The government needs to stop playing politics and instead outline a vision for the day after in Gaza
Is Israel on a collision course with the United States? It might be, and while there is a way to avoid the clash, it is a step that >Benjamin Netanyahu will have a hard time taking.
The clash is already identifiable from remarks made in recent days by top administration officials like Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Both warned Israel against the growing civilian death toll in Gaza and said that the US would “under no circumstances” allow the forced relocation of Palestinians from Gaza, the besiegement of Gaza, or the redrawing of the borders of Gaza.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the architect of the US mission to combat ISIS, went even further, warning Israel of “strategic defeat” if it does not protect civilians and instead drives them into the hands of the radicals.
These statements are not missed by Israeli diplomats or military officers who understand that the diplomatic clock is running out. As a result, the IDF is pushing deeper and more aggressively into Hamas strongholds in Gaza – Khan Yunis, Shuja’iyya, and Jabalya to name some – and with that push, the Palestinian death toll will increase.
While the US has held off so far on calling for a comprehensive ceasefire – instead sticking to calls for “pauses” and breaks to facilitate the release of hostages or the transfer of humanitarian aid – there is little doubt in Jerusalem that such a call is growing closer.
This is obvious from the division of roles right now within the administration. While Joe Biden is sticking to the pro-Israel approach, he is coordinating with Harris, who is taking a more vocal role that is tougher on Israel, with the goal of bridging the democratic divide on the war and bringing back party members who feel that the president has been too soft.
Israel needs to keep in mind that words are not the only way for America to express its displeasure. In 2014, for example, the Obama administration delayed the delivery of Hellfire missiles to Israel after it was upset that the IDF was directly asking the Pentagon for a resupply during the Gaza war that summer.
Imagine more delays in the $14 billion aid package to Israel. Already, Republican senators are fighting with Democrats over the package and connecting it to reforms in border and immigration policy, while some of the more progressive Democrats want to see Biden tie the aid to a change in Israeli military conduct.There are more subtle ways, such as making it harder for the IDF to access the forward-based arms depot the US maintains in Israel, or mysteriously delaying the delivery of spare parts for Apache helicopters and F-16 fighter jets. Shipments scheduled to arrive on a Tuesday could suddenly be delayed to the following Sunday due to “technical” reasons.And then there is the more public option: Biden directly calls on Israel to wrap up the war and Israel refuses, claiming that it needs more time. So far, Biden has refrained from doing so, but – depending on how the ground offensive continues and the climbing death toll in Gaza – that could change before we even know it.
A plan for the ‘day after’
ISRAEL HAS a way to avoid this clash or at, the very least, to minimize it. To do so, it needs to put forward a plan for the “day after” the war with Hamas that includes some sort of diplomatic engagement with the Palestinian Authority, which the Biden administration would like to see empowered and bolstered to be able to one day retake the reins over the Gaza Strip.
This is not something that Netanyahu, who is already in political campaign mode, can do. As evidenced by his recent statements against the PA, it seems pretty clear what Netanyahu’s election campaign is going to be about: a claim that only he can prevent the PA from taking over Gaza while his rivals – Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, and Naftali Bennett – will be weak and more susceptible to US pressure.
This is dangerous and mixes Israeli national security interests with politicking. Instead, what Israel should consider doing is providing the world with a diplomatic vision so that it backs off and gives the IDF the time it needs to degrade Hamas capabilities, eliminate more of its leaders – including the top leadership – and, as a consequence, also improve the conditions for another hostage release or exchange.
If you listen carefully to Netanyahu, there is a way to interpret what he is saying as not just what Israel will not allow, but rather what it will allow. When he says that he cannot allow the PA to move into Gaza since it incites against Israel in its education system and has laws that pay salaries to terrorists, he is essentially saying that if that were not the case, then his position might be different. Due to politics and fear of coalition partners Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, Netanyahu cannot say so publicly, but in private conversations with the Americans, government officials are getting that point across.
Americans need to undergo their own transformation
The Americans, though, also need to undergo their own transformation. The constant referencing of a “two-state solution” is misguided and creates unrealistic expectations. It shows a profound misunderstanding of what happened here on October 7. In the absence of an Anwar Sadat-like leader on the Palestinian side, Israel will not withdraw from territory in the decades to come, an ironclad condition for the PA. By creating expectations to the contrary, the US is causing more damage than good.
This challenge – creating a diplomatic endgame to the war – is not new for Israel. Over decades of peace talks with the Palestinians, consecutive Israeli governments almost never put forward their own plans for what they wanted to happen and instead created a vacuum that was always filled by American and European initiatives. Israel thought it was buying time, but in reality, it allowed for increased diplomatic pressure.
Without creating a plan that is coordinated with the US and some of Israel’s Arab allies, the country will once again be setting itself up for a vacuum that will almost certainly lead to the creation of a plan that will not be best for Israel.
Which is why the government needs to stop playing politics and instead outline a vision for the day after in Gaza. Doing so will help alleviate international pressure, will stave off a clash with the US, will buy the IDF more time to achieve its military objectives, and will – just as importantly – help restore some public trust in our political leaders.
Photo Credit:מג’ די פתחי/TPS