entire region, a stance consistently emphasised by Saudi Arabia.

This unjust war has underscored Israel's inability to engage in multi-front conflicts, highlighting its ongoing need for US and Western protection.

Consequently, maintaining the status quo has become untenable, and the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is now deemed a crucial imperative for the security of the entire region — a stance consistently emphasised by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Asking Arabs to embrace the American agenda is to ask them to put US national interests — and even Biden's reelection bid — before their own interests. Biden is still determined to win the US election, even if it comes at the expense of the Palestinians and Arabs.

Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to the UK, Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan, addressed US proposals in a recent interview with the BBC on 9 January.

"Saying we are closer to normalisation with Israel signifies that we are closer to the establishment of a Palestinian state," he said.

Prince Khalid emphasised that Saudi Arabia "cannot coexist with Israel without the establishment of an independent Palestinian state," underscoring that "the interests of the Palestinians hold paramount importance for the Kingdom."

Read more: Saudi Crown Prince: Palestinian issue is very important

Arabs will not serve as a bridge for the liquidation of the Palestinian issue; instead, they will steadfastly stand by the side of the Palestinian people.

Conditions for peace

Therefore, based on the views expressed by the author of this article, who speaks solely for himself, a plausible roadmap towards comprehensive de-escalation and defusing the volatile situation should incorporate provisions akin to the following:

1. Israel and the United States should accept to deal with a national unity government elected freely by the Palestinian people and mutually agreed upon by its diverse factions.

2. The Palestinian national unity government and Israel should agree to a three-year ceasefire in both Gaza and the West Bank.

3. The Palestinian national unity government should administer Gaza and the West Bank under a comprehensive political project aimed at ending the occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state. 

4. The US should declare its recognition of the independent Palestinian state within the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1967.

5. The UN Security Council should pass a resolution recognising a Palestinian state within the borders preceding 4 June 1967. This resolution should include a stipulation for Israel to cease settlement activities and establish a framework for negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

6.  The negotiation framework should have a stipulated time limit of no more than three years and incorporate a reference to the International Court of Justice for dispute resolution in case the parties fail to resolve issues independently.

Israeli police officers monitor Palestinians performing Friday prayers outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Occupied East Jerusalem on January 19.

7. The negotiated agenda must include discussions on the future of existing settlements in the Occupied West Bank, including Occupied East Jerusalem, the issue of Palestinian refugees, and the security assurances sought by Israel.

8. Arab and other Islamic nations should agree to support the Palestinian state in implementing the agreed-upon security guarantees.

9. Mutual recognition of Israel and the establishment of diplomatic relations, including the exchange of ambassadors.

10. This initiative, based on fundamental principles that protect the rights of both the Arab and Palestinian parties, should remain cohesive and intact. It should be embraced in its entirety and ensure that the necessary steps are taken in the correct order, with priorities properly aligned, and not the other way around.

As a goodwill gesture from the other party, particularly Saudi Arabia, it should be ready to establish limited trade relations with Israel soon after the United States officially recognises the Palestinian state within the 4 June 1967 borders and the issuance of a UN Security Council resolution defining the negotiation framework and its set timeline.

This is conditional on Israel's acknowledgement and the immediate exchange of ambassadors upon the establishment of the independent Palestinian state.

If the US and Israel genuinely seek the path of peace, then this is how to get there. However, if they opt for continued occupation, settlement expansion, and the perpetuation of war crimes in Gaza and the West Bank, they must bear sole responsibility for that choice.

Arabs will not serve as a bridge for the liquidation of the Palestinian issue; instead, they will steadfastly stand by the side of the Palestinian people enduring occupation, supporting their historical rights that are recognised by the entire world but denied by Israel.

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