Breaking Analysis | October 31st, 2023
As Israel launches its ground invasion and vows to wipe out Hamas, diplomats must press for a “day after” that offers a better future for both peoples.
The following is a contribution by Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, the president of the Middle East Policy Council, to the Middle East Institute’s “Expert Views: US diplomacy and the Israel-Hamas war.” It is reprinted here by permission. For more analyses by former American officials, please visit the original article at the MEI website.
President Joe Biden has made clear that his immediate diplomatic objectives are fourfold: the safe return of hostages, the safety of American citizens trapped in Gaza, the protection of all civilians caught in the conflict zone, and the prevention of the wider spread of the conflict. Those priorities are shared by Israel as well as the vast majority of governments in the wider world. They are all in our national interests.
But as diplomats and others work those issues concurrently, preparations must be made for “the day after.” Whether the Israelis manage to keep the ground war short before being able to declare some sort of victory or they determine that a slower, more careful effort must be chosen to preserve those four immediate objectives, the United States has three options: One, quietly accept an uneasy status quo that will inevitably continue the cycle of violence. Two, accept a drift to a one-state solution that is either undemocratic or no longer Jewish. Or three, be an effective midwife to a real two-state solution.
Most useful would be to facilitate bold and convincing steps that make clear the parties are best served if they pursue a meaningful peace. That can only come with a renewed commitment to a two-state solution. That goal has moldered, atrophied, and fallen into disrepute through neglect, ill intent, and incompetence. More books can be written later to apportion responsibility.
US diplomacy should focus on eliciting new thinking from regional leaders, but the Israeli and Palestinian people themselves must decide on who can best lead them out of their vicious cycle of violence and despair. It is clear the Israeli people intend to review their options. The United States can quietly help the parties navigate the tension between the desire for vengeance for the terrible loss of life and property, and the need to use the horror of those losses to find a different way forward to something better for both peoples. Both sides will have to select leaders courageous enough to think long term, in a way that allows them to put the good of their people ahead of staying in power because there is no doubt that this process will be painful. Extremists in the past put unbearable weight on the peace process, and many will demand maximalist aims in the future. This is where the Americans can support the chosen leaders as they maintain the necessary combination of courage and tenacity.
The United States can also help identify an effective vehicle to serve as the launching pad. A Madrid II conference that brings all the parties together to commit to a two-state solution will allow the creation of working groups of countries to cement a step-by-step approach to the permanent solution Israelis and Palestinians deserve.
Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley is the president of the Middle East Policy Council and a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. She has held senior positions in the US government, including ambassador to the Republic of Malta, consul general in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, foreign policy adviser to the commander of US Cyber Forces, and deputy coordinator for counterterrorism and director for the Office of Egypt and the Levant at the US Department of State.