TEL AVIV, Israel — During my nine days of reporting recently in Israel and the West Bank, I had no idea that the most telling moment would come in the final hours of my visit. As I prepared to leave on Saturday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a press conference in which he indicated that Israel and the United States do not have a shared vision on how Israel should lead well his war in the Gaza Strip or on how to convert every Israeli. victory over Hamas into lasting peace with the Palestinians.
Without such a common strategy, the Biden administration, the American people and especially American Jews who support Israel will have to make fateful decisions.
We will either have to become captive to Netanyahu’s strategy – which could bring us all down with him – or express our own American vision of how the war between Israel and Hamas should end. This would require a Biden administration plan to create two states for two indigenous peoples living in the Gaza, West Bank and Israel regions.
Yes, I’m talking about a wartime peace plan that, if Israel agreed to it, could help give it the time, legitimacy, allies and resources it needs to defeat Hamas – without ending up stuck forever ruling all of Gaza and the entire West Bank, with no political horizon for the Palestinians.
And have no illusions, this is the only vision Netanyahu is currently offering: seven million Jews trying to rule 5 million Palestinians in perpetuity – and that is a recipe for disaster for Israel, America, the Jews from around the world and America’s moderate Arab allies.
President Joe Biden’s plan: Are you sitting down? — could actually use President Donald Trump’s proposal for a two-state solution as a starting point, as Netanyahu warmly welcomed it in 2020, when he had a different coalition. (Netanyahu and his ambassador in Washington practically wrote the Trump plan.) We’ll talk about that in a second.
Here’s why we find ourselves at a moment that demands bold ideas, since last Saturday evening. Speaking in Hebrew at the joint news conference with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Minister Benny Gantz, Netanyahu dismissed U.S. and global concerns about the thousands of Palestinian lives already lost in the war to uproot Hamas from Gaza. Most importantly, he said the Israeli military would remain in Gaza “as long as necessary” to prevent the Gaza Strip from being used again to launch attacks against Israeli civilians.
Gaza “will be demilitarized,” he said. “There will no longer be a threat from the Gaza Strip to Israel and it must be guaranteed that, for as long as necessary, the IDF will control the security of Gaza to prevent terrorism from there. »
These are legitimate Israeli concerns given Hamas atrocities, but Netanyahu also indicated that Israel would oppose the return of the Palestinian Authority – Israel’s partner in the Oslo peace process which governs the Palestinians of West Bank – in Gaza after the war. The authority, Netanyahu said, is “a civil authority that teaches its children to hate Israel, to kill Israelis, to eliminate the State of Israel… an authority that pays the families of murderers according to the number of their assassins… an authority whose head is still not condemned the terrible massacre (of October 7) thirty days later. Bibi – who never gives credit to the Palestinian Authority for the way it works every day with Israeli security officials to quell violence in the West Bank – offered no suggestions for how or where might emerge an alternative and legitimate Palestinian governing authority, ready to work with Israel.
It was a direct rebuke of the Biden administration’s position expressed Wednesday by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. As the New York Times reported, Blinken told a foreign ministers meeting in Tokyo that Gaza should be unified with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority once the war ends. To retain America’s Arab and Western allies, Blinken said that right now – today – we must articulate “positive elements to achieve lasting peace.” And “these must include the voices and aspirations of the Palestinian people at the center of post-crisis governance in Gaza,” he said. “This must include Palestinian-led governance and the unification of Gaza with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority. »
My four-word translation of Blinken’s proposal to Israel: “Help us help you.” »
Blinken, however, provided no details on how this might happen. The Biden team needs to dig deeper into this.
Why is Netanyahu trying to destroy the Palestinian Authority as a governing option for post-war Gaza? Because he is already campaigning to retain power after the end of the war between Israel and Hamas, and he knows that there will be a huge wave of Israelis demanding his resignation because of the way he and his cronies right-wing extremists have distracted and divided Israel and its army. by pursuing a judicial coup that Israeli intelligence sources say emboldened Netanyahu and tempted him by enemies such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
The only way Netanyahu can stay in power is if his far-right allies do not abandon him – particularly Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. So, to gain support from Jewish supremacists in his cabinet – some of whom want Israel to erect settlements in Gaza as soon as possible – Netanyahu must declare now that the Palestinians will have no legitimate, independent representation in Gaza or elsewhere. West Bank.
Yes, I know it’s hard to believe, but Netanyahu is campaigning in the middle of this war.
It is time for Biden to create a moment of truth for everyone – for Netanyahu, for the Palestinians and their supporters, for Israel and its supporters, and for AIPAC, the Jewish lobby. Biden must make it clear that America will not be Netanyahu’s useful idiot. We will lay down the principles of an equitable peace plan for the aftermath of this war, a plan that reflects our interests and which will also allow us to support Israel and the moderate Palestinians and to win the support of moderate Arabs for an economic reconstruction of Gaza. after the war. I do not see any major economic support for the reconstruction of Gaza coming from Europe or countries like the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia unless Israel and a legitimate Palestinian authority commit to the principles of a peace framework aimed at creating two States for two peoples.
Biden must say: “Israel, we cover your flanks militarily with our two aircraft carriers, financially with $14 billion in aid and diplomatically with the UN. The price to pay is your acceptance of a peace framework based on two states for two indigenous peoples. people of Gaza, the West Bank and pre-1967 Israel. This plan builds on UN Resolutions 242 and 338, which were also the cornerstone of negotiations for Trump’s 2020 peace plan.
“Bibi, remember what you said about the Trump plan that gave the Palestinians about 70% of the West Bank as a state, plus an expanded Gaza Strip and a capital in the Jerusalem area? Biden might add. “Here’s the Associated Press article from January 28, 2020, to remind you: ‘Netanyahu called it a ‘historic breakthrough,’ equal in importance to the country’s declaration of independence in 1948.” »
The Palestinian Authority foolishly rejected the Trump plan, instead of asking to use it as a starting point. This is a chance to make up for this mistake – or to be revealed as unserious.
In her valuable new book on the history of the peace process, “(In)Sights: Peacemaking in the Oslo Process Thirty Years and Counting,” Gidi Grinstein, a member of Ehud Barak’s negotiating team at Camp David, says that the Trump plan provides a natural basis for a revived peace process towards a two-state solution. It’s not just because Netanyahu has already accepted it, Grinstein told me in an interview, even if the more radical settlers in his cabinet have not and still would not. It’s also viable because the Trump plan was actually based on the precondition that peace would only be possible after Hamas was driven from power in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority could take control of the strip. of Gaza, which, according to the Trump plan, would be expanded by land. carved in the Negev desert in Israel.
Biden could also propose that with the help of our moderate Arab allies like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Bahrain, we develop a plan to overhaul the Palestinian Authority, to purge its educational system of any anti-Israeli material, to modernize its forces that work daily with Israeli security teams in the West Bank, and to phase out its financial support for Palestinian prisoners who have harmed Israelis.
Is the Palestinian Authority ready for such an agreement? Are the progressive Palestinian supporters in the West who chant the eliminationist mantra “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” ready to do this? Will Israel’s silent majority be silent if Hamas is defeated? Let’s see what each actually stands for – or if they have a better answer – because neither is going away. Biden must put them all to the test.
I know many American Jewish leaders would privately like Biden to introduce such a plan, but so far only one, Ronald Lauder, a longtime Republican and president of the World Jewish Congress, has had the courage to call for it – to way A Saudi newspaper, no less, in an essay entitled: “A time for peace and a two-state solution”. As he explained: “Only a two-state solution would guarantee Israelis and Palestinians a life with dignity, security and a better perspective on the economic situation, which would lead to a sustainable future. »
Such a plan would protect American interests – and make clear that we care about what is best for Israelis, Palestinians and our allies in the region, not what is best for Bibi’s political future – which, according to several Israeli analysts, would prolong the war. so he couldn’t be ousted by mass protests – or drag us into conflict with Iran in the hope that it would eclipse all his mistakes.
If Israel agreed to a two-state plan, even with reservations, it would reinforce to the world that Israel views its war in Gaza as a necessary war of self-defense and a prelude to lasting peace. And if such a plan were adopted by the Palestinian Authority, even with reservations, it would reinforce that the authority intends to be the alternative to Hamas in shaping an independent future for Palestinians alongside Israel – and that she will not remain a spectator of Hamas. madness or is a victim of it.
Thomas Friedman, born in Minneapolis and raised in St. Louis Park, writes a column for the New York Times.