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FILE - Palestinian team chief negotiator Ahmed Qreia "Abu Ala" initials the PLO-Israeli agreement while PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, second left, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, second right, and Israeli chief negotiator Uri Savir, right, who also initialed the agreement, look on at the Hilton hotel in Taba, Egypt on Sept. 24, 1995. Uri Savir, a prominent Israeli peace negotiator and dogged believer in the need for a settlement with the Palestinians, has died. He was 69. Israeli media said he died Friday, May 13, 2022. No cause of death was reported. Savir lead an Israeli delegation to negotiate a series of interim agreements with the Palestinians in 1993 that became known as the Oslo Accords. (AP Photo/Enric F.Marti, File)

Gulf States and Diplomatic Challenges Post-Gaza War: Paving the Way for Peace

Discussions about “day after” scenarios for Gaza have dominated diplomatic circles ever since Israel launched its invasion of the exclave in retaliation for the October 7 attacks. When this horrific war finally comes to an end, there will be challenging questions to address regarding the political situation for Israelis and Palestinians—and immense pressure on both sides to ensure that such a war never happens again.

Making the Case for Two States

Is it possible to find a solution that can bring an end to this nearly century-long conflict? For nearly as long as the strife between Israelis and Palestinians has persisted, peace advocates have debated the merits of a “one-state solution” vis-a-vi a “two-state solution.” The first proposal envisions a single state where Israelis and Palestinians coexist under a democratic political system that ensures equal rights for all. However, in practice, achieving this outcome would take generations. Given the urgency of the situation, such a solution is impractical in the current reality. The struggles that have classified the divide between Israelis and Palestinians will not cease within a unitary state. As Abraham Lincoln once said, a house divided against itself cannot stand; the resulting country would eventually become subsumed by one demographic group, and ethnic cleansing or apartheid would ensue.

For this reason, decades-old consensus within the international community holds that the two-state solution is the only realistic path toward peace, despite the various obstacles to its success. Officially, the United States supports a two-state solution, as do all of Washington’s Western and Arab partners. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) endorsed the concept in 1988, and even Hamas  declared that it could accept a two-state solution in 2006—though the militant group’s 2017 charter explicitly rejected the idea. For its part, Israel’s current government under Netanyahu has remained implacably opposed to the existence of a Palestinian state in any form. Without American pressure on Tel Aviv to make the concessions necessary to bring about a two-state solution, the issue will continue to languish.

Overcoming Israeli Obstinacy

As the bloodshed in Rafah and other parts of Gaza worsens with each passing day, the Biden administration continues to supply the IDF with billions of dollars’ worth of weapons for use in the conflict and defend Israel’s actions on the world stage. The reasons for Biden’s reluctance to change tack are clear. The presidential race between Biden and former president Trump is extremely narrow ahead of the November election, and public sentiment in the United States largely favors Israel. Wealthy Democratic donors with pro-Israel sensibilities provide an additional reason to refrain from pressuring Netanyahu’s government, conditioning aid to Tel Aviv, or drawing “red lines” around Israeli conduct. Although Netanyahu’s government rejects the two-state solution, the Biden administration has attempted to keep the idea alive—and suggesting that other benefits, such as normalization with Saudi Arabia, might follow if Tel Aviv accepts it.

Earlier this year, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan gave outside observers the clearest look at Biden’s post-conflict Palestine proposal at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Sullivan broadly described four guiding principles for the region’s future: a state for the Palestinians, security for Israel, normalization between Israel and the Arab world (particularly Saudi Arabia), and the demilitarization of Gaza.

But while the White House and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states are pushing for such a future—and Hamas has been devastated by the ongoing conflict—the clearest obstacles to long-term peace remains the Israeli government. Filled with extremists who use genocidal language and oppose any humanitarian initiatives toward Palestinian civilians, it is beyond doubtful that officials in Tel Aviv would even consider accepting a two-state solution. Absent Israeli willingness to entertain compromise, the Gulf states have little reason to offer anything to sweeten the deal. This would make the Biden administration’s task of convincing the Gulf states to join future economic or political initiatives immensely more difficult.

The UN has estimated the cost of reconstructing Gaza at about $40 billion. It has also suggested that recovery from the extensive and unprecedented destruction could take as long as 80 years—longer than the entire post-1948 period of Palestinian history. In order to begin such a daunting recovery, the funds of wealthy GCC donors are needed; but the bloc’s members have already affirmed they will not participate in covering the reconstruction costs of Gaza without certain guarantees from Israel. The Arab “quintet,” comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Jordan, and Egypt, has made it clear that its financial support for post-conflict Gaza will come at a price. The UAE’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Lana Nusseibeh, acidly observed that Abu Dhabi would not pay for new buildings in Gaza only to see them destroyed again in a future Israeli invasion.

Instead of simply pouring money into Gaza, the GCC states have emphasized the need to resolve the root causes of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians—the occupation of Palestinian land and broader displacement, discrimination, and dehumanization of the Palestinian people. Gulf Arab leaders insist that without addressing these fundamental drivers of violence, no serious political solution can be on the horizon—and Israeli leaders will be left responsible for reconstruction.

In the face of Israeli intransigence and American ineffectiveness, the GCC states must test whether they have the political clout to revive the seemingly-moribund two-state solution. What is clear, though, is that Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have emerged as increasingly influential Arab power brokers with increasingly aligned foreign policies on this issue. It is certainly worth considering the actions that these three GCC members could take to pressure Israel into agreeing to concessions to the Palestinians in exchange for financial assistance post-conflict or even diplomatic normalization. Of course, the Gulf states can only do so much to persuade Israel to accept the two-state solution—that decision will be made by the Israeli government. But for the good of the region, for Israel security and the Palestinian people, the quintet must pull every lever of power to cajole and coax Tel Aviv to compromise.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Gulf International Forum.

Issue: Geopolitics
Country: GCC

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Dr. Khalid al-Jaber is the Director of MENA Center in Washington D.C. Previously, he served at al-Sharq Studies & Research Center and as Editor-in-Chief of The Peninsula, Qatar’s leading English language daily newspaper.


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