Israel’s New Idea: Three States for Two Peoples

As Egypt-brokered draft cease-fire agreement takes shape, Netanyahu has gone from trying to kill Hamas’ Khaled Meshal to looking to partner with him in Gaza.

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
Hamas chief Khaled Meshal in Gaza City in December 2012 - launched to Palestinian stardom after Israeli assassination attempt.
Hamas chief Khaled Meshal in Gaza City in December 2012 - launched to Palestinian stardom after Israeli assassination attempt.Credit: Reuters
Amir Oren
Amir Oren

A draft of the understandings to end this round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas is taking shape, behind the ongoing reports of attacks and assassinations, launches and interceptions. The exact details are less important than its main features:

1. It will include an achievement for Hamas – the understandings that ended Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, plus some kind of addition.

2. That achievement would not be in the military realm, which will be frozen at whatever state it reaches at the end of this round, with Hamas having lost a third to half its firepower. It will be in the realm of the economy, welfare and quality of life.

3. This achievement will enable a tripartite agreement among Hamas’ political and military leaders – Khaled Meshal, Ismail Haniyeh and Mohammed Deif. Without the agreement of all three, the conflict will continue and Israel may be goaded into a ground operation, despite the desire of most of Hamas’ power brokers to end this round.

4. The achievement by Hamas must be substantial enough to give the group incentive to stop its own attacks but also to squelch fire by Islamic Jihad and smaller groups. The greater the achievement, the bigger the loss will be if the fire resumes and the achievement is withdrawn. Both parties must feel that the cease-fire is good for them; Hamas must also believe that it won’t be worth violating the understandings.

5. Therefore, this achievement – whose cancellation would be a loss for Hamas – must be reversible and dependent on the goodwill of Israel and the other countries who are party to the understandings. For example, the controlled opening of the Rafah Crossing to traffic to and from Egypt. If Egypt’s generosity in opening the crossing is wrongfully exploited to harm Israeli or Egyptian security, it can be withdrawn.

It’s obvious that Israel must retain the right to defend itself against immediate threats, and thwart any plans to fire on its citizens or troops.

There will have to be a multinational mechanism put in place to facilitate a dialogue between the parties to the understandings, and perhaps to arbitrate any disputes. An implementable model for this was established – de facto, if not de jure – with Hezbollah after Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon in 1996. Then it was Syria, with its decisive influence in Beirut, standing behind Hezbollah. In the south, Egypt and Hamas replace them in the equation.

This is the tactical aspect, but it is dwarfed by – and is meant to be derived from – the strategic aspect. If the start of the Oslo process was dubbed “Gaza and Jericho first,” as preparation for transferring responsibility for Gaza and the West Bank to the Palestine Liberation Organization, Israel is now seeking to separate the two parts of Palestine. Not into two halves, with a safe passage between them, but into two separate entities. West Palestine in Gaza; East Palestine in the West Bank. Three states for two peoples.

By this logic, a strong Hamas government in Gaza is essential to Israel. Thus we have Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making a sharp turnaround, from trying to assassinate Meshal in 1997, to partnering with him in an effort to end the current conflict and forge new relations between Israel and Hamas.

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