The ‘Day After’ In Gaza: Bridging The American And Israeli Visions – Analysis


By Leon Hadar

The divisions between Israel and the United States over the Gaza War seem to have deepened in the aftermath of the release of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan for post-war Gaza. The plan did not include reference to one of Washington’s key demands from Israel: that it accepts the idea of establishing an independent Palestinian state. 

The Israeli plan was “at odds with US aims” and bound to lead to tensions between the two countries, predicted the Financial TimesThe Economist concluded that “Israel scorns America’s unprecedented peace plan.”

Indeed, the American media narrative contrasted the American plan for the “Day After” in Gaza, advanced by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and backed by Saudi Arabia, with Netanyahu’s vision, putting into sharper focus “the widening gap between Netanyahu and the Biden Administration on the occupied territories and future of post-war Gaza.”

Are the Israeli and American visions for the “Day After” as irreconcilable as the pundits suggest? 

More likely, they represent the tensions between an American position—that is aligned with the view of Saudi Arabia and other Arab-Sunni governments—and Israeli public concerns over the security threat that an independent Palestinian state would pose. American and Israeli policymakers can try to bridge these differences by setting Palestinian independence as a long-term goal. 

Saudi-Israeli Normalization Without a Palestinian State

Saudi Arabia emerged as key to the Biden Administration’s strategy in the Middle East prior to the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, 2023 and even more significantly in its aftermath. The Hamas attack had put on hold an initial US diplomatic initiative that aimed at normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel: an outcome that would help form an Arab-Israeli strategic partnership to contain Iran. The plan also included a US security commitment to Riyadh and a green-light to Saudi efforts to enrich uranium.

What the initiative did not include was a pledge to establish an independent Palestinian state. Earlier reportsindicated that the Saudis would not have demanded the re-establishing of the two-state solution as a condition for normalizing ties with Israel. The Saudi interest in a diplomatic détente with Israel as a way of counter-balancing Iran superseded their commitment to end Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories. The Saudi position was certainly in line with that of Netanyahu, who has maintained that Israel could make peace with the Arabs and integrate into the Middle East without accepting Palestinian demands for a Palestinian State. 

What a Difference a Hamas Attack Makes

After October 7, 2023, the Palestinian issue was forced to the top of the Middle East and international agendas, displaying the high costs involved in neglecting it. Moreover, the devastating Israeli military response to the killing of at least 1,139 people, mostly civilians, and the kidnapping of about 240 others resulted in major human catastrophe in Gaza, including the death of more than 30,000 Palestinians.

The images of this devastation resulted in mounting support for Palestinians in the Arab world. The public pressure from the so-called Arab street forced Saudi Arabia to reiterate its commitment to the Palestinian cause and to distance itself from Israel and its main foreign backer, the United States. In that context, the Saudis were not in a position to establish diplomatic ties with Israel. If anything, the Saudis were playing on Arab and Muslim unity in a bid to appease public opinion

Saudi-Israeli Normalization Plus a Palestinian State 

The American response to these developments consisted of a high-wire balancing act, in which Washington continued to provide Israel with full diplomatic and military support in an attempt to avert broader regional conflagration, all while criticizing Israel’s conduct of the war in Gaza and pressing it to allow humanitarian aid to the Palestinians there. 

With Israel and the United States facing international pressure to end the offensive in Gaza, Blinken launched a major diplomatic initiative in which the Saudis would play a leading role. In practical terms, the United States restarted the plan for normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, only this time, the Palestinian issue would be a priority. Call it normalization plus the two-state solution. 

The Biden Administration refrained from proposing a comprehensive and detailed plan for peace in the region. However, the vision it laid out assumes the mobilization of regional support  for reconstruction and governance in Gaza after Israel’s war with Hamas ends. That would become a nucleus for an independent Palestinian State, under the control of a reformed Palestinian Authority. From the American perspective, bolstering Israel’s security and the creation of a Palestinian state were compatible goals. 

Israeli Opposition to the Two-State Solution

The Hamas attack demonstrated that ignoring the Palestinian issue is not sustainable. 

Netanyahu’s strategy, based on the notion that the world and especially the Sunni Arab states had grown tired of the Palestinian issue, was shattered on October 7. Ignoring the reality of the Palestinian problem has been a mistake and the Biden Administration’s current effort to place the issue on its evolving diplomatic agenda in the Middle East is sensible.

But ignoring one political reality does not justify ignoring another political reality, in this case, Israeli opposition to the two-state solution. Some pundits in Washington seem to suggest that Netanyahu’s opposition to the two-state solution and to the establishment of a Palestinian state is the main obstacle for advancing the Biden Administration’s Middle East strategy. According to the Washington Post, “White House officials have increasingly concluded that Netanyahu is focused on his own political survival to the exclusion of any other goal and is eager to position himself as standing up to Biden’s push for a two-state solution.”

Netanyahu has suggested that he would be willing to accept the Palestinian state in a 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, but under conditions that no Palestinian leader could ever accept: not just de-militarization and Israeli security control over airspace, but also an Israeli capital in an undivided Jerusalem. In retrospect, the speech was very much in line with the consensus in Israel on the issue. There are certainly no indications that the trauma of October 7 has shifted Israeli public attitudes toward accepting the idea of an independent Palestinian state. 

If anything, as one prominent Israeli pollster suggested, the Hamas attack shifted Israeli public attitudes to the right that most Israelis support Netanyahu in continuing Israeli military control of Gaza and the rest of the occupied Arab territories. Only around 25 percent of the Israelis would now support the establishment of a Palestinian state, and they agree to that only under certain conditions that most Palestinians would not accept. Indeed, today most Israelis would likely agree with the arguments made by Netanyahu in his Bar-Ilan speech.

Moreover, this is very much the position of Benny Gantz, the retired Israeli general who is seen as the leading successor to Netanyahu. While he remains opposed to annexing the West Bank and Gaza, he would also be opposed to any solution under which a Palestinian entity is not fully demilitarized and doesn’t remain a united Jerusalem remains the capital of Israel.

Recalling the Post-Yom Kippur War Era

There are those who point to the United States push for Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreements in the aftermath of the 1973 Yom-Kippur War as a possible model for pursuing an Israeli-Palestinian deal today. But they should recall that getting Israel to make the necessary concessions at that time was possible because Israel had actually achieved a military victory in that war and was ready to make concessions to the Egyptians.

Moreover, in 1973 Washington, under the direction of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, wasn’t pushing for a grand diplomatic bargain between Israel and Egypt. Washington was pursuing incremental diplomacy as opposed to aiming to transform each side’s basic conceptions of their respective national interest.

Indeed, the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement was signed six years later following Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Israel and a long and difficult diplomatic push by the United States. 

To Dream the Impossible Dream

Much of the criticism of Netanyahu’s post-war plan is that far from being ambitious, it seems to try to perpetuate the current status-quo, to continue maintaining the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, and, most importantly, it seems to make it impossible to establish a Palestinian state, a goal that is central to American policy.

Netanyahu’s plan describes a demilitarized Gaza that would face continued heavy Israeli military presence after combat operations end, a buffer zone of limits to Palestinians along Gaza’s perimeter, and Israeli control of the Egypt-Israel border in order to seal off the southern strip. The United States, on the other hand, is opposed to changes in the territorial boundaries of the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu has also rejected the American proposal to assign a reformed Palestinian Authority, led by younger and more competent leaders, to the task of controlling Gaza in the post Hamas era. Instead he proposed that a group of Palestinian civilians with no ties to Hamas control the strip. 

A Basis for American-Israeli Dialogue

While the Israeli plan underscores the gap between the Netanyahu’s government and the Biden Administration, it also leaves open the possibility that the Israeli government would move in the American direction after Israel achieves its goals of defeating Hamas and recovering its hostages.

Indeed, the vagueness in some of the wording in the Israeli plan may be a signal to Washington that while Israel is rejecting the notion of Palestinian sovereignty, the idea could be resurrected at some point in the future in the post-Hamas era. The Biden Administration has expressed its commitment to the two-state solution. But as the Americans are aware, the differences between the most moderate Israeli and the most moderate Palestinians would turn any negotiations over the issue into a diplomatic dead-end.

To put it in simple terms, no Palestinian would accept the idea of a demilitarized Palestinian state, and this is the Israeli precondition for allowing for Palestinian sovereignty. It is difficult to imagine the coming of Israeli and Palestinian minds on three crucial issues: the right of return of the 1947 Palestinian refugees into Israel, the future of the holy sites in Jerusalem, and Israel’s identity as a Jewish state. 

In face of this wide differences between the Israeli and Palestinian positions, Washington should embrace the idea of an independent Palestinian state living in peace with Israel as a long-term goal as opposed to a concrete policy proposal that could be pursued in the near future. If Washington does not accept Israeli demands for continuing military control and presence in Gaza, it needs to come up with an alternative plan that would provide security guarantees for Israel after its withdrawal from Gaza. 

The United States could propose, for example, the deployment of NATO and Arab peacekeeping to Gaza. If that is not a realistic option, it may have to accept temporary—as opposed to permanent—Israeli military presence in Gaza. Similarly, the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia could consider the possibility of selecting a government led by Palestinian technocrats to replace Hamas in Gaza, the assumption being that at some point in the future Palestinians would be able to elect their own leadership.

In a way, if and when the war in Gaza ends and Hamas is defeated, Washington and Jerusalem would be in a position to come up with a shared vision for Gaza, including demilitarization, Palestinian autonomy, and economic reconstruction, that would be accepted by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states, with the objective of an independent Palestinian state remaining a long-term goal. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan organization that seeks to publish well-argued, policy-oriented articles on American foreign policy and national security priorities.

  • About the author: Leon Hadar is a Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Research Insitute’s Middle East Program. 
  • Source: This article was published by FPRI

Published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute

Founded in 1955, FPRI ( is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization devoted to bringing the insights of scholarship to bear on the development of policies that advance U.S. national interests and seeks to add perspective to events by fitting them into the larger historical and cultural context of international politics.

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