Palestinians living in different parts of Rafah collected their tents with the belongings they could take with them and migrate to safe areas in Gaza on May 08, 2024

Jehad Alshrafi/Anadolu via Getty Images

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After Gaza

A Tablet roundtable about the challenges facing Israel in Gaza, Lebanon, and Washington, with Elliott Abrams, Jeremy Ben-Ami, Amiad Cohen, Michael Doran, Jon Greenwald, and Lee Smith

Tony Badran
May 09, 2024
Palestinians living in different parts of Rafah collected their tents with the belongings they could take with them and migrate to safe areas in Gaza on May 08, 2024

Jehad Alshrafi/Anadolu via Getty Images

Israel had barely begun its military operation in Gaza, after Hamas slaughtered 1,200 people and kidnapped 240 more, when the Biden administration began talking about what would need to happen the day after the war was over. “There has to be a vision of what comes next,” President Biden said on Oct. 25, 2023.

Subsequently, the term “the Day After” was everywhere. In part, it was a device used to cast doubt on the Israeli military operation altogether, presenting it as an emotional response born of trauma and driven by a desire for vengeance—base instincts that can be tolerated only for so long. Sure, smashing things might bring immediate, short-term gratification, but what’s the plan for “the Day After”?

Administration officials leaked how they were “frustrated by Netanyahu’s unwillingness to seriously discuss plans for the day after.” What comes next, the president said on Oct. 25, “has to be a two-state solution.” That is, once Israel got its quest for blood out of its system, it needed to sit down and get with the plan—the underlying assumption being that Israel is responsible for (or at least capable of meaningfully shaping) Palestinian behavior. Clearly, the problem with Israel’s pre-Oct. 7 policy toward Gaza was that Benjamin Netanyahu needed to let more Qatari money and Iranian weapons into the Strip. Only by granting Hamas a state with full control over its borders and diplomatic relations with the European Union could future large terror attacks be prevented.

Needless to say, there is something completely insane about holding the victims of a horrific large-scale murder rampage responsible for the future happiness of their attackers. On the other hand, surely you don’t want this to happen again, do you?

To flesh out what could or should come next for Israel and the Palestinians, I have asked a group of accomplished colleagues to weigh in on some questions. Each one of these experts brings important perspectives. I think you’ll find their views, as well as their disagreements, illuminating.

Elliott Abrams, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the chairman of the Vandenberg Coalition

Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder and president of J Street

Amiad Cohen, CEO of Herut Center and publisher of the Hebrew-language intellectual journal Hashiloach

Michael Doran, director of the Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East and senior fellow at Hudson Institute

Jon Greenwald, former vice president of the International Crisis Group who also served for 30 years as an American diplomat

Lee Smith, author and regular Tablet contributor

Tony Badran: What should “the Day After” look like in Gaza? What do you think it will actually look like?

Elliott Abrams: A group mostly consisting of former colleagues from the George W. Bush administration, myself included, has published a report called “The Day After: A Plan for Gaza.” We call for an International Trust for Gaza Relief and Reconstruction. The trust would be led by countries committed to a peaceful, demilitarized, deradicalized Gaza, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. It would marshal relief and reconstruction funds; coordinate with Gazans in the diaspora and in Gaza who can help the common goals; work with Israel; and work with nations, international organizations, and NGOs committed to the same goals.

Security is perhaps the toughest problem in postwar Gaza. We suggest a combination of efforts: some existing, vetted non-Hamas Gaza police personnel; new police trained by the United States at our Jordan International Police Training Center; forces from Arab countries that are establishing refugee camps, tent cities, or the like in Gaza and might be willing to protect what they’re building; and private security companies to protect food convoys, warehouses, housing areas, and other important locations. It may also be possible to give local civic and business groups or clans some security responsibilities if they have or can create the capacity to keep the peace locally.

Hamas and Iran will continue to foment and undertake acts of terrorism in Gaza to the extent they can, and Israel will need to be able to enter Gaza whenever required to fight terrorism and destroy Hamas remnants.

Now, is all of this likely? It’s conceivable, but continuing Hamas terrorism and criminal violence, continuing IDF activity, and a shortage of nations willing to help in any serious way suggest that it is not a good bet. It would help enormously if the United States marshaled the positive forces, but that will be a largely thankless and very difficult task. If I were betting, I’d place my wager on chaos, hardship, controversy, and a long struggle against the terrorist remnants of Hamas.

Jeremy Ben-Ami: Like all wars, the horrific Israel-Hamas conflict will end. Like many, it will probably not be with a surrender or peace agreement between the combatants. It is nearly certain that the aggressor, Hamas, will have lost its governmental capacity in Gaza but will likely be alive and well as a political and insurgent force.

Understanding the 2023 to 2024 Gaza tragedy demands placing it in the context of a century of a larger, often-violent dispute between Jews and Palestinians. The massacres committed by Hamas on Oct. 7, the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza resulting from the war’s subsequent conduct, the looming threat of new regional fronts, the disruption in the United States and Europe of civil relationships and domestic political loyalties—including the abhorrent rise of antisemitism and Islamophobia—make clear that minimalist efforts to achieve Middle East security by working around the Palestinian question have failed.

President Biden began the search for a more ambitious approach shortly after Oct. 7 while underscoring his support for a path forward that would ultimately provide for an independent Palestinian state beside Israel. But more is needed.

Ideally, by the time the fighting ends, the U.N. Security Council and/or the Arab League will have supplemented that initiative with implementation parameters; the Palestinian Authority (PA) will have made progress on reforms needed to reclaim its legitimacy; and a coalition will have been formed of states prepared to do heavy lifting in Gaza. That coalition will need to promptly take on administrative and security responsibilities, invite the PA to move relatively quickly into Gaza, support it as it gradually assumes more responsibility there, and commit to a Marshall Plan-like effort to rebuild Gaza, invest in the West Bank, and assist reconstruction of Israel’s damaged southern and northern border areas. Regional Arab states should be persuaded to form the coalition’s core for Gaza management, while the United States and Europe should join them in the Marshall Plan-like exercise.

Unfortunately, the Biden administration is already stretched dealing with immediate issues, which suggests that key elements may not be ready when the shooting dies down.

If so, there is a risk that important matters such as administrative responsibility for Gaza; PA preparations; international parameters; and, above all, structuring the environment so as to minimize Israeli interest in retaining close responsibility for Gaza and maximize incentives to choose engagement with the international community on the way forward will be handled day-to-day and ad hoc. This would make it more likely that cautious crisis management, not bold resolution, will predominate.

Michael Doran: The day after what? Obviously, we are discussing the day after the war ends, but what exactly is the nature of this war? Who are the belligerents? What are they fighting over? What constitutes victory? And how will we ever know that the conflict has ended and that, indeed, we have arrived at “the Day After”?

These questions don’t have clear-cut answers. From the outset, the Biden administration has presented the conflict as a Palestinian-Israeli war, but that framing is objectively false. Because Iran and its proxies are clearly a party to this war, one might be tempted to say it is an Iranian-Israeli war. Tehran-backed forces, however, have repeatedly hit American targets. Properly understood, the Iranian-led Resistance Axis is making war against the U.S.-led regional order.

Only when Iran is defeated, therefore, do we arrive at “the Day After.” Until that time comes, the question that should be at the forefront of our minds is whether the diplomatic initiatives that Washington is taking are likely to foil Iran’s plans.

All the talk that the Biden administration has generated about “the Day After” fails to perform that service. Just weeks after Oct. 7, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a Senate hearing that the most sensible political goal of the war “would be for an effective and revitalized Palestinian Authority to have governance and ultimately security responsibility for Gaza.”

First, there is no such thing as an “effective” Palestinian Authority. The Biden administration is trying to organize a cavalry charge while mounted on a donkey. Second, the donkey is unwelcome in Gaza. Hamas emasculated the Palestinian Authority a decade and a half ago, and there is no sign that the Gazans are eager to “revitalize” it. Finally, and most important, the effort to resurrect the failed two-state solution sets the United States at odds with the Israelis—all Israelis. From the center-left to the far-right, voters reject the idea of a reformed Palestinian Authority taking control of Gaza. No major party endorses the plan.

The Biden administration is also helping, with its voice, to advance the objectives of Iranian political warfare. By sparking “the Day After” debate, Washington is doing Tehran’s work for it, creating the impression, globally, that the issue of Palestinian sovereignty is the core problem to be solved and that, moreover, the Israelis are the primary impediment to the achievement of that sovereignty.

We would be much wiser to talk about what we need to see on the day before “the Day After”—namely, the total demise of Hamas. Let’s postpone all talk of a new political order until the hard military work is done.

What that victory looks like is Hamas destroyed as a social and political as well as a military force, with the top echelons of its leadership dead—and not in prison where they’re only one kidnapping of an Israeli away from freedom. Also, a buffer zone large and desolate enough to astonish those who look upon it.

Amiad Cohen: In 1943, during World War II, President Roosevelt stated in a press conference, “Peace can come to the world only by a total elimination of German and Japanese war power. This involves the simple formula of placing the objective of this war in terms of an unconditional surrender by Germany, Italy, and Japan. It does not mean the destruction of the population of Germany, Italy, or Japan, but it does mean the destruction of the philosophies.”

History validated Roosevelt’s stance. In 1943, few could have predicted Japan’s transformation into one of the most pacifist societies in the world or Germany’s adoption of liberalism and staunch measures against hate speech and antisemitism. Their wartime ideologies were crushed through total defeat by the Allies, paving the way for true peace.

The same principle applies to Gaza. Any discussion about “the Day After” in Gaza must first presuppose the complete surrender of Hamas. Before Oct. 7, we weren’t striving for a decisive victory. Much like the movie Groundhog Day, we found ourselves trapped in a repetitive cycle, moving from one operation to the next, hesitant to disrupt the status quo until Hamas forced our hand. Now we know that the cycle cannot be allowed to go on. Hamas must be crushed.

Achieving that objective is crucial for any future negotiation since it will shape the trajectory of the path forward.

Lee Smith: Since the foundational premise of the U.S.-Israel alliance is that Israel’s strategic moves advance American peace and prosperity, I want to recast the question: What should “the Day After” in Gaza look like in the United States?

Due to a massive failure of U.S. political, academic, and security elites, American universities are filled with foreign students whose admission not only satisfies diversity benchmarks but also fills the universities’ coffers. Since these are the children of international elites, they almost always pay full tuition, funded either by their families or their governments, often the same thing. These students constitute the core of an activist movement that has roiled college campuses and the streets of U.S. cities for seven months.

Obviously, it is not Israel’s job to discipline the children of our elites. But a conclusive Israeli victory will slow the momentum of the pro-Hamas demonstrators and restore some degree of normalcy—until foreign powers like China and progressive NGOs fabricate the next cause célèbre to destabilize America.

What that victory looks like is Hamas destroyed as a social and political as well as military force, with the top echelons of its leadership dead—not in prison where they’re only one kidnapping of an Israeli away from freedom. Also, a buffer zone large and desolate enough to astonish those who look upon it.

The United States has imposed red lines on Israel in Lebanon, where Washington has deepened investment and partnership with fictional “state institutions,” turning that Iranian satrapy into a de facto U.S. protectorate. There’s been chatter about a U.S. initiative to create a 10-kilometer buffer zone in south Lebanon, but as the history of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 makes clear, that’s just a fairy tale. So the hope of achieving that objective through a U.S.-mediated “deal” seems in vain. Or worse, a trap. Given this reality, how does Israel intend to impose a buffer zone in south Lebanon?

Amiad Cohen: Currently, there are 83,000 refugees from Israel’s north. Israel cannot allow this situation to continue. Given the lack of progress in achieving a diplomatic solution for the implementation of UNSCR 1701 since 2006, Israel may have no choice but to act unilaterally to push Hezbollah beyond the Litani River, regardless of the American position.

With the Litani River serving as a formidable topographical barrier and the IDF’s presence in southern Lebanon, Israel’s northern residents will finally be able to return to their homes and enjoy a measure of security.

In addition to involving the Saudis and Emiratis in “Day After” plans for Gaza, the administration is also still pushing some sort of three-way deal with Israel and Saudi Arabia, which the administration has made contingent on some Israeli commitments to the Palestinians. With the U.S. regional posture being what it is—appeasement of Iran and elevation of the Palestinians—is the prospect of a peace deal with the Saudis a trap for Israel?

Mike Doran: Yes, it is certainly a trap. Remember, the administration came into office so hostile to the Abraham Accords that it prohibited State Department officials from using the term.

The necessity of achieving a two-state solution before brokering closer relations between Israel and the Arab world is the dogma of Democratic national security circles, and it remained so even after the Abraham Accords. The pursuit of the two-state solution had gained the status of a sacrosanct mission, a quest that justified itself, as opposed to a pragmatic tool for achieving a clearly defined goal.

But there’s another reason for the hostility: The accords were organically connected to the Trump administration’s rejection of President Obama’s Iran policy, which we have called in Tablet “the Realignment.” The nuclear deal served as the flagship of the Realignment, but Obama sought nothing less than to change the role of the United States in the Middle East, to build a regional order on an entirely new basis. He transformed the United States from the leader of a coalition to contain Iranian conventional power and to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon into a mediator between America’s traditional allies and Iran.

The administration’s about-face on supporting normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel allowed it to escape the ridicule it faced over its comical aversion to the accords. But the administration has carefully crafted the initiative so as to force Israel to promote the rise of a Palestinian state. Whereas the Abraham Accords ended the Palestinian veto on peace agreements between Israel and Arab states, Biden’s normalization push reinstalls it.

Irrespective of its chances for success, the administration pursues the policy because it offers additional incentive to the Israelis to comply with its wishes for a reformed and revitalized Palestinian Authority to rule over Gaza. In addition, the policy distracts the pro-Israeli American electorate from the advances that Iran is making toward building a nuclear weapon and from the expansion of the power of its Resistance Axis.

The more the Israeli government indulges the White House on the issue, the more it deflects from the issue that should be at the center of a joint American-Israeli policy: namely, confronting Iran.

The scenario for Gaza and the West Bank that Jeremy Ben-Ami laid out envisions a set of internationalized “special provinces” whose economy, governance, and security will be managed by the United States, Europe, and regional actors. Also, from what I gather, Iran will be part of the regional managing board, essentially cloning the current arrangement in Lebanon.

Assuming Saudi Arabia et al. agree to bankroll this type of arrangement for Gaza and the West Bank, can you please explain how locking in Iranian dominance under a U.S. umbrella (A) serves the U.S. national interest and (B) serves Israel’s national interest.

Jeremy Ben-Ami: You have misunderstood my position. I do not advocate “internationalized special provinces” with the management you cite. I certainly do not propose that Iran join a managing board for such an arrangement. I urge that Gaza and the West Bank be brought together quickly, under international guidance and protection, and specifically that the Arab states—whom I consider the only realistic candidates to take on early postwar administrative, management, and security responsibilities in Gaza—invite the Palestinian Authority into the Strip. That invitation would be accompanied by mentoring, aided by the United States and others, so that the PA that enters Gaza and retains its West Bank role will be broader-based and more genuinely representative than the present superannuated entity. Its assumption of responsibilities in Gaza would depend upon a gradual—but not endless—process that would help prepare it for the ultimately essential task of new final status negotiations with Israel.

Arab willingness to take on a central role in rebuilding Gaza and creating a clear and achievable path to an independent Palestinian state requires, in turn, important tokens of Western, in particular U.S., support.

What I want with regard to Iran is not that it assume a significant role in the management of Gaza and mentoring of the PA, but that it stand aside from, and ultimately accept the path to, an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. I am arguing that the United States consider welcoming the détente that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are pursuing with Iran and encouraging our Arab friends through these newly opened channels to dissuade Iran from sabotaging the Palestinian process by leveraging and conditioning the benefits of that détente.

As for the responses of my roundtable colleagues, we have difficulty offering coherent comment. They seem to come in considerable degree from an alternate political universe, indeed a partly dystopian one. Much of their responses deal only with Gaza, essentially ignoring the West Bank, in implicit denial of meaningful Palestinian rights and in a curious mirroring of the disastrous Netanyahu policy of encouraging Palestinian division that contributed to the horror of Oct. 7. The most I can do is put out a few questions of my own.

Should the United States prioritize a long-term goal of defeating Iran or an immediate goal of obtaining Iranian forbearance from attempting to destroy progress toward a two-state solution in order for Tehran to reap the benefits of its growing détente with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states?

Lee Smith: This is a good opportunity to correct a crucial misunderstanding about the roots of Oct. 7. While denying that Iran had any operational role in the attack, Biden officials have argued that Hamas was motivated to act because its Iranian patrons regard Israeli-Saudi normalization as an existential threat. But that’s a misrepresentation of reality. It was by pushing that normalization deal that the Biden administration knowingly pushed Hamas, and thus Iran, onto the playing field.

As Mike explained earlier, the Abraham Accords is how the Donald Trump administration rebuilt the U.S. traditional Middle East alliance system after the Barack Obama White House crashed it in favor of Realignment with Iran. The Biden White House calls Realignment “regional integration.”

Also, and this was crucial to the Trump plan—the Abraham Accords moved the Palestinians off center stage. The last White House saw that a tiny terror enclave cannot be allowed to make decisions over war and peace for the entire region, as it has for half a century. Moreover, since the most effective Palestinian faction, Hamas, is an Iranian proxy, giving the Palestinians any say in regional affairs means seating Iran at the negotiating table. The point of the Abraham Accords was to lock Iran out.

The Abraham Accords represented a solid diplomatic win for U.S. statesmanship: Acknowledge your allies openly and reward them; outflank your adversaries to isolate them. So, naturally, the Biden White House was determined to collapse it. Eventually it figured out that the way to undermine the agreements was under cover of expanding them.

There was no need to get Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) involved since they had already effectively signed off on normalizing relations with Israel. That’s what the agreement with Bahrain represents. The point of bringing in the Saudis was to introduce a poison pill: the Palestinians. Thus it was by dragging in the Saudis that the Biden administration returned the Palestinians and Iran to center stage.

What do the Israelis get for letting Hamas survive? The Saudis can’t guarantee there won’t be another Oct. 7—they can’t protect themselves from Iran, or they wouldn’t be asking the Americans for assurances. What about those Arab peacekeeping troops that Biden officials are talking about sending to Gaza? The United Nations’ international force in Lebanon is bad enough. There is no scenario in which Moroccan or Emirati or Omani troops will shoot at Palestinians to protect Israel.

Of course it had to come to this because that’s what happens when your aim is to strengthen U.S. adversaries at the expense of U.S. allies, which is the essence of regional integration, more formally known as the concert system, which is designed to ensure “balance.”

Michael Doran: President Biden is pressing the Israelis to refrain from conquering Rafah and, at the same time, to accept a temporary cease-fire that he hopes can be made permanent. In other words, he seeks a negotiated end to the war that will leave Hamas in place.

Meanwhile, Biden is also pressing the Israelis to accept the return of Palestinian Authority security officials in Gaza. How does he square leaving Hamas in place and returning the PA? He hopes the two will arrive at a power-sharing agreement. Indeed, the Turks, Chinese, and others have been working to mediate such a deal between the two Palestinian sides. But the history of such agreements teaches that, even if one emerges, it will soon collapse. Armed clashes will ensue. Biden, therefore, is sowing the seeds of internecine Palestinian conflict.

On a regional level, this PA-Hamas power-sharing works only if Iran is a party to the deal. So long as Hamas, Iran’s proxy, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, its puppet, remain alive, Tehran has veto power over any political deal. In other words, Biden, like Obama, is attempting to create a concert system in the Middle East, one in which the United States and Iran manage the region together.

Biden’s policy consciously preserves Hamas and, through it, Iran as major players. The president is encouraging us to talk about Israeli stubbornness regarding “the Day After” in the hopes that we won’t notice the kisses he is blowing to Tehran.

Is there a viable long-term arrangement that would allow Israel to safeguard its security and Palestinians to enjoy normal lives free from Israeli rule, and how do you propose it can be brought about?

Elliott Abrams: There is a very powerful conventional wisdom here, which is the “two-state solution.” I believe the notion of a democratic Palestine living side by side in peace and security with Israel is a delusion (as I’ve spelled out fully here). First, polls make it clear that neither Israelis nor Palestinians support that answer, by large margins. Second, the PA lacks the ability to create and lead a Palestinian state that would be free and democratic, have a decent and effective government, and have a prosperous economy.

As to security, the largest problem is Iran. The greatest threat to Israel today is Hezbollah, which owes its considerable military power to Iran. Iranian support for Hamas turned Gaza into an armed camp with hundreds of miles of tunnels. Now Iran is trying to flood the West Bank with weapons. A sovereign and independent Palestine would immediately be yet another route through which Iran would seek to attack Israel, and the West Bank is much closer than Gaza to Israel’s international airport, its capital, and the major cities and industry in its coastal plain.

The only thing that has prevented the West Bank from resembling Gaza has been constant counterterrorist intervention by Israeli forces. So long as the Islamic Republic of Iran is focused on using Palestinians as agents and as cannon fodder in its long struggle to destroy Israel, the creation of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state is simply too dangerous. I’d add that it is also extremely dangerous for Jordan, which Iran seeks to destabilize.

That leaves one option for a “viable long-term arrangement that would allow Israel to safeguard its security and Palestinians to enjoy normal lives free from Israeli rule.” It is confederation.

Partition—the separation of Israelis and Palestinians into two entities—was first proposed by Britain’s Peel Commission in 1937 and endorsed by the United Nations in 1947. Partition into two entities is still the right answer, and one of the two entities is the State of Israel. The Palestinian entity should not be a sovereign and independent state but an entity in confederation with a state that has stable and effective security forces to guard borders, keep order, and fight terrorism; a currency and a central bank; an airport; and other typical aspects of statehood. The two alternative choices are the two neighbors, Israel and Jordan, and the latter is obviously more logical: Arab, Muslim, Arabic-speaking, and half Palestinian.

Just to be clear, you are proposing that a majority of the West Bank should become part of Jordan. Should Palestinians from Lebanon, Syria, and the rest of the Palestinian diaspora have the right to return there? Should Gaza become part of Egypt, or would Gazans have the right to emigrate from Gaza to the Jordanian-Palestinian confederation?

Elliott Abrams: I believe it is logical that the West Bank someday confederate with Jordan. This may have to await the collapse of the Islamic regime in Iran, because it is now trying—and would try even harder if there were such a confederation—to destabilize Jordan. Would Palestinians from the Palestinian diaspora have the right to go there? It strikes me that that should be left to the governments of both parts of that confederation to decide, years from now, when such a confederation exists and is stable.

The harder question is Gaza, because it has always been linked to Egypt for obvious geographic reasons. I don’t see it as part of a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation. Whether Gazan Palestinians would/should have the right to move to the new confederation should, as noted above, be left to the governments of both parts of that confederation to decide. It is hard to see that confederation being able to absorb 2 million additional inhabitants coming from Gaza. As to Gaza becoming part of Egypt, that will never be acceptable to Egypt. They could have annexed it between 1948 and 1967 and did not do so, nor did they want Gaza back in the Camp David Accords, and don’t appear to have any greater appetite now.

How long do you imagine this dual parliamentary monarchy—whose population will be overwhelmingly Palestinian—will last as a Hashemite kingdom? Won’t this simply lead to a repeat of the Hamas takeover of Gaza in a much larger territory?

Elliott Abrams: Not if Israel is allowed to crush Hamas militarily now and Hamas is prevented from rebuilding in Gaza. And not if the United States and other nations support Jordan in policing both parts of such a confederation. It is not at all clear to me that Palestinians in Jordan believe they would be much better off being ruled by the PA or Hamas—and would seek that in place of the monarchy. They have watched the chaos in Syria, Iraq, and Gaza, while Jordan under the crown has been relatively stable. And remember, this would all occur after the demise of the Islamist regime in Iran.

The Palestinian entity should not be a sovereign and independent state but an entity in confederation with a state that has stable and effective security forces to guard borders, keep order, and fight terrorism. It is logical that the West Bank someday confederate with Jordan.

Amiad Cohen: We must distinguish between individual rights and national rights. The two-state solution is simply disconnected from reality. Alongside the Jewish state, Israel, there already exist three Palestinian entities: Jordan, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and Gaza. In the case of Israel, the consistent Palestinian demand since 1948 has been to transform it into “a state of all its citizens,” erasing its identity as a Jewish state. Acquiescing to this demand would effectively create four distinct Palestinian states. So, which two states are we talking about?

When it comes to realizing Palestinian national aspirations, the most natural place for that is Jordan. Although ruled by a royal dynasty originating in Saudi Arabia, Jordan’s population is predominantly Palestinian. Nationality rights should be exercised through self-governance in Jordan, while Palestinians in the West Bank would be recognized as part of the diaspora of the Palestinian state of Jordan, gaining access to individual rights and establishing a robust, culturally aligned local government.

Michael Doran: We tend to define the “viable” arrangement, in this context, as the one that will reconcile the competing and equally legitimate demands of the two sides, as if the United States were a disinterested broker. It is not.

The United States is the leader of a global international system that is under attack by a loose coalition of revisionist powers, led by China, Russia, and Iran. In the Middle East, countering Iran should be a top priority of America’s regional strategy—and the touchstone for determining viability.

The solicitous diplomatic attitude in Washington toward Tehran as well as the supine American military response to Iranian aggression only incentivize further aggression.

U.S. troop levels in the region are at the lowest they have been since 9/11. Meanwhile, Tehran’s drones, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles have created an “offense dominant” military regime—a balance of power that favors offensive action by Iran. At the same time, the advances in Iran’s nuclear weapons program put it within a hair’s breadth of having a nuclear device and therefore increasing the sense of impunity for offensive action.

A viable arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians will result in Israel expunging Hamas, not just in Gaza but also in the West Bank. Only Israel can do that. The Palestinian Authority will not, and an independent Palestinian state (with an Iranian embassy in Ramallah?) certainly won’t either.

The reach of Hamas and Iran into the Palestinian Authority is not the only challenge that the pursuit of the two-state solution will exacerbate. Seen from Tehran, Jordan looks particularly soft. Since World War I, revisionist powers—the Soviet Union, Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and now Ali Khamenei’s Iran—have supported Palestinian nationalism in part to pressure Jordan, America’s ally.

The American national interest, including the well-being of Jordan, requires Israel to hold the Jordan Valley in perpetuity not just as the defense perimeter of Israel but also as a guarantee that a Palestinian state will not become a launching pad for efforts to destabilize Jordan. No Palestinian leader will ever formally grant Israel control of the Jordan Valley. There should be no talk in Washington, therefore, of “revitalizing” the Palestinian Authority as long it seeks to assume sovereign rights over the Jordan Valley.

As long as Hamas remains alive, and as long as Hezbollah and Iran are free to shoot rockets, drones, and missiles at Israel in support of Palestinian nationalism, any American initiatives to broker a new set of enduring arrangements between Palestinians and Israelis will simply encourage maximalist agendas that undermine the American order.

From the Basques and Catalans in Spain to the Uighurs and Tibetans in China, to the Walloons in Belgium, to the Druze in Syria and Lebanon, to the Indigenous tribes of Guatemala and Peru and dozens of African nations, the world is full of subnational groupings with their own separate languages and cultures and zero chance of achieving statehood, ever. Why isn’t this also the case for the Palestinians? And if it is, how does it serve the American national interest to spend decade after decade pretending otherwise?

Michael Doran: Since the fall of the Berlin wall, the United States has tested, time and again, whether Palestinian nationalism is prepared to live in peace with Israel within recognized borders. The number of hours that senior American officials and their brightest advisers have devoted to finding the magic formulae that would convince Palestinian leaders to end all conflict and nullify all claims against Israel is incalculable.

The chances that an additional thousand hours of work by American senior leaders will lead to a discovery of the winning formulae are zero. No question in American foreign policy is easier to answer than this one. There is no solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that American policy can reasonably effect.

The United States must manage, not solve, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To what end? Allow me to repeat: The key task for the United States in the Middle East today is blunting the rise of Iranian power. Every other challenge in the region pales in comparison. The stronger Iran grows, the more unmanageable the Israeli-Palestinian conflict becomes.

Pursuing a two-state solution based on empowering a reformed and revitalized Palestinian Authority will not blunt Iran, no matter how many adjectives the Biden administration puts before the “Palestinian Authority.” American officials do not possess the power to make a Palestinian state viable.

Jon Greenwald: There is such an arrangement, but it is not what has been traditionally referred to as a “two-state solution.” Rather, the plan involves a new deal for Palestinians within a broader context of regional integration.

The first element is to lock in the promise from the Arab states, Saudi Arabia above all, for normalization with and full integration of Israel into the region. Post-Oct. 7, a multitude of factors make it imperative for the Arab states that Palestinians receive independence assurances.

The present Israeli government’s refusal of that basis leaves it to the United States to expand the Biden “Day After” vision into a comprehensive regional diplomatic initiative that incentivizes wide participation. The president should request that Israel and the Palestinians each take immediate, unilateral steps, including that:

  • Israel facilitate humanitarian aid to Gaza as well as, after the fighting stops, reconstruction and cease undermining the PA and destabilizing the West Bank.
  • the Palestine Liberation Organization/PA establish a broader-based government, ideally in partnership with civil society; begin implementing reforms in preparation for gradually assuming Transitional Authority responsibilities in Gaza upon invitation by Arab and such other states as may initially move into Gaza upon cessation of hostilities; and agree to the demilitarization of the future Palestinian state. The initiative should include U.S. training and capacity building for Palestinian security forces and facilitation of a Palestinian security presence in Gaza.

The president should further commit to recognizing the state of Palestine (and encouraging its allies to do so) as soon as the PA takes the necessary steps and reforms and the Arab states are facilitating the transition in Gaza and maintaining readiness to normalize relations with Israel. Such recognition would acknowledge that difficult questions—e.g., borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security arrangements—must be determined in the final status negotiation with Israel.

While it is true that Israelis are today mostly hostile to the creation of a Palestinian state and unable to think beyond the war’s immediate issues, the relevant question must be how to change attitudes to enable movement toward the Biden vision. Prime Minister Netanyahu is part of the problem.

Israeli citizens and politicians will face a fundamental decision on the way forward. The United States needs to structure the environment within which that decision is being made. The choice should be framed as either accepting Arab states’ offer of regional integration and engaging constructively with the new international construct on offer, but without veto rights, or choosing a self-reliance that risks increasing isolation when violence next explodes. One would hope there will be moderate Israeli politicians willing to lead in persuading Israeli voters to choose the first option.

The United States should seek international ratification of parameters for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the path to Palestine’s full U.N. membership. Ideally this would be via a legally binding Security Council resolution under Chapter VII.

Elliott Abrams: Jon Greenwald lacks realism about the actually existing situation in the Middle East. He calls for the PA/PLO to “establish a broader-based government, ideally in partnership with civil society” and “begin implementing reforms in preparation for gradually assuming Transitional Authority responsibilities in Gaza.” Then he wants President Biden to “further commit to recognizing the state of Palestine (and encouraging its allies to do so) as soon as the PA takes the necessary steps and reforms” to demonstrate their good faith. But there is zero evidence that such PA reform is possible or is desired by the PA’s leaders. The PA/Fatah elite is thoroughly corrupt. Much more likely to result from their approach is the creeping acceptance by the United States and our allies that there never will be reform, followed by just ignoring the need for it.

As to that recognition of a Palestinian state, Jon Greenwald says “Such recognition would acknowledge that difficult questions—e.g., borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security arrangements—must be determined in the final status negotiation with Israel.” Oh my. He wants recognition of a Palestinian state when it is still demanding the “right of return” for 5 million Palestinians to Israel, which would destroy Israel as a Jewish state; when no one knows how it will be prevented from becoming a terrorist state in league with Iran; when the fate of Israeli settlements is unknown, and the PA continues to demand that its state be judenrein; and when the profound issue of Jerusalem remains unsettled.

Biden, like Obama, is attempting to create a concert system in the Middle East, one in which the U.S. and Iran manage the region together.

Lee Smith: The Palestinians don’t have normal lives because when given the choice in 1948 between partition and war, they chose the latter. Conflict over land and resources may be the normal condition of mankind, but it is not normal for one society to wage war for decades, lose in war despite military, financial, and political support from larger powers and, because those larger powers incentivize more war, continue to make war. This isn’t normal. In fact, there is no example of anything like it in world history.

What gave the Palestinians some sort of window to normal life was day-to-day relations with Israel—work permits, for instance. By choosing to make war on Oct. 7, the Palestinians again rejected normalcy, and Palestinian workers fed intelligence to Hamas to slaughter Israelis.

And yet, despite the fact there is no man-made arrangement that will allow a society that has chosen abnormality over enjoying normal lives, the world powers will almost certainly deliver a state to the Palestinians. There’s probably nothing Israel can do about it, and it’s not clear why it should. Is it harder for Israel to fight wars against a state supported by world powers than it is to fight terror enclaves funded by the same actors?

I am sure my interlocutors have a clearer sense of the dangers than I do, but Israel might see it as an opportunity to separate itself from the Palestinians. Move fast, preempt. Israel might take whatever land it needs for its own security, based on the Donald Trump parameters, including the Jordan Valley and West Bank settlements that Benjamin Netanyahu unwisely failed to annex. The rest belongs to the Palestinians. No bridges, tunnels, shuttles, tramways, or anything else connecting Gaza and the West Bank can pass through, under, or over Israel. Since the Democrats and Europeans want it so badly, let them figure out how to configure it.

In their own state, the Palestinians are free to teach their children resistance math at the Edward W. Said Middle School. Palestinian groups are free to fight each other. The winning faction will build mansions on the Gaza riviera for their Russian mistresses. There will be a square in the Palestinian capital named after Barack Obama where the United States will build its embassy.

It seems unlikely Israel can stop it, but its survival seems to depend on complete separation. Build the Wall.

Jeremy Ben-Ami: This response reflects a deeply condescending attitude toward Palestinians. Here’s another question: Should U.S. policy search for ways to bring the Palestinians in Gaza and those in the West Bank together, politically and administratively, so that a unified, more competent, and legitimate Palestinian entity can be formed as quickly as possible to negotiate final status matters with Israel?

Lee Smith: No. And it’s worth unpacking what Jeremy Ben-Ami means by a “legitimate Palestinian entity.”

By “unified,” he seems to mean including Hamas in a unity government, which poses a problem for the White House. In the wake of Oct. 7, the Biden administration and its allies have been at pains to distinguish Hamas from ordinary Palestinians lest Americans find not only Hamas repugnant but also Palestinian society as a whole. Nonetheless, polls show Palestinians revere Hamas and overwhelmingly support the Oct. 7 massacre. One authoritative source supporting those findings is Mr. Greenwald’s former colleague, onetime International Crisis Group executive Robert Malley. According to him, Hamas is “very deeply rooted” in Palestinian society. In other words, for Palestinians, Hamas is an entirely legitimate political actor, much more so than any imaginary “moderate” or “revitalized” force.

The Biden administration can’t have it both ways. If Hamas is not in the government, Palestinians won’t see it as legitimate. If they are in the government, it will be an admission that the fundamental problem with Palestinian political culture is not the Hamas regime but Palestinian society.

Elliott Abrams is the smartest guy sitting at this roundtable, but I don’t agree that the United States should play a part in fixing Palestinian school curricula. Joining the efforts of the progressive cadres running the American education system with those of the deliriously anti-Israel junior Foreign Service officers who dominate the State Department is likely to harden rather than ameliorate Palestinian rejectionism.

Further, the idea that the U.S. government should partake in efforts to lead the Palestinians toward moderation seems to presuppose that they and Israelis must learn to coexist. Things may change in the future, but at this point, I think we should instead encourage Jerusalem to draw a clear line by separating Israel as much as possible from Palestinian society.

Assuming there is no immediate consensual settlement on offer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—which in your view might include Israelis and Palestinians or might also include a wider number of interested parties, including Arab states, the United States, and Iran—what can or should Israel do as an independent actor in the near-to-medium term to maintain its security and prosperity?

Elliott Abrams: Today it seems the Israelis are in a tough corner, because antisemitism is emerging from under very many rocks where it hid, lots of national leaders around the world are proving themselves to be fools or knaves or both, and our own government is thinking more and more about its own political security in November.

Clearly the Israelis need to try doing a better job at “public relations,” i.e., organizing better their system of public defense of their positions and actions. That’s easy to say but apparently very hard for them to do. And of course, it isn’t really their job to make the BBC turn back to real journalism, to take one example.

Equally clearly, they need to do, and be seen to do, more to allow help to flow to Gazan civilians. I say that knowing full well that most of the criticism of them on this score has been unfair—and very often meant to be unfair, because it is political warfare, not humanitarianism—but they can do more and apparently already are. At the same time, it’s striking how little many of those throwing barbs are doing. Where, for example, are the tent cities and refugee camps for displaced Gazans?

Elections are part of the situation here. Israel needs to survive through ours, because it is obvious that Biden language and policy is increasingly oriented toward his reelection campaign rather than toward the Middle East. So the Israelis can hope that once he gets past November, win or lose, that pressure will subside. I wonder if calling an Israeli election, as opposition leaders there such as Benny Gantz have urged, might reduce the pressure as well. Once the election is called, the current government’s powers are somewhat limited and its early demise is plausible, so perhaps some of the pressure on Israel will diminish as other governments wait to see the outcome and see what coalition emerges.

But whether all that is right or wrong, what Israel cannot do is blink. It cannot stop fighting Hamas or Iran and Hezbollah; it cannot appear to be deterred. For one thing, if it does so, the price it will have to pay Hamas for the hostages will rise—something that is obvious but appears difficult for the Biden administration to grasp. Many Arab governments understand all this, which makes it even odder that so many Western governments do not (or perhaps they do but don’t care).

If there is such a deal, Israel must use the cease-fire to get ready for the Rafah incursion by speaking about it publicly and working hard to help Gazan civilians move out of Rafah. It must be stated repeatedly (including to the U.S. government) that the issue is whether Hamas wins its war by surviving as a fighting force.

The terrible truth here is that every diminution in apparent American support must be made up for with Israeli actions that demonstrate its commitment to crushing Hamas. That is what Israelis should be explaining to Biden and his team. If various governments get angry at Israel (and us) for civilian casualties in Gaza, that doesn’t damage U.S. security. But if they come to believe that the United States is a completely unreliable ally, we will be in real trouble.

As I said at the start, the Israelis are in a tough corner.

Jon Greenwald: Israel, as an independent actor on the “Day After” stage, whether because it chose isolation or lacked an offer of international cooperation in dealing with the consequences of the war, would face great difficulties. Absent other options in the near term, it would be forced to take on more direct and extensive responsibilities in devastated Gaza than it desires. It could expect to confront constant administrative and security challenges in dire circumstances as Hamas remnants or successors continue to present threats. Sooner rather than later, Israel would most probably have to deal as well with greater challenges in a West Bank that is increasingly a tinder box due to ever-deepening occupation and settler violence. And Israel would be facing this alone, without the massive economic help needed to deal with, in addition to Gaza, the conflict’s consequences in its own south and north.

In short, Israel would lack the diplomatic and material resources to climb out of the disaster that the war has produced. Its best course would be to help build the not-yet-perfected international consensus by engaging in prompt, serious reflection, in consultation with its international friends—the United States above all—about a better way forward. The United States, in turn, should continue to do all it can to focus Israel quickly on the choice outlined in response to your question earlier: Engage with partners to construct a new regional security arrangement that includes independence for Palestinians or self-reliance and increasing isolation.

Whatever the postwar fate of Prime Minister Netanyahu, the longer that decision process takes, the greater will be the daily risk of new calamities in Gaza and the West Bank. And if the postwar government elects to double down on tougher occupation as its response to Palestinians, the greater will be the likelihood that international attention will turn to crises elsewhere and Israel’s isolation and opposition to its policies will continue to grow. If Israel takes too long to decide or chooses the wrong option, even U.S. emergency support would become more problematic than it has been in the past.

As for Iran, its threat serves as a driver to encourage Israeli-Sunni Arab cooperation. That is to the good, though it is important to remember George Kennan’s Cold War lesson that cooperation for containment is preferable to cooperation for offense.

The expectation is that Iran would seek to subvert any effort to move toward an independent Palestinian state within a broader regional security arrangement. While it has been a negative factor on past initiatives, however, Supreme Leader Khamenei has said that Iran will not be more Palestinian than the Palestinians themselves. Some Iranian officials presently suggest quietly that if—unlike their country’s exclusion from the Madrid Conference that preceded the Oslo Process in the 1990s—Iran were allowed into present diplomacy in some manner, it might refrain from disturbing a two-state result.

Elliott Abrams: Jon Greenwald acknowledges that Iran would “seek to subvert any effort to move toward an independent Palestinian state within a broader regional security arrangement.” But he says he trusts that the Supreme Leader “will not be more Palestinian than the Palestinians themselves” and seems to want Iran to be invited now into diplomatic discussions about the “two-state solution.” This, about a state whose main slogans to this day are “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” and that has spent billions of dollars supporting Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah in their attacks on Israel. What possible basis is there to believe Iran would desist from trying to turn a new Palestine into something very like the old Hamas-run Gaza?

Amiad Cohen: Our premise is that the Palestinian Authority will further decline following the passing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Rampant corruption among the ruling elite has fostered widespread public distrust, paving the way for Hamas to gain strength. Consequently, the eventual dismantling of the PA seems almost inevitable.

To prepare for that eventuality, Israel should start working with local governance bodies in the West Bank while simultaneously undertaking measures in four key areas to alleviate tensions in the region and promote security and prosperity for both Israelis and Palestinians:

  • Land regulation in Judea and Samaria: Presently, land ownership operates under outdated Ottoman laws, creating considerable ambiguity and making it difficult for owners to assert their property rights. This ambiguity is exploited by certain left-wing organizations to hinder land sales to Jews, but it mainly exacerbates hardship and sparks unnecessary disputes.

    To mitigate disputes and foster economic development, Israel must implement a transparent mechanism for land regulation. Such a system would bring order to the chaos, reduce friction, and facilitate land transactions.
  • Transitioning from IDF presence to police presence: Military presence evokes the perception of a military occupation, while a police force is more suitable for civilian administration. While the army would intervene in counterterrorism operations as necessary, routine policing duties should be handled by civilian law enforcement authorities.
  • Investment in infrastructure development: Without comprehensive planning, infrastructure development in Judea and Samaria remains fragmented. Water supply, electricity, internet connectivity, and road networks are addressed in a piecemeal manner, limiting long-term sustainability. To benefit all residents, irrespective of ethnicity, substantial investment in modern infrastructure is essential.
  • Implementing an incentive system for Palestinian cities: Directing support toward municipalities based on their commitment to maintaining law and order would incentivize peaceful governance. Cities demonstrating stability and security would receive assistance to improve living standards, while those fostering terrorism would be ineligible for such benefits.

Regarding Gaza, its status as a conflict zone persists until Hamas surrenders unconditionally. Once this goal is achieved, the Trump administration’s peace plan could guide efforts to extend similar developmental initiatives to Gaza.

If the PA’s collapse is inevitable, and the destruction of Hamas is a sine qua non for “the Day After,” what are the local governance bodies in the West Bank that Israel would work with? Is it possible to proceed with this approach without Washington’s approval?

Amiad Cohen: The West Bank is divided into six main regions: Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem, and Tulkarm-Qalqilya. Each of these areas is populated by several large clans, each with tens of thousands of members, who effectively manage urban affairs. Tribal and urban identification within Palestinian society is notably strong, with instances of intermarriage between different areas, such as Hebron and Nablus, being rare. While power struggles between different clans within the same area do exist, they are generally minor compared to rivalries between different regions.

Each region would function as a separate province. The more efficiently a province operates, the greater autonomy it would enjoy. Meanwhile, the IDF would maintain responsibility for counterterrorism efforts throughout the West Bank. Jordan would be considered the national center for West Bank Palestinians. If it agrees, those Palestinians could be represented in the Jordanian Parliament as well.

Regarding American involvement, Republican and Democratic administrations perceive the PA differently. Republicans increasingly acknowledge the challenges of cooperating with the PA. If Trump is elected, I anticipate his administration will show little interest in sustaining the ineffective, corrupt, and terror-supporting PA with U.S. taxpayer dollars.

Michael Doran: Israel is fighting its second War of Independence. The success of Hamas’ surprise attack on Oct. 7 was the result of a catastrophic Israeli intelligence failure, to be sure, but it was also the result of something much deeper: a misappreciation of Israel’s place in the world and of the nature of contemporary warfare.

No one who was making the key decisions imagined the kind of war that Israel is now engaged in. In recent decades, the Israeli national security establishment began developing defensive concepts and strategies that failed to anticipate the following developments:

  • That large-scale, high operational tempo warfare involving traditional combat formations optimized for seizing territory over a long period would again become the norm. It built a military that imagined warfare as short, sharp engagements involving air power and special forces, relying on state-of-the-art intelligence collection and innovative high technological wizardry.
  • That Iran’s conventional military capabilities would pose as great a threat as its growing nuclear weapons program. Israel failed to anticipate that, thanks to Iranian tutelage, Hamas, the weakest of Tehran’s proxies, could morph into a serious threat. Israel failed to anticipate how much direct and indirect military support Hamas would receive from Iran’s Axis of Resistance.
  • That antisemitism in the West would again become a major factor in international politics.
  • That the United States might withhold political and diplomatic support in the event of an Israeli war with Iran.
  • That the post-Cold War defense industrial capacity of NATO nations might be inadequate to meet the demands of wars fueled by the aggressive intentions of China, Russia, and Iran.

Rebuilding the IDF and formulating new doctrines and defense concepts based on new, correct assumptions will be the work of years. In the short term, if Israel is to safeguard its sovereignty, it must first expunge Hamas; second, break the kneecaps of Hezbollah; and third, deter Iran. These are achievable aims, but they will demand a high price.

Lee Smith: In addition to cutting itself off from the Palestinians, Israel should distance itself from Washington. In July, Tablet published a great piece by my colleagues Jake Siegel and Liel Leibovitz about Israel getting off U.S. military aid. That’s a good start. It would allow Israel to move independently of a superpower that is committed to failure in the Middle East.

After Oct. 7, President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama publicly counseled the Israelis not to make the mistakes that America did after 9/11.

“When America experienced the hell of 9/11,” Biden said days after the Palestinians’ pogrom, “we felt enraged as well. While we sought and got justice, we made mistakes. So, I cautioned the government of Israel not to be blinded by rage.”

What exactly were the mistakes? Neither could really explain. “In the aftermath of 9/11,” wrote Obama, “the U.S. government wasn’t interested in heeding the advice of even our allies when it came to the steps we took to protect ourselves against Al Qaeda.”

Is he saying we shouldn’t have called our French allies cheese-eating surrender monkeys and ignored French President Jacques Chirac’s warnings about the intractability of Arab political culture? If so, that seems fair. Otherwise, it’s obtuse.

Do they mean that deploying forces to Afghanistan to find Osama Bin Laden was a mistake? That would be weird. If you lead a country and someone takes credit for killing 3,000 people within that country’s borders, you’re obliged to at least try to find them. But then again, it’s worth remembering that as vice president, Biden thought it was a mistake to try to kill Bin Laden. Does he still?

Lots of people think that invading Iraq was a mistake. Among other arguments at the time, many noted that overthrowing Saddam Hussein would guarantee that Shia-majority Iraq would become an Iranian satrapy. But Obama doesn’t think that’s a mistake, since his chief foreign policy initiative, the Iran nuclear deal, was designed to realign U.S. interests with Iran and stiff traditional U.S. allies like Israel and the Sunni powers, led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Biden, whose administration is staffed with Obama Middle East aides, has followed suit.

Everyone basically agrees that the George W. Bush effort to democratize the Middle East was a mistake. After all, the freedom agenda was based on the premise that removing bloody-minded dictators would unleash the Arabs’ naturally democratic political energies. No one believes this anymore—except the Joe Biden administration. That’s why the president wants to “revitalize” the Palestinian Authority or form a “technocratic” government. Getting rid of Hamas and the underlying Palestinian political culture is normal.

The fact is this: U.S. leaders squandered American lives and interests in two losing wars over 20 years and now seek to exculpate themselves by seizing on the Oct. 7 massacre to obscure their mistakes, which they aim to repeat. Anyone who takes their counsel on Middle East affairs is courting failure.

Tony Badran is Tablet’s news editor and Levant analyst.