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The U.S., Egypt, and Qatar have devised a multistage plan for ending the Israel-Hamas war. One problem is that neither Israel nor Hamas has agreed to it. In fact, the final stage of the plan—the creation of a Palestinian state—is something that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly and emphatically said he deeply, unalterably opposes.

The diplomatic venture, first reported Sunday by the Wall Street Journal, reflects a deepening fissure between President Joe Biden and Netanyahu’s government as well as a desperate desire—by Biden and the region’s Sunni Arab nations, not just Egypt and Qatar but also Jordan, Bahrain, and most notably Saudi Arabia—to resume “normalized” relations, with one another and with Israel, even if it means somehow working around, and imposing conditions of peace on, the combatants.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former Saudi ambassador to Washington, said in a recent interview, “The present leadership of Hamas, of the [Palestinian Authority], and of Israel should be excluded from any participation in any future political role. They have to pay for what they have done. … All of them are failures.”

True words, and it’s both unusual and refreshing for a Saudi leader to say anything so critical of Palestinian leaders. But it’s unclear how to get there from here—how to create or facilitate whole new governing leaders or parties in Gaza, the West Bank, or Israel.

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Netanyahu all but gave Biden the finger last week when he said a Palestinian state was out of the question and even that Israel must provide security across all its territory west of the Jordan River. The prime minister has registered opposition to a Palestinian state many times, but his comment came right after Biden’s top foreign policy officials—Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan—said, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that peace requires a two-state solution and that such a solution is feasible.

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The jab prompted Biden to phone Netanyahu for the first time in nearly a month. (The last time the two had spoken, after almost daily contact, the prime minister said, “This conversation is over” and hung up.) Biden said after their latest chat that Netanyahu might agree on a two-state solution, depending on the details—a claim that Netanyahu publicly disputed, adding a drop of spittle to the spite.

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Netanyahu is not alone in his views, though, at least for the moment. Israeli President Isaac Herzog said at Davos on Thursday that Israeli citizens are concerned right now only about their safety. “If you ask an average Israeli now about his or her mental state,” Herzog said, “nobody in his right mind is willing now to think about what will be the solution of the peace agreements.”

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert—who despises Netanyahu—said on a recent Times of Israel podcast that the Oct. 7 attack could have been defeated or prevented if just 200 Israeli soldiers had been on the Gazan border, where they should have been. However, even Olmert said that Israel must press on with the war until Hamas is defeated.

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There is one major wrinkle in this attitude: the Israeli hostages, 132 of whom are believe to be still alive, most of them in Hamas’ tunnels, where they can’t be easily rescued without firefights with Hamas militiamen. A growing number of Israelis have taken to the streets—many family members of hostages have protested outside Netanyahu’s house—calling on the prime minister to place the fate of the hostages above his desire for continued war, some calling on him to resign.

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Gadi Eisenkot, a member of Netanyahu’s war Cabinet, recently argued that pursuing the war and freeing the hostages were incompatible aims. “We need to stop lying to ourselves, to show courage, and to work toward an extensive deal that will bring the hostages home,” he said in an interview with Israel television’s Channel 12. “Their time is running out, and every day that goes by is putting their lives in danger.” (It is noteworthy that Eisenkot is a general and former chief of staff in the Israeli army, and that his son and nephew were killed in the current war.)

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One obstacle both to this demand for a hostage deal, and to the U.S.-Egypt-Qatar peace plan more broadly, is that Hamas’ leaders have no desire to free all the hostages. Or, rather, they have put forth their own plan, which does call for freeing the hostages and a mutual cease-fire, but only if Hamas is allowed to stay in power in Gaza—a condition that the other parties reject.

The peace plan devised by the Biden administration with officials in Cairo and Doha envisions four stages over a period of 90 days. In the first phase, there will be a pause in the fighting, Hamas will release all civilian hostages, while Israel will release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, withdraw troops from Gazan towns and cities, and allow freedom of movement within Gaza.

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In the second phase, Hamas will free female soldiers held hostage and turn over bodies of those hostages who have been killed, while Israel will free more prisoners. In the third phase, Hamas will release all Israeli fighting-age men (whom they regard as soldiers), and Israel will pull some of its troops outside of Gaza’s borders.

Finally, in the fourth phase, there will be talks for a permanent cease-fire, normalized relations between Israel and the Sunni Arab nations, and efforts for a “clear, irreversible” path toward a Palestinian state, as well as an international fund to rebuild Gaza.

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Biden and co. hope that the deal amounts to an offer that the Israelis can’t refuse. Yes, it means accepting the principle of a Palestinian state, but it also means getting the hostages back and facing a state governed by a different Palestinian Authority that doesn’t include Hamas. The alternative is that the war rages on, the hostages remain locked up, and Hamas stays in power, and more Gazan civilians die as “collateral damage”—while, at the same time and because of all this, Israel loses more and more support around the globe, including in the United States.

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According to U.S. intelligence, more than 100 days into the war, Israel has killed just 20 to 30 percent of Hamas’ fighters. But more than 25,000 Gazans, many of them women and children, have died in the process. Many thousands more will die as Israeli soldiers try to kill or capture another 20, 30, or 50 percent of Hamas fighters, especially the terrorist group’s leaders, many of whom are hiding in their vast network of tunnels. Many of the remaining hostages are being held in these tunnels as well.

Even if the war goes on for another year, Israeli officers at all levels believe there is no way they can destroy all of those tunnels. Which raises the question: What is the point of the war? And shouldn’t Israel consider other avenues to security, if they are open?

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Of course, before Netanyahu or any other Israeli leader can take the alternative path on the table seriously, they need to get a sense of who will be in charge of this new state—and they need assurances that it won’t be Hamas or something like Hamas under a different name.

And this requires Qatar, Egypt, and the other Arab neighbors to do something they’ve never done—not just speak up for the Palestinian people but take some responsibility for their plight: visibly doing something to make the Palestinians’ aspirations for statehood come true instead of just leaving it to Israel (and blaming Israel for the lack of progress).

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The latter is beginning to happen. As Blinken said last week at Davos, we’re seeing “a reversal, a flip” from the usual pattern of Middle East politics. In the past, when the U.S. had come close to resolving the problem of Palestinian statehood, the Arab and Palestinian leaders turned out to be unprepared for the challenge. The question now, Blinken said, seems to be: “Is Israeli society prepared to engage on these questions?”

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The challenge is complicated, he noted, by the direct security threats that Israel has always faced and that have intensified since Oct. 7. In the past, discussions about a two-state solution—whether or not they’ve been genuine—have not coincided with a war, much less a war that’s widening across the region.

Yet the widening of the war—along with the stakes it entails and the possibility of further escalation—makes it more imperative than ever that the basic, long-standing issues of the conflict finally be addressed. The relevant parties have rarely if ever been so aligned in wanting to address them. Yes, the path toward a resolution is still tangled with minefields. The first step then is to start clearing them.

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QOSHE - There’s a Solid Plan to End the War in Gaza. Can Biden Get Bibi to Take It? - Fred Kaplan
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There’s a Solid Plan to End the War in Gaza. Can Biden Get Bibi to Take It?

13 19
23.01.2024
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The U.S., Egypt, and Qatar have devised a multistage plan for ending the Israel-Hamas war. One problem is that neither Israel nor Hamas has agreed to it. In fact, the final stage of the plan—the creation of a Palestinian state—is something that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly and emphatically said he deeply, unalterably opposes.

The diplomatic venture, first reported Sunday by the Wall Street Journal, reflects a deepening fissure between President Joe Biden and Netanyahu’s government as well as a desperate desire—by Biden and the region’s Sunni Arab nations, not just Egypt and Qatar but also Jordan, Bahrain, and most notably Saudi Arabia—to resume “normalized” relations, with one another and with Israel, even if it means somehow working around, and imposing conditions of peace on, the combatants.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former Saudi ambassador to Washington, said in a recent interview, “The present leadership of Hamas, of the [Palestinian Authority], and of Israel should be excluded from any participation in any future political role. They have to pay for what they have done. … All of them are failures.”

True words, and it’s both unusual and refreshing for a Saudi leader to say anything so critical of Palestinian leaders. But it’s unclear how to get there from here—how to create or facilitate whole new governing leaders or parties in Gaza, the West Bank, or Israel.

Advertisement

Netanyahu all but gave Biden the finger last week when he said a Palestinian state was out of the question and even that Israel must provide security across all its territory west of the Jordan River. The prime minister has registered opposition to a Palestinian state many times, but his comment came right after Biden’s top foreign policy officials—Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan—said, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that peace requires a two-state solution and that such a solution is feasible.

Advertisement

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The jab prompted Biden to phone Netanyahu for the first time in nearly a month. (The last time the two had spoken, after almost daily contact, the prime minister said, “This conversation is over” and hung up.) Biden said after their latest chat that Netanyahu might agree on a two-state solution, depending on........

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