Israel-Hamas war could be catalyst for two-state solution
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(10/21/2023) — The ongoing Israel-Hamas war is already the deadliest in decades for both Israelis and Palestinians. In response to Hamas’s deadly attacks on Israel on October 7, 2023, indiscriminately killing Israeli civilians, including women, children, and the elderly, the taking of hostages across the border into Israel, and destroying Israeli civilian infrastructure, the ultra-right Netanyahu-led Israeli government pledged to annihilate Hamas and destroy all military assets in Hamas’s arsenal. There is little doubt the Israeli military has the capacity to carry out Netanyahu’s threat. Civilian collateral damages – civilian deaths and destruction – though under all calculations will be severe, were not factored into Netanyahu’s strategy.
There is no foreseeable end to this war before Israel achieves its objectives militarily. However, destroying the ideology of any terrorist organization, such as Hamas, is hardly ever a possibility. The possibility of real change lies in eliminating the conditions on which terrorist organizations thrive. A future of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians demands of the international community eliminating the conditions of the Palestinian people which are conducive to recruitment to terrorism.
In the conduct of such a military operation, as already has occurred by the Israeli military’s initial response, thousands more Palestinian civilians will be killed, civilian homes and other infrastructure destroyed, as well as their way of life. Moreover, the humanitarian suffering of Palestinians in Gaza will continue to be severe and will outlive the current conflict. No entreaty by President Biden and his secretaries of State and Defense to the Israel government and its military to avoid civilian casualties and to allow humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians in Gaza will make one iota of difference to Netanyahu. The military’s pause, if any, will be short lived and the Netanyahu government will not cease its military assault until his objective is achieved.
Most importantly, the United States, Israel’s staunchest supporter, will continue to provide everything the Israeli government needs to prosecute this war. While the American public will become increasingly unsettled about the killings of Palestinians and the dire humanitarian consequences of the war, there will not be sufficiently broad domestic opposition to American support and defense of Israel. International condemnation will increase as this war continues to exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Unceasing support for Israel is a reality of American domestic politics and national security strategy. President Biden and some of his predecessors have supported the two-state solution based on the boundaries of the 1967 war. Land for peace has the backing of the international community adopted in UN resolutions and international agreements. No American president has moved aggressively to force Israeli acceptance of this path to lasting peace. Interest by Israeli governments in the two-state solution has fluctuated from extreme rejection to timid support for the concept. It is always the opposition to this, the only viable solution, that prevails.
We often wonder when both sides will reach that tipping point where war is not the answer, and the only feasible solution is for two states – an Israeli state and a Palestinian state – coexisting side by side with secure borders, and with Jerusalem – West and East – serving as their respective capitals. This would mean two states whose security and boundaries are guaranteed by the international community. It would also mean that all Palestinian Territories on the West Bank of Jordan are contiguous, and Israeli settlements are withdrawn from Palestinian territory.
President Barack Obama was perhaps the first American president to express commitment to and support of the two-state solution directly to the Israeli people, thus bypassing the strident opposition of the Netanyahu government.
On March 21, 2013, speaking directly to a large Israeli audience in Jerusalem, President Obama implored the Israeli people to walk in the shoes of the Palestinian people and made clear that the two-state solution is an imperative for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He noted that rooted in Israel’s own historical experiences is “the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own.” In other words, what is true for the Jewish people is also true for the Palestinian people. He prefaced his call on the Israeli people to embrace the concept of the two-state solution by reiterating American longstanding and unwavering guarantee of Israel’s future.
He assured the Israeli people that “those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel’s right to exist, they might as well reject the earth beneath them or the sky above, because Israel is not going anywhere” and assured them of America’s unconditional support noting that “so long as there is a United States of America” Israel will not be alone.
On the issue of the two-state solution, speaking in Jerusalem in a clear rebuke of Netanyahu’s government, President Obama said this. “The only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.” He was applauded by what was a predominantly young Israeli audience. President Obama appealed to the Israeli people to sideline Israeli extremists who thrive on conflict and thrive on division. That was over 10 years ago. The same message should be delivered by President Biden now.
President Obama’s Israeli-Palestinian policy had no real chance of being tested or given a chance to succeed. Everything Obama was obstructed, as a matter of policy by the Republican controlled Congress, and Republican leaders generally. In an obvious rebuff of President Obama, the Republicans invited Netanyahu to address the Congress without first informing the U.S. president. They aided and abetted Netanyahu’s rejection of a two-state solution, and President Obama’s overall Middle East policies.
President Donald Trump’s policy was a direct opposite to President Obama’s. Trump backed Netanyahu’s policies which provided no hope for the Palestinian people and made a two-state solution unachievable.
But I see very little daylight between President Obama’s and President Biden’s policies. The support for Israel is unconditional, and commitment to the two-state solution is no less under President Biden than it was under President Obama.
In a statement during his visit to Bethlehem, West Bank, on July 15, 2022, President Biden declared his long-held support for a two-state solution. No difference to Obama’s. The question is whether he will peg support for Israel to advancing this process. The opportunity should have been seized to pressure Netanyahu to make this commitment during his recent visit to Israel to assure the Israeli people of American support for the war against Hamas. Netanyahu is at his most vulnerable point and his own future as prime minister is in jeopardy. He needs Biden’s support now more than he ever has.
In statements during a joint press conference following their meeting in Bethlehem, both President Biden and Palestinian National Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, expressed their commitment to the two-state solution. As president Abbas described this. “Both states fully respecting the equal rights of the other citizens. Both peoples enjoying equal measure of freedom and dignity.”
For his part, President Biden said. “The Palestinian people deserve a state of their own that’s independent, sovereign, viable, and contiguous. Two states for two peoples … living side by side in peace and security. … Both peoples enjoying equal measure of freedom and dignity.”
The conditions brought about by the horrors of the Israel-Hamas war just may provide that elusive tipping point for lasting peace. At this point, both the Israelis living in constant fear and the Palestinians living in inhumane subjugation must be exhausted by this perpetual conflict between them. While they are the ones to decide on the type of future they want, they cannot do it without the United States leading the international community to finally achieve this objective. If successful, it will be Biden’s greatest legacy to international peace and security and in service to humanity.
© Curtis A. Ward
Related articles in The Ward Post: