Washington Must Not Plant the Seeds of the Next Israeli-Palestinian War

December 14, 2023 Topic: Israel-Palestine Region: Middle East

Washington Must Not Plant the Seeds of the Next Israeli-Palestinian War

The growing rift between Washington and Jerusalem on post-war Palestinian governance may keep extremists in power. 

Working with Arab governments and the Palestinian Authority on a plan for the latter to run Gaza after Israel’s war with Hamas, Washington must be careful not to plant the seeds for the next Israeli-Palestinian war.

The risks are not inconsiderable, based on the nature of the Palestinian Authority, its leaders’ reluctance to meet Washington’s demands for political reform, and their support and aspirations for Hamas.

Hamas and Fatah (the political party of the Palestinian Authority) are “two basic pillars of the Palestinian national movement,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said this week on Qatar-based Al-Araby TV. “[O]ur minds and hearts are open, in order to reach a real national unity that will bring an end to the [Hamas-Fatah] rift.”

Speaking earlier with Bloomberg, Shtayyeh refused to condemn Hamas’ slaughter of 1,200 Israelis and said he envisions Hamas as a junior partner in a broader Palestine Liberation Organization. He acknowledged that Hamas, which has promised to repeat October 7-like attacks until it destroys the Jewish state, doesn’t recognize Israel, but he said that could change—why it would is anyone’s guess.

Washington’s plans for Gaza prompted an extraordinary public rift between Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposes the Palestinian Authority’s return to govern Gaza—as it did from 2005, when Israel withdrew from the strip, until 2007, when Hamas ousted it in a violent coup.

Instead, Jerusalem wants to “cultivate a new technocratic leadership within Gaza” as an alternative to both Shtayyeh and the autocratic, eighty-eight-year-old Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president who was elected to a four-year term in 2005 and hasn’t allowed another election since.

In rebuking Biden, Netanyahu is playing a dangerous game at a tumultuous time for the Jewish state.

Biden has provided munitions for Israel in its war with Hamas, sent two U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups to the region to warn Iran not to widen the war, is seeking more aid (in legislation that’s stalled on Capitol Hill over other matters), and directed his alternative representative to the United Nations, Robert Wood, to veto a Security Council resolution that demanded a ceasefire (which would prevent Jerusalem from continuing its campaign to eradicate, rather than just weaken, Hamas).

In backing Israel so strongly, Biden is facing opposition from the Democratic Party’s left-wing (as he faces a tough re-election next year that could be decided by voter turn-out) and from the global community (as witnessed by the 193-member General Assembly’s overwhelming vote for a ceasefire just days after Washington’s veto at the Security Council).

But while Netanyahu, who’s facing his own domestic challenges after Hamas’s slaughter and hostage-taking, should work to ease tensions with Washington, he nevertheless has the better of the argument over Gaza.

For starters, and despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, the Palestinian Authority is a very questionable partner when it comes to what Washington seems to expect: a peaceful border between Israel and Gaza.

How could it be otherwise? The Palestinian Authority rewards bloodshed, not peace. It makes monthly payments to families of dead or imprisoned terrorists, and the deadlier the attack, the higher the payments (which comprise 8 percent of its budget and could otherwise serve the needs of its constituents).

Why do Palestinians sign up for martyrdom? Perhaps because they’re indoctrinated into anti-semitic hatred from their earliest years—in curriculum from pre-school through high school, in mosques, and on social media. Since the Hamas attack, in fact, at least eleven Palestinian schools, including eight run by the Palestinian Authority, are “openly and publicly celebrating the horrors of the October 7 massacre.”

Biden isn’t oblivious to the Palestinian Authority’s problematic nature. U.S. officials are pressing it to oust its leaders, schedule elections, and revamp its security forces to build public support and govern effectively.

But what if today’s crop of Palestinian Authority leaders remain firmly opposed to reform? Will Biden insist on it when the fighting stops and when most of the world favors the Palestinian Authority as the governing entity and opposes Netanyahu’s plans to patrol Gaza to prevent terrorist activity?

Once the Palestinian Authority is back in place, what’s to prevent it from implanting the same incitement in Gaza that it uses across the West Bank? And even if Israel has eradicated Hamas, what’s to prevent the Palestinian Authority from encouraging terror-minded Palestinians from reconstituting that group or contributing to others that have operated in Gaza, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad?

Israel has every right to demand better and to maintain a presence in Gaza until whoever runs the strip won’t threaten the Jewish state.

Otherwise, the past will be prologue: Incitement will nourish terrorism, which eventually will bring more war. And once again, innocent Israelis and Palestinians will be caught in the crossfire.

Lawrence J. Haas is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council and the author of, most recently, The Kennedys in the World: How Jack, Bobby, and Ted Remade America’s Empire (Potomac Books).

Image: Anas-Mohammed / Shutterstock.com.