US Should Capitalize On Hamas’ Offer To Disarm – OpEd


By Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib

A high-ranking Hamas official last week announced that the group would dissolve its military wing and turn into a political party if Israel accepted a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders. Khalil Al-Hayya shocked the world with this statement, which comes as Israel is readying to invade Rafah. Israel is not taking this unexpected overture by Hamas seriously and is instead adamant about its move on Rafah. It is time for the US to put pressure on Israel to stop the war and start political negotiations.

There are three stages to ending the war. The first is to end military operations, the second is to have a change in the Israeli position and the third is to enter into political negotiations and devise a plan for the day after. The main hurdle in ending the war is the Israeli position. Israel has still not changed its position. It still refuses to abide by UN resolutions and allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Hence its refusal of any settlement that includes a Palestinian state.

The US should take advantage of the overture by Hamas to end the war. Hamas is highly damaged, according to Israel. It says 20 brigades are dysfunctional and only four remain operational. They are in Rafah. So, Israel can somehow claim victory, save face and announce it has achieved its objective of incapacitating Hamas.

However, Israel should recognize that it cannot totally eliminate Hamas. On the other hand, Israel itself was successful in turning armed factions into political parties. And the Palestine Liberation Organization ended its armed resistance once it was offered a political alternative. The same can be done with Hamas.

But Israel insists on going into Rafah. This will greatly increase the number of Palestinian civilian casualties, as many displaced Gazans are concentrated in Rafah. Tel Aviv is adamant about decapitating the Hamas leadership. However, the Israeli hostages’ lives are at stake. What if Hamas killed the hostages? Would that not be a failure, given that one of the declared objectives of the military campaign was to free the hostages?

The problem in the American position is that, despite its occasional criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, Washington is still unconditionally supporting Israel and supplying it with weapons and money. On top of the staggering human toll, the war has created internal divisions in American society. The authorities are cracking down on peaceful protesters in universities. This is happening when the country is just a few months away from the November presidential election.

If the war continues, it might very much turn into a regional war, especially if, after Rafah, Israel heads to Lebanon. A regional war would have major repercussions on the US. As Gen. David Petraeus, who led the American troop surge in Iraq, once said, what happens in the Middle East does not stay in the Middle East. 

It is in America’s interest to grab the opportunity and push Israel to change its position in order to move to a political settlement. Here, President Joe Biden can address the Israeli people by tackling the issue of the hostages. The question that he should ask the Israeli public is: What takes priority, revenge against Hamas or saving the hostages and bringing them home?

Experience has shown that insurgencies cannot be totally eliminated. They reconstitute themselves whenever the grievances that led to their creation are not properly addressed. The US should take the Hamas proposal and present it to the Israeli public as an opportunity to save the hostages and secure Israel. The US can convince the Israeli public by proposing a comprehensive peacekeeping mission that will make sure the country will not be the target of any operation coming out of Gaza.

This is an opportunity the US should not squander. In fact, ending the war, dismantling Hamas’ military wing and starting a political process could be a huge win for the Biden administration. It would be a major foreign policy achievement that boosts Biden in the polls. On the other hand, if the Rafah operation were to be conducted, the opposite would likely happen. Thousands of Palestinian civilians would die, hostages would probably be executed, the war could expand and chaos would spread across the region. If Israel does not stop at Rafah, it will probably continue by attacking Lebanon and attacking Iran. This would be highly destabilizing. It would also be a killer for the Biden administration in the upcoming elections. It is time for the US to tell Israel to stop.

Biden needs to bypass Netanyahu and engage with the Israeli public. Netanyahu has been a burden for the US. He is responsible for the intelligence and security failures of Oct. 7. The US should make that clear to the Israeli public. The US should also explain to them that the Netanyahu government’s maximalist objectives will have a boomerang effect. They will not result in a secure Israel and will only lead to the demise of the hostages. Biden should explain to them that this might lead to a regional war, which Israel will probably lose.

The US should capitalize on the opportunity presented by the willingness of Hamas to dissolve its military wing and embrace a political solution. Wartime presents few windows to make peace. This is one of them and it should not be squandered. It is time to apply pressure on Israel and dissuade it from going into Rafah. Most importantly, Israel should be pressured to change its position regarding the establishment of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders.

• Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese nongovernmental organization focused on Track II.

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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