Reckoning with Reality: Post-War Gaza

In recent weeks, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken ventured to the Middle East to navigate the complexities of Israel's conflict in Gaza and initiate discussions on the post-war scenario. The pressing questions revolve around governance in a devastated Gaza, the welfare of refugees, and the challenging task of restoring order to the war-torn streets. President Joe Biden emphasizes the need for a vision beyond the crisis, advocating for a two-state solution, envisioning a sovereign Palestinian state coexisting with Israel under mutual security assurances.

During his visit to Tel Aviv on Nov. 3, Blinken pleaded with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for "humanitarian pauses" to aid civilians in Gaza. However, Netanyahu insisted on such pauses only if Hamas released over 220 hostages, underscoring the arduous path to negotiating even a temporary ceasefire.

The concept of the "day after" may be inadequate for the challenges ahead. The process of stabilizing Gaza, establishing a new government, and reinvigorating progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace will demand years of concerted effort, not mere days or months. While planning for the post-war era and fostering a vision for a better future are commendable, a pragmatic evaluation is necessary.

In conversations with U.S. diplomats experienced in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, a consistent piece of advice emerges: temper expectations. Despite a month passing since Hamas' Oct. 7 attack, the war remains ongoing. Although Israel seems to have the upper hand, the nature of victory remains uncertain. Netanyahu aims to "destroy Hamas," while others set more modest goals, such as neutralizing Hamas' military capability and ending its rule in Gaza. David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a participant in Israeli-Palestinian talks during the Obama administration, cautions against presuming an assured outcome, emphasizing the uncertainty of achieving these objectives.

As Israel contemplates the aftermath of its objectives in Gaza, the question of governance looms large. Prime Minister Netanyahu, while expressing the intent to maintain "overall security responsibility" in Gaza post-Hamas, has not provided detailed plans. Secretary of State Blinken suggests the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a logical successor, despite concerns about its efficacy and corruption. Revitalizing the PA would be crucial for it to handle the challenges ahead.

However, placing the PA in charge immediately is seen as a potential failure, requiring substantial revitalization. Another option under consideration involves convincing a coalition of Arab nations to form a peacekeeping force for Gaza, though the feasibility and willingness of such an arrangement remain uncertain.

Despite these complexities, the Biden administration remains committed to a two-state solution. This commitment is driven not only by the need to prevent the resurgence of Hamas or extremist alternatives but also for practical diplomatic reasons. Without progress toward a two-state solution, cooperation from other Arab states in a Gaza peacekeeping effort appears unlikely.

While the pursuit of a two-state solution may seem ambitious given current challenges, it is viewed as essential for offering a positive alternative to combat extremism. However, significant changes would be necessary, including potential shifts in Israel's government stance and addressing leadership issues within the Palestinian Authority, where President Mahmoud Abbas faces credibility challenges due to age and unpopularity.

"In the current context, the notion of a two-state solution appears more as an aspirational talking point than an immediate reality," remarked Aaron David Miller, emphasizing the challenging circumstances. He pointed out that historical breakthroughs following earlier conflicts took years to materialize, citing the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt six years after the 1973 Middle East War and the Oslo Agreement arising six years after the 1987 Palestinian uprising.

While acknowledging the potential for diplomatic efforts akin to past shuttle diplomacy, Miller humorously suggested Secretary of State Blinken might need to pack a few extra shirts at some point. However, he underscored that such endeavors are not imminent, considering the ongoing complexities of the current conflict.

The focus, therefore, should not center on the day after but rather on the long road ahead — the years following the cessation of hostilities. The intricate task of stabilizing Gaza, establishing effective governance, and progressing toward an Israeli-Palestinian resolution requires a sustained, patient approach, extending far beyond the immediate aftermath of the war.

In conclusion, the complexities surrounding the aftermath of the conflict in Gaza underscore the formidable challenges ahead. The suggestion of a two-state solution, while a lofty goal, is currently more of an aspirational talking point than an immediate prospect, as noted by Aaron David Miller. Historical precedents indicate that breakthroughs following conflicts take years to materialize, emphasizing the need for a patient and sustained approach.

Secretary of State Blinken's diplomatic efforts are crucial, but the realities of the ongoing war necessitate a focus on the years after the cessation of hostilities rather than an immediate post-war scenario. The intricate tasks of stabilizing Gaza, determining effective governance, and advancing Israeli-Palestinian relations require meticulous planning and time.

As the international community grapples with these challenges, the road ahead demands a commitment to long-term solutions and a recognition that the journey toward stability and resolution is likely to be protracted. In navigating this complex landscape, diplomatic efforts must remain flexible, acknowledging the evolving dynamics of the region and the unique circumstances surrounding the Gaza conflict.