Four things that will have to happen in order for the war to end.

President Joe Biden had hoped to seal a diplomatic deal in the Middle East last Monday — a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that would free hostages and allow aid to flow into Gaza. It didn’t happen, but not for lack of trying. American, Egyptian, Qatari and Saudi diplomats have spent months devising formulas for some kind of peace. The problem is that the two fighters – Israel and Hamas – are unwilling to sign up.

Their resistance does not arise from stubbornness, but from vital interests, as they see them. Israel does not want the war to end without first crushing Hamas or at least expelling its leaders from Gaza. Hamas wants to stay in power and does not want to free all the hostages unless or until Israel first stops the war and withdraws its troops from Gaza.

Clearly these are irreconcilable positions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been particularly adamant in expressing his country’s position, but he is far from alone in holding this position. Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet and, more tellingly, the prime minister’s main political opponent, fully shares this view. This includes Israel’s planned attack on the city of Rafah in southern Gaza. Gantz told Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, during their meeting at the White House this week that “ending the war without evacuating Rafah is like sending a firefighter to put out 80 percent of the fire.”

How to break the deadlock?

In all the many Arab-Israeli wars, ceasefires and settlements have been brokered, imposed, or enforced by outside powers—usually by Washington, Moscow (when it still had influence over Egypt and Syria), or the United Nations (in the days that it still had power over Egypt and Syria). when it had more influence and more peacekeepers). Outsiders may have to intervene again this time – more forcefully than they have done so far.

Gantz gained attention in his conversations with Sullivan, Vice President Kamala Harris, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and some largely pro-Israel lawmakers. Netanyahu – who has long had a turbulent relationship with Biden – was angry that Gantz made the trip to Washington against his wishes, but he might find it useful. Gantz can go home and tell his fellow Cabinet members that relations with the United States – Israel’s most important ally – are in real danger and could become disastrous unless they do more to allow more humanitarian aid and reduce civilian casualties. reduce, both of which require a break. in the fighting.

Yet some press reports have exaggerated the extent of the government’s criticism. Many stories focused on Vice President Harris’ call for an “immediate ceasefire” in a public speech on Sunday. The New York Times reported that she “took a tougher tone” than Biden on the issue. But a lecture from her full Comments show that this is simply not true. Harris called for an “immediate ceasefire for at least the next six weeks” (italics added), then noted that this was already a proposal “on the table” – made by Israel – and that “Hamas must agree to that deal.” This is not at all different from Biden’s position – it is not even different from Israel’s position. It is also not a new position prompted by the results of the Michigan primary, where many Arab-Americans voted “uncommitted” rather than for Biden because of his support for Israel. Biden has been emphasizing the need for a ceasefire for some time. (In fact, it was Biden’s pressure that led to a weeklong ceasefire in November, allowing the release of 100 hostages.)

Biden could go further in pressuring Israel to make more concessions. Netanyahu is not helping his own cause by saying, as the Times of Israel says reported on Wednesday that Israeli forces may have to remain in Gaza for 10 years to prevent a repeat of the October 7 terrorist attack. Foreign diplomats trying to resolve the conflict have failed to reach a consensus on how to rebuild and govern Gaza, or how to secure the border with Israel, after the war is over. But none of the negotiators feel the need for a renewed Israeli occupation.

If anything, Biden has grappled with the complexities of supporting Israel’s right to self-defense while at the same time pressuring his leaders to move away from their “over the top” response, as he calls the excessive bombing and insufficient attention for the Palestinian suffering.

We have so far seen little pressure of any kind on Hamas from Arab countries. The Sunni leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been saying for years that they do not really care about the fate of the Palestinians and especially hate radical groups such as Hamas. Together with the leaders of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, they had thought they could ignore the Palestinian issue and continue to “normalize” relations with Israel – for trade, technology and the common alliance against Iran. But since then they have learned differently. Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, at least in part, in order to “put the Palestinian issue back on the table,” as one of the terrorist group’s leaders boasted shortly afterwards. The cries of support and outbursts of anger against Israel’s retaliation from “the Arab street” (the term for the easily aroused public opinion in these countries) alarmed Sunni leaders – and made them reluctant to disagree.

Qatar is a more complicated case. The emirs who rule this tiny Gulf state have long played all sides of the game: making deals with Western oil companies, hosting the headquarters of the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East and serving as Hamas’s main ally, supplying its fighters. in Gaza with military and economic aid and providing lavish housing for the movement’s political leaders in Qatar and elsewhere.

The deal now on the table — which Israel has accepted but Hamas has not, as Vice President Harris noted in the little-reported passage of her misinterpreted remarks — calls for a six-week ceasefire to begin a new exchange of Israeli hostages. Palestinian prisoners, as well as the flow of much more humanitarian aid to Gaza citizens.

Biden hopes that the ceasefire can be extended beyond six weeks so that even more hostages and prisoners can be released, even more aid can be brought in and, most importantly, further progress can be made in the talks, so that the ceasefire can be ended. The fire could evolve into a diplomatic resolution of the broader Israeli-Palestinian disputes. He harbored similar hopes for last November’s much shorter ceasefire, but to no avail.

At the moment, the prospects seem bleak. This is evident from a report in the Israeli newspaper HaaretzThe talks are on the verge of collapse. Hamas is demanding a total ceasefire, an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and a return of displaced Gazans to their homes in the northern part of the Gaza Strip as a condition for the release of more hostages. Israel finds this demand unacceptable – and rightly so, as Hamas fighters could return to the north along with civilians and Israel would be unable to respond or even ensure the return of the hostages if its forces withdrew first.

If we are to settle this war, four things will have to happen at some point. First, Qatar will have to crack down on Hamas, or perhaps accommodate its military leaders in exchange for their departure from Gaza.

Second, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Sunni powers in the region will need to help rebuild Gaza and promote new, more moderate political leaders. (The Saudis have offered to reform the Palestinian Authority, which has its headquarters in the West Bank — a start, but only that.)

Third, Israel will at least have to do that participation that she is in favor of the creation of a Palestinian state and that she wants to make at least a small move in that direction. This is a prerequisite for the Saudis to do anything. It’s not a major obstacle: the Saudis once demanded that Israel take “irreversible” steps toward a two-state solution, but have backed away. Yet Netanyahu has refused to go even that far. In fact, he boasts to his coalition partners – all of whom are even more right-wing than he is – that he has rejected such talk.

Finally, the United States will have to serve as a kind of guarantor for all this – and not just for Israel. Before October 7, as the Saudis prepared for talks with Israel on normalization, they demanded that Washington – as part of the diplomatic package – provide a NATO-style security treaty and access to nuclear technology. At the time, some in the US found both conditions unacceptable. (I was one of the naysayers.) This side deal may be necessary to reach a peace deal—which, in turn, may be the only way to stop the creeping escalation into a larger, far more destructive region in the entire region. war.

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