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US now focuses on Gaza on what comes after war ends

Antony Blinken returned to the Middle East on Friday with a publicly stated mission to convince Israel to show restraint in its war in Gaza and to push for humanitarian pauses. But the American Secretary of State also arrived with another objective: to begin negotiations on the post-war period.

The increasingly bloody conflict, now four weeks old, has refocused Washington’s attention on reviving the diplomatic process toward a settlement of the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The United States is convinced of this. . . and I think that this conviction has only strengthened since October 7: it is the best way, perhaps even the only one. . . it’s two states for two peoples,” Blinken said in Tel Aviv after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior leaders.

The drive to find a viable end to the conflict has become increasingly urgent in Washington in recent days as U.S. political support for Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has begun to wane.

On Thursday, Senator Chris Murphy, a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Israeli offensive in Gaza was causing “an unacceptable level of civilian damage and did not appear likely to achieve the goal of permanently ending to the threat of Hamas.

Other prominent Democrats, including Sen. Dick Durbin, have made similar criticisms, while Sen. Ben Cardin, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has also raised the issue of the conflict’s outcome.

“We don’t know how long the campaign will last, but it will be a period where we will step back (and) something will have to be put in place,” Cardin said.

Like most of his predecessors, President Joe Biden endorsed the idea of ​​creating two separate states — one for Israel, one for the Palestinians — when he took office, but he didn’t give it much attention at the question ; other international hotspots such as China, Afghanistan and Russia were high on his foreign policy agenda.

But as the Israeli offensive has intensified, Biden and Blinken have brought up the so-called two-state solution more frequently in their public remarks, and officials say the idea of ​​using the crisis to create momentum in favor of a new peace process is gaining ground within the country. administration.

“I think it’s important because we talk about all this with all the partners in the region. . . that we have this big framework in mind and that whatever we do, whatever is done also helps move that forward,” Blinken said Friday, referring to the peace talks.

Last week, Biden himself said there were no other results available.

“Once this crisis is over, there will need to be a vision of what comes next and, in our view, it must be a two-state solution,” he said.

The debate over what happens after the conflict is now on the minds of U.S. and Arab officials, even as Washington maintains its more immediate goal of delivering more humanitarian aid to Gaza, securing the release of hostages and to urge Israel to show more restraint in its efforts. to achieve its goal of destroying Hamas.

Testifying before Congress on the eve of his trip to the region, Blinken said the Biden administration was considering “a variety of possible permutations” on how Gaza would be managed once the war ends. These include a possible interim government led by Arab states or the UN before an “effective and revitalized Palestinian Authority” takes over governance of the territory.

Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007. But replacing it with the internationally-backed PA – which was created in the 1990s as part of the peace process – would be one of the necessary steps towards state-building independent Palestinian, placing Gaza and the West Bank under control. a single authority, analysts believe.

“People are talking about an international coalition or strengthening the Palestinian Authority,” said a Western diplomat. “It could be a little bit of both.” Or one leading to the other.

“Americans are considering ways to bring back a reformed Palestinian Authority to Gaza. They see (PA President) Mahmoud Abbas as the least worst option,” said a person familiar with the discussions. “They realize that Abbas cannot do this alone and they are looking for a partner. But it remains to be seen who it is.

But the PA is weak and lacks credibility with many Palestinians, highlighting what many U.S. and allied diplomats see as insurmountable obstacles to finally getting negotiations back on track.

Even if Israel crushes Hamas’s military capabilities, it will be much more difficult to destroy the ideology, analysts say. The group, both political and military, won the 2006 Palestinian elections and is deeply embedded in Palestinian society.

“The two-state solution is deeply unsatisfactory. This is profoundly insufficient. But it is still much more adequate than any other alternative,” said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington.

Blinken’s enthusiasm for a two-state solution could become more evident on the second leg of his latest Middle East tour, when he arrives in Amman for a meeting with Jordanian and Arab officials.

Some Arab allies, who in recent years have been equally reluctant to restart negotiations on the Palestinian issue while focusing on the threat posed by Iran, are now concerned that the Israel-Hamas conflict spills over borders. Blinken may be able to use the promise to eventually restart the peace process as a way to channel growing anger in the Arab world.

But the latest ideas for peace, including that of the Palestinian Authority regaining control of Gaza, are not new – and have failed in the past.

Part of the problem with their resurrection today is that the aging Abbas and Netanyahu are the same men who held power for years during the moribund U.S.-led peace efforts. Although Netanyahu publicly supported a two-state solution upon his return to power in 2009, he renounced it in 2015 and now leads a right-wing governing coalition that includes settlers who have publicly declared their goal of annexing the occupied West Bank .

Washington’s reputation as an honest broker in the Middle East has also suffered in recent years. US policy in the region under Republican and Democratic presidents – from the invasion of Iraq to joining the Arab Spring to Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and cut funding of the Palestinians – has seriously undermined American credibility in the region.

Peace efforts by the administrations of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all failed. So have the Trump administration’s efforts to find a settlement without involving the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, support for two states among Israelis and Palestinians is at an all-time low; a Gallup poll released last month before Hamas’ attack on Israel found that only 24 percent of Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem supported a two-state solution, while a Pew Research Center poll of September revealed that only 35 percent of Israelis believed it. Israel and a Palestinian state could coexist peacefully.

Yet many American, Israeli and Arab officials view this formula as the only option.

“It’s more than virtue signaling. It’s more than a throwaway talking point, as I think it was on October 6,” said Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “After October 7, it became more important.”

Yet despite talk of putting the two-state solution back on the agenda, many analysts remain pessimistic. Although many of the most significant developments in Arab-Israeli peace came after brutal conflicts – the Camp David Accords of 1978 were, in part, the result of the Yom Kippur War of 1973, and the Oslo Accords of 1993 followed the first Intifada – there is little progress in Arab-Israeli peace. optimism that the war between Israel and Hamas will create the right climate for successful peace talks.

“All the talk about the ‘day after’ is based on (the idea) that there is a day after,” said David Makovsky, Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Much of the ‘next day’ has to do with the fundamental question of whether Israel will succeed in overthrowing Hamas. »

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