Paper - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Overcoming Barriers to Resolving Gaza and Beyond

| Jan. 23, 2024

As of early January 2024, discussion of the Gaza war heavily focuses on its humanitarian costs, cease fire possibilities, hostage prospects, and “day after” options. Yet what longer-term strategy guides actions on these vital issues while offering a more positive vision for Israelis, Palestinians, and key regional players? This paper sketches such a vision and strategy, but far more importantly, highlights the formidable barriers to its realization—and the elements of a realistic path to overcoming those barriers. With old political assumptions jolted by recent events, an opening exists for a new and better regional reality to take shape.

The past Israeli approach to the Palestinians and the region has failed. On October 7, Hamas seized the strategic initiative and Israel remains in reactive mode. The current war in Gaza has a primarily short- to medium-term focus that entails substantial risks, especially if fighting remains Israel’s dominant effort without a longer-term political and diplomatic approach to the Palestinians. These risks include an isolated Israel not integrated into the region, most Palestinians further from their national aspirations, and Israel’s main backers bearing substantial diplomatic costs. Under this “primarily military” scenario, Palestinian radicalization will increase as will regional sympathy for their plight. Simmering violence in the West Bank1 and Gaza with episodic outbursts will continue indefinitely. And Israel will indefinitely act to suppress them.

This paper argues for an alternative path that would explicitly complement Israel’s war effort with a longer-term, positive vision and strategy. Sketched here as an “Arab-Israeli-Palestinian Peace Initiative (AIPPI),” this approach includes Israeli, Palestinian, regional, US, and global components. This alternative “military plus diplomatic and political” scenario promises to lead—on a phased basis, over time—to a unified West Bank and Gaza under a revitalized Palestinian Authority, meaningful steps toward two states living in peace and security, and normalized political, economic, and security relationships between Israel and its regional neighbors. Relative to the risks of a primarily military strategy, the AIPPI would offer considerable advantages to Israelis, Palestinians, regional Sunni powers, as well as the United States and the Western backers of Israel. Moreover, credibly articulating an AIPPI strategy and taking actions toward implementing it sooner rather than later would enhance the otherwise dim prospects of a multilateral response to the security, rebuilding, and governance challenges of post-conflict Gaza—as well as boosting the chances of further normalization between Israel and its Sunni regional neighbors. Such an articulation and actions would also enable broader-based efforts to strengthen the Palestinian Authority, which should play increasingly important roles in implementing the AIPPI. By contrast, failure to commit to a positive vision such as the AIPPI, each of these desirable outcomes would become far less likely.

Of course, simply articulating a positive, longer-term vision like the AIPPI is relatively easy as many similar proposals attest. That is why a distinctive focus of this paper is to highlight and address some of the truly daunting barriers in many quarters that would block the AIPPI, especially those that would prevent this initiative even from being advanced by major Israeli figures, let alone realized in practice. While Israel’s commitment would ultimately be pivotal to bring this initiative to life, getting Israel on board calls for a sequential approach by the United States and key regional parties as described in the final section of this paper. Such efforts are partially underway now and should be intensified. Relative to Israel’s current approach that is primarily military, this AIPPI strategy offers the promise, over time, of overcoming the formidable barriers to the AIPPI en route to a more stable, just, and integrated Middle East.

The AIPPI can only work in phases, or in stages, over time: as Israelis become more confident that their security concerns on the West Bank can be met and that regional normalization is the credible “reward” for embrace of the AIPPI, as the Palestinians come to believe in a genuine Israeli acceptance of a political horizon for their aspirations and progress toward realizing them, and as regional powers see these Israeli and Palestinian convictions as real. Yet, as necessary and valuable is this kind of phased approach, it also opens the door to would-be spoilers of all kinds who view the AIPPI as inimical to their interests: Israeli far right-wingers, Palestinian rejectionists, and Iranian-influenced parties in the region who fear regional integration of Israel with Sunni states, and repudiate the very existence of the state of Israel. Overcoming these potential spoilers requires acceptance of the end-state of the AIPPI and ongoing efforts to build a winning coalition in its support.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Sebenius, James. “Overcoming Barriers to Resolving Gaza and Beyond.” Paper, January 23, 2024.

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