Israel Needs a Grand Strategy for Long Term Peace
This article was written by Baran Ayguven, Pinsker Centre Policy Fellow '24, and was originally published in The Times of Israel.
The recent horrifying acts of terror inflicted by Hamas on Israel have left death, pain and anger in their wake, a situation that only continues to intensify as the hostage situation proceeds with uncertainty. There is immense joy as some reunite with their loved ones, while for many more families the painful wait continues. On behalf of the Israeli people and government, there is a steadfast desire for those responsible to be punished for their actions, and for the threat of intermittent violence from Hamas in Gaza to finally be solved for good.
But just how this issue will be solved at the root still looks considerably unclear, at least from the official announcements. Indeed, the Israeli ambassador himself stated to the UN that Israel is currently not prioritizing the future of Gaza after the war; their focus, for now, is on winning the fight against Hamas.
Soruce: Financial Times
Regardless of the fact that it is probably being discussed behind closed doors, there is a distinct lack of public conversation about how best to solve the impending political crisis in Gaza, which will succeed the expected destruction of Hamas by the IDF. It is assumed that Israel has the capacity to achieve its military goals, but this apparent lack of strategic planning makes the political climate of a post-Hamas Gaza ever more uncertain.
The Israeli government has been clear on public platforms that they do not wish to reoccupy Gaza, as stated by the Israeli Ambassador to the UN. Neither does the international community seem enthusiastic about such a path. But while this is the case, there are also significant concerns over what leaving a power vacuum in Gaza could create. Taking into account the rise of regional radical terrorist organizations such as Hamas and ISIS in recent history, and Iran’s continuous and destabilizing influence in the region through its support of proxy conflicts, the birth of another similar sectarian terrorist organization is a significant and worrying possibility.
A good future strategy would be an attempt to shift the Palestinian public’s main priority from exacting revenge on Israel to rebuilding the Palestinian territories. This could only be done by an influential leader presenting a viable alternative to Hamas. Creating a viable alternative government with legitimacy is a challenging prospect as there have been no elections in the Gaza Strip since Hamas’s victory in 2006. The current likely candidate for this position is sadly President Mahmoud Abbas: the octogenarian, himself an increasingly unpopular figure, who has ruled the West Bank since 2005 without any elections having taken place. And yet, despite Abbas’s unpopularity, any newcomers to Palestinian politics would face other significant issues: namely in securing legitimacy and trust from a Palestinian public who would be reasonably anxious about Israel’s involvement in the rise of any rising leaders.
Whilst Abbas has recently expressed interest in the Palestinian Authority (PA) playing a leading role in Gaza rebuilding, his wish was for it to be under a bigger policy picture that would include an independent Palestinian state incorporating all of the Palestinian territories. Although US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has expressed his own wish for the PA to assume a more proactive role in Gaza, the acceptability of solutions such as the establishment of an independent Palestinian state or the PA taking control in Gaza remains a subject of debate within the policy constraints of Israel. Still, any leader appointed by Israel to Gaza is likely to face resistance and distrust from the Palestinian public. It remains a difficult dilemma to be solved.
A crucial aspect of executing any rebuilding strategy will be the availability of funding. To create legitimacy for a new Palestinian leader, it will be important to reduce the overt influence of Israel on the new government. For this purpose, encouraging overt funding and the exertion of political influence on the new government by other Muslim states who have undergone (or are undergoing) the normalization of their relations with Israel could be a way to bolster a more popular leader.
Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, should be pressured to participate in the building of a new government for Gazans. Their common aim for stability and normalization of relations with Israel and their camaraderie as fellow Arab states makes them good candidates to guide the development of Palestinian politics and be the mediating factor between Gaza and Israel.
Participation in the rebuilding process of Gaza would certainly give a significant voice to these nations in shaping the political sphere and the foreign relations of any new Gazan administration. In the meantime, Israel should concentrate on supplying overt funding for more local needs like food aid and community building, winning the hearts and minds of the public in ways that wouldn’t be seen as a direct infringement on the government’s authority but would help to plant a more positive public opinion from the grassroots.
The rebuilding of Gaza will be of vital significance as it will shape the Palestinian people’s perspective on the future of Palestinian statehood. If Israel foolishly allows China or Iran to become the main funders of the rebuilding process, it will put Israel in a disadvantaged position, unable to shape the direction of policy or public opinion in Palestine. Losing Gaza as a base for proxy wars against Israel would be a major setback for Iran, making it even more likely that Tehran will try to play a significant role in the rebuilding process in order not to cede its political influence. Continuing Iranian influence in Gaza makes the development of new terror organizations and proxy wars almost certain, drowning out an already perilous chance for a warming of relations between Israel and Palestine. This would result in nothing else but the continuation of suffering and despair for the Palestinian and Israeli citizens.
The aftermath of the war with Hamas in Gaza presents a significant challenge for Israel. While the current focus is on winning the war, the absence of a clear grand strategy for tackling the aftermath of the conflict in Gaza raises concerns. While Israel’s hesitancy to reoccupy Gaza is more than understandable, it is important to note the risks of terrorist resurgence posed by a potential power vacuum.
Shifting the Palestinian public’s focus from revenge to rebuilding is crucial but creating a legitimate alternative government will be difficult. Mahmoud Abbas is a highly dubious candidate and a better option is yet to present itself. A future strategy should involve diplomatic persuasion of Arab states to participate in funding the rebuilding process to reduce overt Israeli influence and to encourage the stability of any new Gazan government. It should also be a priority to prevent Iran and other rival actors from dominating the reconstruction. This could result in a return to proxy conflicts, sink the prospects for improved Israeli-Palestinian relations and, chiefly, perpetuate suffering for both sides.
Baran Ayguven is a student at the King’s College London War Studies Department and a Policy Fellow of The Pinsker Centre, a campus-based think tank which facilitates discussion on global affairs and free speech.