What Israel and Palestine could look like after the cataclysms

Cataclysms often shift the paradigms of a conflict. The brutal Hamas massacres of Oct. 7 and the massive Israeli retaliation are such cataclysmic events.

The idea of recognizing a Palestinian state is currently being floated in the U.S. and U.K., even prior to negotiating a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine — another possible paradigm shift.

After 15 years of backwards movement on the Palestinian question, with Netanyahu and Hamas working symbiotically to exacerbate the conflict, new thinking is better than no thinking — though not without peril.

The Oslo Accords envisaged an eventual Palestinian state. A serious final status offer was made by Ehud Barak to Yasser Arafat in 2000. When that offer was rejected, the Second Intifada followed, resulting in 4,500 Palestinians and 1,500 Israelis killed. In 2008, there was a serious offer by Ehud Olmert to Mahmoud Abbas after the PLO was kicked out of Gaza by Hamas in 2007, which included East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. When that offer was rejected, an Israel-Hamas War in December 2008 to January 2009 ensued, followed by Netanyahu’s election as prime minister in February 2009.

Now — out of desperation borne from the Hamas attack, the Israeli response and Netanyahu’s refusal to engage in strategic thinking about “the day after” — serious consideration is being given to recognition of a state of Palestine before final status agreements are reached, before territorial boundaries are set, before any reform of the Palestinian Authority — or even before the end of fighting in Gaza.

Notwithstanding the above, this is an exercise worth engaging in.

On Oct. 7, Hamas took the conflict to Israeli territory with brutality that recalled Islamic State attacks — rape, beheadings and the torching of entire communities. These attacks have traumatized Israeli society. That was a thunderous paradigm shift.

In return, Hamas (and Iran) got the result they sought — massive and devastating Israeli retaliation. Hamas also got a benefit they may not have fully expected: torrents of antisemitism and anti-Israel activity across the globe, much of which even called the legitimacy of the State of Israel into question.

However, Hamas failed to permanently derail Israel-Saudi normalization nor a potential strategic alliance between the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel. But real progress on those fronts remains contingent on progress on the Palestinian question.

Incredibly, Netanyahu appears to believe that in the aftermath of the Gaza War, Israel will be able to control Gaza unilaterally, normalize relations with the Saudis, have the Gulf states pay for Gaza reconstruction and return to a status quo in which 6 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are ignored. He and his radical cohorts are in Wonderland.

Palestinians in Gaza have now been subject to devastation on a scale not previously imagined. It does not matter whether the death toll is 28,000 or 20,000 or 15,000. Israeli sources estimate that over 80 percent of the Gazan population have been uprooted. (Note: Uprooted is not coterminous with actual genocide. I am reasonably certain that the 800,000 Tutsis murdered by the Hutus in Rwanda in 1994 would have preferred to have been “uprooted” rather than murdered.)

The “day after” will not be a return to the status quo.

Israel should have long ago discovered that, as a matter of policy, it cannot ignore Palestinian aspirations. Moreover, this war has been devasting to Israel’s economy and has led to the evacuations of entire communities in both the south and north (where Israelis fled shelling by Hezbollah) — and that is a sobering lesson.

Conversely, Palestinians need to internalize from the current conflict that 9 million Israelis are not going away either. Gaza reconstruction needs to consist of rebuilding an economy and housing, not tunnels.

Recognizing a Palestinian state at this stage is an explosive step. It would not, however, mean a state overnight. It would require revamping the Palestinian Authority and the exile of the Hamas military leadership from Gaza (the Hamas political leadership already resides in Qatar and Turkey). Other requirements are expected to include demilitarization — no easy sell.

It will also rock the Israeli political landscape and will, of necessity, require changes in the Israeli polity.

For too many years, Israelis (and Israel’s supporters) have basically turned a blind eye to the radicalization of Israeli politics. What had once been repugnant to Israelis has become mainstream. Overt and self-proclaimed racists are now leading members of the cabinet.

Time to apply the same the standards to Israel that must be applied to the Palestinian Authority. That too would be a cataclysmic event and a paradigm shift.

Jonathan D. Strum is an international lawyer and businessman based in Washington D.C. and the Middle East. From 1991 to 2005, he was an adjunct professor of International Law at Georgetown University Law Center.

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