Can U.S. Diplomacy Promote Peace in the Israel-Palestine War?

Can U.S. Diplomacy Promote Peace in the Israel-Palestine War?

A complex, multilateral diplomacy is needed to stem the current crisis. 

In 1973, amid the Yom-Kippur War between Israel and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria, then-U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger helped negotiate an end to the conflict. He then secured a historic diplomatic deal between Egypt and Israel that ushered in an era of relative stability and an ensuing Pax Americana in the Middle East.

Dr. Kissinger’s diplomatic success was based on his belief in a gradualist, step-by-step approach that became a leitmotif of his career. His strategic objective was to remove Egypt from the arena of the conflict with Israel by integrating it into a new U.S.-led Middle Eastern order, just as Prince Klemens von Metternich integrated post-Napoleonic France into the Concert of Europe. Kissinger hoped that by integrating Egypt, he could isolate the radical Arab states backed by the Soviet Union.

In the pursuit of these strategic objectives, Dr. Kissinger managed to deliver emergency supplies of weapons to Israel at a perilous moment in the war, helping to turn the tide in favor of Israel.

But he then went on to avert a total Israeli military victory, ensuring the survival of the Egyptian army by not allowing the Israelis to force its surrender, thus preventing then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s humiliation by a triumphant Israel.

If the latter had happened, neither Israel nor Egypt “would have been malleable enough to be moulded into the roles Kissinger needed them to play,” writes former American ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, in his book Master of the Game: Henry Kissinger and the Art of Middle East Diplomacy. “The hard-won Egypt-Israel agreements that followed vindicated Kissinger’s conception and his judgment, creating the mainstays of his grand design,” he stipulates.

In a way, U.S. President Joe Biden is facing a similar strategic reality in the Middle East today. In 1973, the Israelis were overwhelmed by a surprise attack by an Arab foe that posed an existential threat to the Jewish State, then by Egypt and Syria, and today by the Hamas militant group Hamas that has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007 after it had won the Palestinian legislative election a year earlier.

Then-U.S. President Richard Nixon, following the diplomatic script authored by Dr. Kissinger, supplied Israel with the weapons it needed to defend itself against that threat and even placed America’s nuclear threats under alert after the Soviet Union had threatened to intervene in the war in order to save Egypt from a defeat by Israel.

Very much along the same lines, President Biden has reasserted the American commitment to defend Israel and deployed two aircraft carrier groups, as well as other military forces, to the Middle East in order to deter Iran and its proxies from intervening in the Gaza War. 

But like in 1973, America’s support for Israel isn’t unconditional. The Biden Administration has pressed the Israelis to allow humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip, and it has also made it clear that while it supports Israel’s goal of defeating Hamas, it would oppose any Israeli plan to re-occupy the Gaza Strip.

Moreover, the Americans have also continued to back the idea of the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that would live in peace side-by-side with the Jewish State, the so-called “two-state solution.” It’s an idea that also enjoys support among 35 percent of the Israeli public and the center-left political parties. However, the current Likud-led Israeli government rejects it.

From that perspective, the United States may be in a position very much like in 1973 to promote a creative diplomatic approach in the Middle East. This would build both on Israel’s military strength and the containment of Iran while helping the Palestinians achieve their goal of political independence and economic recovery.

Such a plan could be part of an overall Arab-Israeli strategy very much along the lines of the one pursued by Washington before October 7, creating the conditions for normalization of relations between the Arab World and the Jewish State as part of an effort to contain the threat from Iran and its regional proxies, one of which, Hamas, is expected to be wrecked at the end of the current war. But in the aftermath of the Gaza War, Washington could promote the idea of integrating a Palestinian entity into the evolving Arab-Israeli strategy.

Hence, the Biden Administration could revive its plan to normalize the relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia along the lines of the so-called Abraham Accords and integrate a renewed effort to achieve the two-state solution into that process. 

In that context, Saudi Arabia and the other Arab Gulf States could emerge as central players to finance the rebuilding of the Gaza Strip and its economy. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority (PA), a moderate force that controls the West Bank and is at peace with Israel, could replace Hamas as the ruling power in Gaza, all as part of a diplomatic initiative embraced by the Arab League.

Indeed, a multinational military force led by Egypt and Jordan could take over control of the Gaza Strip, perhaps with the support of peacekeeping forces of the European Union (EU), led by France and Germany, which has an interest in bringing stability to its strategic backyard and in promoting an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

This process could take several years, and as part of it, the powers involved could set a date for a free election in the West Bank and Gaza, say, three years from now, following the economic reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, that could create the conditions for turning this territory into a tourist resort and commercial center, as the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had predicted, into the Singapore of the Middle East.

After all, the final Egyptian-Israeli agreement was only signed in 1977. This time, an agreement would be driven by an agenda and a vision of peace advanced by the United States, of an Israeli state and a Palestinian one, and integrated into an American-backed Arab-Israeli partnership.

Is it possible that after decades of fighting and bloodshed, the Palestinians and the Israelis are now exhausted, like the Egyptians and the Israelis were in 1973, and are ready to take the long road toward peace? Washington could at least give that idea a try.

Dr. Leon Hadar is a contributing editor with The National Interest, a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia, and a former research fellow in foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. He has taught at American University in Washington, DC, and the University of Maryland, College Park. A columnist and blogger with Haaretz (Israel) and Washington correspondent for the Business Times of Singapore, he is a former United Nations bureau chief for the Jerusalem Post.

Image: Anas-Mohammed / Shutterstock.