In a recent interview with ABC, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would handle security in the Gaza Strip for an “indefinite” period of time. With his minister of foreign affairs, Eli Cohen, insisting that Israel has no intention of governing the strip, Bibi’s comments suggest a prolonged but not permanent military occupation. His justification is simple: “We see what happens when we leave.” There is merit to Bibi’s claims; should Israel withdraw before Hamas is forever prevented from reorganizing, this invasion would have been for nothing. At the same time, “indefinite” occupation would seem the most irresponsible option available as it would generate only more resentment against Israel from all corners. This is precisely why the United States should let Bibi try to stay. Indeed, doing so may be the best way to push Israel to the negotiating table and finally bring about a two-state solution.
Ridding the Gaza Strip of Hamas is the most auspicious omen for a two-state solution since the collapse of the Oslo Accords. At nearly every peace conference since Hamas put the final nail in Oslo, the group has ratcheted up attacks. In 2006, when it won elections in Gaza, the group refused to recognize Israel, further delaying any hope for reconciliation between the Israelis and Palestinians. Since then, the organization has followed a predictable pattern of attacking Israel, eliciting a harsh response, and then basking in the public outrage it consciously instigated. As one analyst put it nicely: “Talk of a Marshall Plan for Gaza has never been credible because international donors and investors know that whatever is built is likely to be destroyed the next time Hamas decides to trigger a new conflict with the Israelis.” The October 7 attack is only the latest testimony and confirmation that Hamas is ideologically committed to Israel’s destruction and, in turn, a two-state solution. Its removal, then, is a necessary if insufficient condition to revive such a solution.
The Palestinian Authority seems to realize this. Within a week of October 7, the aged Mahmoud Abbas said, “Hamas’s policies and actions do not represent the Palestinian people.” He later recanted, but the fact he said this publicly is significant. Moreover, the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) has signaled that it may be interested in governing Gaza after Hamas is destroyed should the United States commit to and pressure Israel to be an honest partner in a two-state solution. But for American policymakers to make this dream a reality, they must proceed carefully. What is most needed now is time. They should quietly allow Israel to occupy the Gaza Strip for a prolonged period of no more than a year, during which time they should be working with Arab rulers to bring Israel to the negotiating table.
This extended period could allow the other crucial conditions to materialize.
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Max J. Prowant is a researcher with the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is also a Ph.D. Candidate in Government at the University of Texas at Austin.