Virtual Media Briefing: Gaza the Day After

Tuesday, November 28, 2023
Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

Dean and Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Politics, Princeton School of Public and International Affairs

William Davidson Distinguished Fellow and Counselor, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; former U.S. Special Middle East Coordinator

President, Council on Foreign Relations

Panelists discuss the possibilities for governance in Gaza, including the potential role of regional powers and the West.

FROMAN: Well, thanks very much, Emily. And thanks, everybody, for joining us this afternoon for this briefing on “Gaza the Day After,” the future of Gaza.

I’m very pleased to be joined by three experts on the subject: Steven Cook, who’s a senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies here at the Council on Foreign Relations; Dennis Ross, distinguished fellow and counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the CFR member, among other things; and Amaney Jamal, dean and professor of politics at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, and also a CFR member. So delighted to have the three of you. We’re going to have a conversation for the first few minutes and then I will open it up to all of you for questions from the group.

Steven, let me perhaps start with you. Could you give us a brief update on developments on the ground in the last forty-eight, seventy-two hours, things that we should be watching out for?

COOK: Great. Thanks so much, Mike. It’s a pleasure to be with everybody here today, especially my friends Dennis and Amaney. Just for those of you who aren’t keeping up to a minute what’s happening, I think the most important issue at the moment is the fact that the CIA Director Bill Burns was in Doha today with the Israeli Mossad leader and their Egyptian counterpart, speaking with the Qataris about ways in which to extend this pause in fighting even further. And that means finding ways in which to win the release of Israeli men and military personnel, which is much, much harder than women and children, which took quite a long time. But it’s clear that that is the next step and there are ways in which they think that they can move this forward.

Of course, if the past is any guide, Hamas will be demanding very, very large numbers of prisoners that the Israelis are holding in order for them to release Israeli hostages. So it’s good that the diplomatic wheels are moving, but the price may be too high for the Israelis. Other important diplomatic development is that Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be traveling to Israel, the West Bank, and the UAE also in an effort to seek ways to extend this pause in fighting, perhaps turn it into a durable ceasefire, and to explore ways in which the Palestinian Authority can be reinvigorated, in his words, and ultimately—and ultimately play a greater role in the Gaza Strip, and to seek ways in which the UAE can use its influence with the Israelis on their military campaign. Other developments in the region are American military forces operating now in the Persian Gulf, including an aircraft carrier battle group, which is quite close to Iran, and Houthi military activity in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden which is targeting Israeli-linked shipping.

As far as just my, you know, brief, quick view on the day after in Gaza, I think that Secretary Blinken continues to believe that he can pursue a policy which would lead to the reinvigoration of Palestinian Authority and ultimately extend its administration to the Gaza Strip. I hate to start out this discussion by being so, you know, deeply cynical about this, but I just don’t see how that is going to happen. I think that that—in a perfect world, that may be a way towards a day after in Gaza. But it strikes me that the Palestinian Authority is so corrupt, so deeply dysfunctional, and lacks legitimacy in ways that American and international efforts to rebuild it would take too long and not meet the current crisis, if they were even successful. So it strikes me then that the outcome, if there is an outcome here, is likely to be an Israeli occupation of parts of the Gaza Strip for some period of time. I think the Israelis have been clear that they want to establish a security regime on the Gaza Strip. It doesn’t strike me that anybody is going to be their partner in that. And that will leave them there to ensure security as best as they can.

FROMAN: Let me push you a little bit on that, Steven. And you’ve called the plan to put the PA in charge of Gaza “fantasies cooked up in Washington.” So you have a strong view of the strength of that of that idea. If Israeli occupation is the only alternative, is it of just the northern portion, a buffer zone to provide security? Or do you see them occupying or ruling over all of Gaza? And how sustainable is that?

COOK: Well, let me be clear, I don’t think the Israeli occupation is the only option, though it seems to me the only feasible option at the moment. I think that the conflict has reinforced the idea that the Palestinian Authority is somewhat of an afterthought in all of this. But directly to your question, Mike, it really is the way in which the Israeli military operations unfold. If they’re able to extend the ceasefire beyond this weekend, perhaps the Israelis will refrain from moving into the Gaza Strip, southern part of the Gaza Strip. But regardless, if their strategic goal remains the destruction of Hamas, that means that they will move into the—into the southern part of the Gaza Strip.

And that’s why I said that I think that it’s likely that an occupation of some, or part, or a whole Gaza strip for some period of time is a likely outcome of at least the military operations, as the Israelis are pursuing them at the moment. I don’t see—perhaps Dennis, who has, you know, long, obviously, history and experience with this, has some ideas about how actually to reinvigorate the Palestinian Authority and make it effective. But it hasn’t been there in sixteen or seventeen years. And, like I said, is deeply compromised by its corruption, dysfunction, and illegitimacy.

FROMAN: Dennis, let’s go to the issue of Hamas. You’ve written in a recent Foreign Affairs piece that Israel needs to completely neutralize Hamas militarily. Is that realistic, given the constraints, given the civilian casualties that we see being inflicted in Gaza? And what does it mean to really eliminate Hamas altogether?

ROSS: Yeah. I’ve never suggested that you can eliminate Hamas altogether. You can’t. First of all, it exists outside of Gaza. Secondly, I think to be able to do destroy Hamas’ military wherewithal, its military industrial base, its organizational coherence is something the Israelis probably could do. It doesn’t come at a low cost. But it’s something they could do. And the reality is, Israelis are not going to live in a situation where Hamas continues to be able to threaten them from Gaza. We’ve seen this movie before. We had one conflict in 2014 that went on for fifty-two days; 12,500 buildings were completely destroyed in Gaza, another 6,500 were severely damaged, 150,000 dwellings for housing were uninhabitable. There was a decision, you know, collectively internationally. There was a call for let’s have a massive reconstruction and come up with a mechanism to ensure materials won’t be diverted.

But Hamas was still in control. And nothing happened. Hamas remained in control and rebuilt itself. It has three hundred miles of tunnels underground, meaning that all these materials that could have been used above ground to build Gaza were not used for that. So we know what Hamas will do. And they’ve been very clear what they intend to do when this is over. So from an Israeli standpoint, you’re not going to get people to move back to the south. You have 150,000 people who aren’t living in their homes in Israel. You’re not going to get people to move back to their homes unless Hamas is no longer in a position where it’s controlling Gaza. That doesn’t mean every Hamas member or every Hamas fighter, every Hamas guy who’s armed has suddenly been disarmed. But it means that basically Israel has destroyed them as a military force. And that’s something that they probably can achieve. We’ve, I think, achieved a lot of progress towards that end in northern Gaza. Steve is quite right. This cannot be completed unless you go into the south as well.

But Israel doesn’t want to be occupying Gaza. They left Gaza in 2005. They didn’t leave Gaza because they wanted to come back in. They left Gaza. People tend to forget, there was no embargo, there’s no boycott, there was no quarantine of Gaza from September 2005 until June 2007, when Hamas carried out a coup. So they didn’t automatically put a quarantine in. And something else that tends to be forgotten, you know, Israel had six crossing points into Gaza when they withdrew, and those six crossing points were a lifeline to Gaza. There was no—because of the Second Intifada, there was no port. We had negotiated a port—I’m sorry. We had negotiated an airport during the—as part of the Wye River Agreement. That was destroyed in the Second Intifada. And Rafah was closed by the Egyptian. So there were six lifelines.

And Israel withdraws completely. And Hamas attacks the crossing points. They weren’t a favor to Israel. They were a lifeline for the Palestinians. So those six points were reduced to two. So we have a reality of what we know Hamas will do if they remain in power. And Israel is determined not to leave them in power. The question is, and this is in essence what you’re asking, can they succeed in doing that at some kind of acceptable cost? But one also has to ask the question, if they don’t succeed in doing it what are the implications of that? So if Hamas is still there, the ideology of rejection will be reinforced. Hamas’ appeal will, and the appeal of that ideology, will go up. So the—it seems to be from an Israeli standpoint, they’re quite determined to do this. There is a—there’s a tension here between their desire to get all the hostages out and having pauses and being able to achieve their military objective.

And so I also—I don’t see an extended ceasefire. I just don’t see the Israelis accepting that. And I think the question becomes, this is really what Steven was raising, if they don’t want to occupy Gaza, which they clearly don’t, and it’s true there’s no way the PA can come in. I mean, I’m happy to talk about revitalizing or reforming the PA. It was done before, by the way, in 2007. Right after they had lost, by the way, they had lost Gaza in a coup. They had no credibility because of that. There was complete lawlessness throughout the whole West Bank. At the time, I was actually—I was it in the Bush administration, but I was working with a younger coherent—a younger cohort of Palestinians trying to see what could be done in the West Bank. And the Bush administration insisted, organized all the donors, went over to Ramallah and said, you know, unless you appoint Salam Fayyad and empowered him, now we’re cutting you off. And he went ahead, and he did that. And Fayyad did succeed in cleaning up the place.

It’s not impossible to do that. It would be harder right now. And it’s not going to be instant. We’re talking about, in my mind, you know, probably eighteen to twenty-four months for that. So you need some kind of interim administration in Gaza, and you need it under some kind of international umbrella. We’ve seen this done before. We look at what was done after the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. There was a U.N. mandate. There was a U.N. administration. Is that something that could be possible for Gaza? Certainly, it wouldn’t get through the Security Council if it’s an American initiative, because the Russians would veto it. But if it was an Arab-led initiative, I’m not so sure it couldn’t be possible. The Arabs won’t do that unless they see this as part of a larger whole. Meaning, they will do things they weren’t prepared to do before in terms of investing in the PA to revitalize it. They want to see two states as the outcome. They understand that if you don’t revitalize the PA and reform it in the West Bank, it can’t come back into Gaza. You can’t have two states unless you politically reunify Gaza and the West Bank.

So you can—you can see at least conceptually what could be done. The key challenge is, will you get international forces to go in in a circumstance where Hamas hasn’t been completely defeated and where they would have to impose on Hamas? I don’t see anybody prepared to impose on Hamas. So, again, you come back to can Israel succeed in defeating Hamas to the point where they don’t disappear, but they basically lose their political control and are too weak to resist those who might come in to do a management? Who makes up this kind of international administration? And I have thoughts on that. But that’s, in effect, what you’re going to need if you’re able to succeed in what I think the Israelis, at this point, remain determined to do, which is to make sure that Hamas is no longer in control of Gaza. Which, as I said, doesn’t mean you eradicate Hamas. It doesn’t mean you annihilate Hamas. Because that’s not achievable at all.

FROMAN: And just to clarify, is it—you mentioned the U.N. going in following Khmer Rouge for Cambodia. Is it possible that the—some combination of Arab States takes control over it?

ROSS: Again, only if Hamas has, in a sense, been defeated to the point where it’s no longer in control, where one has to then negotiate what is going to be the Israeli withdrawal. You can’t have the Israelis, in a sense, defeat Hamas to the point where it’s no longer control. If they simply pull out, you have a vacuum. And God knows what’s going to happen in those circumstances. So you’re going to have to work out some kind of arrangement where the Israelis will withdraw you’ll bring in an international force. And in that circumstance, where Hamas has been defeated and where there’s a U.N. umbrella—and, you know, the tradition there, we always talk about international legitimacy. Then I could see—I could see certain Arab countries playing a role, even on the security side of it. For example, Morocco. I could see Morocco playing a role in the context I just described. If that’s not the circumstance, then I don’t see an Arab role.

FROMAN: Amaney, you’re the co-principal of this Arab Barometer Project, which is the longest standing survey of public opinion in the Middle East. Quite remarkably, a version of the barometer came out on October 6, or the data was from October 6, from Gaza, giving a view of the Gazans view of their political environment. Tell us a bit about what the lessons were from that survey, and then let’s talk about what the impact of this war might be on it.

JAMAL: Yes, thank you, Michael. And it’s a great pleasure to be with Steven and Dennis as well.

So, you know, the Arab Barometer sort of monitors social, political, and economic attitudes of ordinary citizens across the Arab region. We so happened to be polling in both the West Bank and Gaza right before the October 7 incident, atrocity in Israel. And what we found in the Gaza polls, if you may, is that about two-thirds of Palestinians in Gaza said they had no or little trust in the Hamas regime right before the attacks on Israel. About 60 percent of Palestinians in Gaza felt that they couldn’t freely express their opinions. And another about three-fourths said they didn’t feel that they had the right of assembly and protest freely. So, increasingly, Palestinians in Gaza are basically assessing the Hamas regime more and more in terms of a—or, are seeing it more and more in the ways of an authoritarian regime governing in Gaza.

More importantly, in terms of—when we look at the economic side of the story in Gaza, three in four Palestinians were saying that in the previous thirty days they ran out of food and they didn’t have enough money to feed—to buy more food. So another—three in four; that’s almost 75 percent. That number is drastically up, Michael, from 2021, where we asked the same question of Palestinians in Gaza. Then, in 2021, only 51 percent of Palestinians said they couldn’t afford to feed their families in the previous thirty days. So that’s almost another quarter of the Gaza Palestinian population complaining about economic conditions.

And this is very surprising. When we asked Palestinians, well, who do you blame for this economic crisis? We listed a number of options, including the Israeli blockade. The most oft-cited response was mismanagement of public funds by the Hamas government. The blockade came in second. And it’s not to say that the Gazans don’t believe that the blockade is a problem, but that they—the citizens of Gaza were sort of almost fed up, if you may, with the public mismanagement. Steven spoke about corruption in the ranks of the Palestinian Authority. Seventy-two percent of Palestinians in Gaza believed Hamas was corrupt and was—and there was widespread corruption in the ranks of the Hamas government.

If I could say one thing, Michael, about the PA. I have—in our poll, we also found, just to sort of back what Steven and Dennis have alluded to, about 52 percent of Palestinians in Gaza believe the PA, the Palestinian Authority, is a burden on the Palestinian people and think they would be better off if it were dissolved. So this does highlight the serious legitimacy crisis that the Palestinian Authority faces among the Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza. But I do want to remind everybody that the Palestinian Authority itself was created alongside the Oslo peace process, and its sort of mandate was to work with Israel to bring a Palestinian state. So a lot of the illegitimacy that the West—that the PA bears, or that—why Palestinians are so skeptical of the PA is 100 percent the corruption, but also the fact that they have not been able to deliver on any of the promises linked to peace.

If you look at the settlements on the West Bank, we have now 750,000 settlers on the West Bank. At the eve of Oslo, those numbers were closer to 100,000. So this has not helped the PA. When we ask Palestinians which political party do you have the most faith in? The plurality party still is Fatah on the ground. A third of Palestinians support Fatah. Hamas comes in second, but it has less support than Fatah. So there is something there to work with, some kind of—you know, if you’re asking me, I’m answering questions that I wasn’t asked so forgive me—but to work with Fatah and maybe some elements of the PA that have, like, technocratic skills, to see where this might go is something I think worth taking a look at.

FROMAN: I know it’s hard to conclude with any certainty, but what would be your guess about how the crisis in Gaza might be affecting how Gazans view Hamas? Do they—are they likely to show less support for Hamas because Hamas brought this on them, or are they likely to rally behind Hamas because Hamas is defending them and the broader Palestinian cause, allegedly?

JAMAL: So, Mike, this is a great question. Previously in our polls when there have been these cycles of violence between Israel and Hamas, we’ve seen that support—Hamas has benefited. Hamas has benefited from the cycles of violence. It sort of basically is able to mobilize public sentiment behind it. Having said that, Michael, this is—what we’ve also seen on October 7 is just basically so atrocious and so unbelievable that we have not seen this before. There are these ongoing debates within the Palestinian camp—and remember, when we talk about support for Hamas, there is a little bit of that zero sum sort of calculation. If Hamas benefits from something, the PA does not. If Hamas is not benefiting, maybe the PA does benefit. There are conversations right now. Did Hamas miscalculate? Did Hamas overreach? Why bring in the—why go after hostages? In ways that are leading to different conversations, which might ultimately benefit the Palestinian Authority in the long run.

FROMAN: From your surveys, how much faith do Palestinians have in the likelihood of a two-state solution?

JAMAL: So, Michael, by and large, across the board, when we ask Palestinians, what is your—what is the solution that you favor the most? The majority of Palestinians, both in Gaza and the West Bank, will say, a two-state solution based on the ’67 borders, where Israelis and Palestinians coexist and live in peace and harmony. The one-state solution does not track well. It tracks a lot better in the diaspora, if you may. It does not track well with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza are really committed to the national cause, which is to have their own sort of independent Palestinian state. So that, by and large, remains a viable option.

In Gaza—when we ask Palestinians in Gaza, of these options, which one do you support the most? We asked them about the two-state solution, the one-state solution, and a confederation. We also allowed for a fourth option, which was “other”. About 80 percent chose one of the solutions that basically coexist with the State of Israel. Twenty percent did write in other—use the other option, Michael. And they wrote in armed resistance. So that’s one in five. But 80 percent is still something to work with, at least for us optimists. It gives us something to work with.

FROMAN: Terrific. Let’s open this up. Emily, can we have our first question?

OPERATOR: Yeah, of course.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

OK, and we’ll take our first question from Andrea Martin (sp).

Q: Hi, everyone. Thank you for today’s briefing.

I wrote the question in the chat, but I’m happy to repeat it. I’m concerned that I don’t hear a Palestinian voice or perspective on today’s panel. I appreciate the professor’s research, but that’s sort of third hand. And if Mr. Cook’s assessment that the Palestinian Authority is not legitimate, then who is the partner for the Palestinian people? What I’m hearing in today’s discussion seems to prolong this undemocratic apartheid practice. I’m a student of history. I’m a legislative staffer on the Hill for thirty years. And I’ve watched Jim Crow in the U.S. I’ve watched Apartheid in South Africa. And I’m not hearing you all describe—I don’t hear a Palestinian voice on this panel. And I’m just hearing this sort of paternal discussion about the Palestinians without hearing their voice today.

FROMAN: Probably start with Amaney, and then perhaps, Dennis, you want to chime in as well.

JAMAL: Thank you, Andrea, for that. So I think, you know, from the Palestinian perspective, no, they do not want to live under Israeli occupation. They are—they do not want this conflict in Gaza to end with a new occupation. As you know, Palestinians want to end the Israeli occupation on both the West Bank and in Gaza with an independent state. So that’s not viable, I mean, from their perspective. And in we see this in our polls. And if you want me to represent that voice, we know that Palestinians are—Palestinians want to live in peace and freedom and dignity alongside the State of Israel. And that’s really important to take note here.

ROSS: I want a two-state outcome I’ve worked for it for, like, the last forty years. So it’s something I deeply believe in. I think the Israeli occupation in the end is not in Israel’s interests. I am not someone who subscribes to the language that Israel is an Apartheid state. You can obviously look at what goes on in the occupied territory as one thing. You look at what exists in Israel, it’s something quite different. When you have someone like Mansour Abbas, who is a member—is actually an Islamic party within Israel, is a member of the Parliament, ask him, is Israel an Apartheid state? And he will say no. So we can use these labels, and the labels sort of tell a story to a lot of people. These kinds of labels tend to add to the sense of demonization of one side or the other.

You know, I’ve spent so much time dealing with this conflict over the years that the thing that’s always troubled me is that everybody engages in their debating points, but they never—they never focus on problem solving approaches. So I think there is a Palestinian voice representative here. I would also say that—I won’t speak for Steven, although I will right now. I think that the two of us have had a long-standing position that there needs to be a two-state outcome. Because there are two national movements with two national identities. The idea that one state would be a solution is an illusion because you’re asking these two national identities to submerge themselves. And that’s just not going to happen. So you need two states for two peoples, and you know, we are a long ways from that. But I will tell you, there will be a political reckoning in Israel when this is over. When you have more than three-quarters of the Israeli public holding the current government responsible and holding the current prime minister responsible, there will be a political reckoning.

And there will be something else. For the first time, we will actually see a debate in Israel over what the relationship with the Palestinians should be. People tend to forget we had Oslo but it wasn’t a debate. This was something that was a secret channel that became public. Rabin and Peres were committed to it. There was an opposition to it, but there wasn’t really a debate. It was adopted by the Knesset. When Sharon withdrew from Gaza in 2005, there was no debate. There was opposition to it, but there was no debate. So we’re going to see something happen in Israel not only as part of a political reckoning, but we’re going to see a debate for the first time: What should Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians be?

And you know, I can envision two positions. One will be: Look, we just saw what happens with Hamas, which was a quasi-state, and you’ll see what kind of a threat that represents to us, so we can’t live with it. And I can see another school that basically says: You know what? We have just defeated Hamas, and if we continue to occupy the Palestinians and think that they will simply acquiesce, you’re in a dreamworld. We will radicalize and we will create successors to Hamas. That will be a very strong voice.

In the end, this is going to play itself out. And we can think about what role we play in terms of trying to affect it, but this is—ultimately, it has to be an Israeli—Israelis will be most committed to an outcome that results from their own debate.

FROMAN: And, Dennis, if you had to speculate right now, which of those two camps would prevail?

ROSS: I think the camp that says we’re going to have to—we can’t continue to occupy Palestinians and assume that somehow they’ll simply accept that.

By the way, I’ll just say in passing—not to bring in history, although I, obviously, toil that from time to time—when Jabotinsky wrote about the Iron Wall, one of the reasons he wrote about the Iron Wall is because, he said, there is no reason to believe that the Arabs who live there will be any less attached to their land than we are. It’s too bad that some of the people on the right wing in Israel don’t seem to understand that.

FROMAN: Let’s go to the next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question is from Rami Khouri.

Q: Thank you very much. It’s good to see all of you and hear your thoughts.

I’d like to ask all three panelists, if they want to say. When we get some kind of arrangement—when the assault on Gaza ends, and the fighting stops, and whatever happens with the detained people on both sides and the prisoners—there’s probably going to be a big effort to create some kind of negotiation for some kind of outcome, and your discussion here has mirrored what I’ve heard for the last seven weeks. People are just speculating. Nobody has any clear idea what will happen, but we all have ideas about we have to work together.

My question is, given the fact that the United States has been the—has almost monopolized mediation for about the last forty years with almost nothing to show for it except the Abraham Accords—which are not serious mediation processes, I don’t think, or serious contributions to real peace and justice for both sides—what do you think is going to be the situation in terms of who can coordinate or manage or lead that process? Because the United States clearly has lost tremendous credibility. Most of the world—the Third World, the South, and many others—don’t trust it. They don’t believe it. You know, Biden’s in the war room with Netanyahu as this war is being developed. That raises a lot of questions about the credibility of the United States. So what kind of—but the U.S. has to be there because they’re the only people the Israelis trust. So what kind of possible multilateral negotiating mechanism can be created, possibly building on the lessons of the Madrid process? Well, I didn’t—I thought—

FROMAN: Thank you.

Q: You’re supposed to identify ourself. I forgot. I’m from—with the—I’m a Palestinian, but with the American University of Beirut.

FROMAN: Thanks, Rami.

Dennis, you want to take that one?

ROSS: Yeah, I’ll start with it.

Look, Rami said at the end the U.S. has to be involved because it’s not just a question of the only one that Israel trusts; it’s the only one that has any influence on the Israelis.

I might just say as an aside I went into Gaza in early 2005 after Sharon had announced he was going to withdraw from Gaza, and I made the case when I went there, speaking to a group of a couple hundred—and actually, unbeknownst to me although I saw when I arrived, several leaders of Hamas were there, including one of the founders, Mahmoud Zahar. And I basically made the case. I said, look, the—Israel’s getting out. You turn Gaza into Singapore and, you know, the international community and the Israelis themselves will say: OK, if it’s good enough for Gaza, why not the West Bank? But if you turn it into a platform for attacks against Israel, who’s going to say: Let’s take that failed model?

Nobody in the audience was prepared to engage on that, but they were all saying the U.S. can’t be an honest broker. You can’t be an effective broker. And I wasn’t part of the government because this was during the Bush administration. And I said: You know—this was 2005. We’d had the Second Intifada. It wasn’t over yet. And I said: For the last four years, the Bush administration hasn’t been any kind of broker—an honest, dishonest; in fact, it hasn’t been any kind of broker. It walked away. Can anybody here tell me you’re better off with the U.S. not having been a broker at all? And you know, with four thousand Palestinians having died during the Second Intifada, nobody in this audience, who—none of whom had been shy, was prepared to say they were better off without the U.S. being a broker. So my point is, yes, the U.S. is going to have to be a broker.

The question Rami is raising is, are there others who can contribute? And I would say one way to think about this differently may be to look at Arab states who can play a role that is different than we’ve seen in the past. One of the things when I was in Saudi Arabia that I heard that was very different than I’ve heard in the past was much more of a readiness to play a role both in terms of revitalizing the PA but also playing a role within Gaza in terms of reconstruction, provided this was part of a whole—I heard the word “holistic”—provided there was a whole approach that also had a political horizon and a political destination, meaning two states. So I do think there is a role that Arabs can play, especially those Arabs that have a relationship with Israel. And even—and we know these days there are Arabs who have a relationship with Israel that may not be all that visible. But, yes, I think there is a role for them to play here. Those that the Israelis have created some kind of—some degree of trust with can play a role. They also can play a role in terms of providing incentives to the Palestinians.

So I think that’s different than we’ve seen in the past. And I would suggest—I would—and I wouldn’t be against, by the way—I mean, I would like to see at some point maybe another kind of Madrid II conference. I don’t rule that out as something one might do as a way of creating some agreed set of principles, which will be hard to produce. But again, one of the things we don’t—if we treat our approach as if this is October 6, we are—you know, we’re kind of missing what I think is something that has been transformative. Israel after October 7 is not the same Israel as before, and we’re going to see there’s going to be a reckoning.

I also think there needs to be some soul searching on the Palestinian side. Who really is going to represent them? As Amaney points out, if you look at what is the broader consensus among Palestinians, somehow that needs also to be—there has to be some means for reflecting there. I don’t know if the process of revitalization and reform in the PA can contribute to that, but I do think that we’re going to need to see some soul searching both among Israelis and among Palestinians.

OPERATOR: Our next question is from Anton La Guardia.

Q: Thank you very much for this.

To what extent can the U.S. or others play a role in revitalizing the PA? What does it mean? What does it involve? Over what time scale?

And, secondly, to what extent does Antony Blinken’s attempt to set out that political horizon that Dennis was talking about put him at odds with Bibi Netanyahu and his government? And to what extent can he press on that, for example, by, you know, acting on what is, after all, American policy to reopen the consulate in Jerusalem, to, you know, be harder and tougher on the whole question of settlements in the West Bank, and so on? In other words, are there things the U.S. can be doing now, apart from saying no ceasefire and trying to mitigate the humanitarian consequences, that would concretely create facts on the ground—to borrow a phrase—towards that Palestinian state?

FROMAN: Who’d like to take that one? Steven?

COOK: I’ll take a stab at it, though I am the one who said that I think the revitalization of the Palestinian Authority, as Mike was nice enough to quote what I said, a fantasy cooked up in Washington.

I think that, you know, there—dovetailing on what Dennis said, there does need to be some rethinking within the Palestinian camp as well, and I think rethinking the Palestinian Authority is primary precisely for the reasons that I pointed out at the—at the opening of this call: corruption, dysfunction, and lack of legitimacy, as Amaney’s polls point out. So if Secretary of State Blinken believes that, you know, he is going to wrangle Saudis, and the Emiratis, and others to contribute funds to revitalize the Palestinian Authority, I think he’s going to run into some significant trouble there because of the view that the Palestinian Authority, from the perspective of these capitals, that the—that is throwing good money after bad. And to answer the other question, you know, it strikes me that the secretary of state is running at odds with the Israeli prime minister, who has ruled out the idea that the Palestinian Authority would play the kind of role that seems to be the one that we’re all speculating about, to use Rami Khouri’s terms there.

So I think once again these ideas that are being bounced around about reinvigoration and a two-state solution, I think under kind of the way in which we have done business in the past is no longer the way in which we can do business going forward. I agree a hundred percent with Dennis on that. The question is, how do we lower our sights? How do we actually do something that is practical to help the Palestinians? How do we as the United States make a difference in this conflict when we have become so compromised by it? And one of the—one of the ways of doing that is, one, listening to the Palestinians and seeking a Palestinian solution to it rather than dictating to them along with—along with the Israelis what the outcome should be.

I do think, though—and this is counter to what Rami is saying—there is very much an important role for those Abraham Accords countries to play. By their good relations with the Israelis, they have an opportunity to influence and help rethink and approach this. Of course, this is—all of this is an extraordinarily heavy lift, and it’s going to be American diplomacy, if anything, that’s going to help make it happen.

But I think that shooting for a reinvigorated Palestinian Authority and a two-state solution is a little too much at the moment. I think we need to start by kind of circling around who can be helpful, how can they be helpful, and in what way. And thus far, we haven’t had those kind of practical discussions. We’ve only talked about reinvigorating the Palestinian Authority and two-state solutions, which I think are the ultimate goal here but not what we need to think about in the—in the short and medium term.

ROSS: Mike, could I just add to what—


ROSS: I basically agree with what Steven just outlined. Look, I think when I say the Israelis are going to have a political reckoning, I also mean that they have to work through everything. Look, this is a country that suffered a trauma on October 7, and that trauma is deeply felt right now. So if you suddenly go and you say to them here are the concessions you’re going to have to make, it’s going to fall on deaf ears. That’s why they have to work through this process themselves. There are things we can do to try to help, you know, buy the time to be able to do it.

I do think the Abraham Accord countries, but even some who aren’t part of it but have some quiet relations with Israel, can play a role. I also think that the American—the United States could help create the political horizon—not by getting into enormous detail, but one of the things we can be saying is this is a process, this is an approach that has to end the occupation consistent with Israeli security needs. The symbol of occupation is a very powerful, emotive one for the Palestinians, obviously, and for the Arabs.

Now, the Israelis have to understand—again, they have to go through this debate, but they themselves are going to come to grips with the fact that if you just think that you can continue to control the Palestinians forever, and things are going to remain, and you’re never going to have to worry about them being anything but quiescent, that’s a dreamworld. And the Israelis, I think, will come to grips with that. But they—we have to construct an approach that gives them the time to be able to do that, and one way to do it is buying time by coming up with a kind of formula. Two states—the administration’s already saying two states, but if we—if we have a formula like ending occupation consistent with Israeli security needs, that is something that I think can buy us some of the time that is necessary. And then you need to do some practical things on the ground for sure.

JAMAL: And, Michael, just if I can add, I think just to highlight what’s been said, like, it’s very important that whatever governance is going to come to Gaza, that it’s not simply another governing authority in a vacuum, because by—from the very beginning, that governing authority will lack legitimacy. It has to be part of a larger project here—two states, ending the occupation, but really concrete steps. What we don’t want is a situation where Hamas and Fatah are going at it for another civil war in Gaza. Bringing in some of the Abraham Accord countries to help assist with that sort of transition, if you may, I think is really, really important. But also keeping in mind, you know, if we—if we all agree that the legitimacy crisis or at least part of the legitimacy crisis of the PA is because it could not deliver, we need to make sure that the goals are laid out very concretely and not simply like, you know, something that will happen after thirty or forty years.



OPERATOR: Our next question is from Esmir Milovic (ph).

Q: Hi. Thank you for taking my question.

Recently, I spoke with Yossi Bellin, who told me that he prefers option when it comes to discussions something like new Oslo, not like a Madrid, because he thinks that that could help to find a solution. But also, Professor Amaney’s research says that the man who’s in jail, Marwan Barghouti, is more popular than Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud Abbas. How to find that leader, but also—maybe Ambassador Ross can answer this—to find that way to negotiate that solution and to find the way how to put the plan on paper, as Professor Amaney just said? Thank you.

FROMAN: Maybe start with Amaney and then Dennis?

JAMAL: So really quickly, Esmir (ph), thank you so much. You’re referring to the poll. I did not mention this, but Marwan Barghouti is the most popular of the Palestinian leaders on our list, including Mahmoud Abbas, Ismail Haniyeh. I believe we asked about others, but Marwan Barghouti, I think, enjoys about 34 (percent), close to 40 percent support among the Palestinians. He comes out of the Fatah party. He’s in an Israeli jail for his, you know, role in attacking Israelis, so I’m not entirely sure where that stands. Some people, at least on the Palestinian side, think this is like a Nelson Mandela moment. Can he be released to lead a Palestinian state? I’m not entirely sure that’s where the discourse is, but I’m curious to hear what others have to say.

ROSS: Yeah. I know that he has that kind of popularity. I think part of the reason he has that popularity is because he’s in and Israeli—in the Israeli jails right now.

I don’t know. I mean, there—I will tell you there has always been a small constituency within the Israeli security establishment that sort of looked at him as a potential partner. And there were even those, I think, who at different points in the past thought maybe they should open a kind of quiet dialogue with him. I don’t think that’s ever actually happened, and I don’t know whether it’s in the cards right now or not.

I still think it’s kind of derivative of Israel having to work through its own process and go through their debate before—I mean, at this point I don’t see anybody making the case to go start talking to Marwan Barghouti. But I do think—I mean, look, somehow there has to be the sorting-out process on the Palestinian side, and, you know, I would love to see a kind of, you know, transitional period of, say, eighteen months, where you have an interim administration in Gaza that is led by Palestinian technocrats, of which there are many.

JAMAL: Exactly.

ROSS: And, you know, then you have security. The civil administration is largely run by them. There are—you know, you provide police forces. Assuming that the—you know, there’s a certain kind of outcome here where the Israelis have succeeded enough so Hamas is not in control and not capable of preventing anybody else from managing within Gaza. And there is a reconstruction project that is a massive one, that is tied to demilitarization for Gaza, and you revitalize the PA, and then you have an election after eighteen months. Then I think—you know, this is a way to help produce the kind of discussion among Palestinians you’re going to need, and it can also be a way to legitimize a leadership that doesn’t exist right now.

I mean, the interesting thing about Amaney’s polls is that, you know, if you go back to 2006, when you had the election when Hamas won, it wasn’t just because they ran one slate and Fatah ran multiple slates; it’s because they were running on an anti-corruption platform.

JAMAL: There you go. There you go. Yeah.

ROSS: You know, they were not—they didn’t run on a muqāwamah platform. They didn’t run on resistance as a platform. They ran on, we’re going to provide you good governance. And the interesting thing is you look today at your polls, they’re seen as just as corrupt or almost as corrupt as the PA. So there’s a need—there is a need for a new Palestinian leadership, but nobody can appoint that from the outside. It’s going to have to emerge from within.

FROMAN: Emily.

OPERATOR: Our next question is from Steve Erlanger.

Q: Hello, everyone.

I have to say, having spent a bunch of time on the West Bank, Hamas is incredibly popular there because they’ve done something, as opposed to sat on their a---- for years making themselves rich. So just to put that out there.

The question that, really, I want to ask is the reputational damage to Israel from the casualties in the war. How bad is it? How lasting will it be? Will it produce a new generation of radical kids? I mean, I presume, whatever happens in Gaza, whoever tries to run it, there’ll be suicide bombings, there’ll be an insurrection, there’ll be all kinds of things in Gaza that will make running it, by whomever, very, very difficult. But I am very much interested in your sense from the outside of this reputational damage to Israel in Europe, among Americans of left youth. Is this one of those moments where things change? Thank you.

FROMAN: Steven, you want to start off?

COOK: Yeah, I’ll start with that, and then I’ll leave the youth to Amaney.

I think it’s important to underline Steve Erlanger’s point about the popularity of Hamas in the West Bank. I think there is a reservoir of support for Hamas in the West Bank, primarily because—and I realize, you know, Dennis is right; Hamas won those elections based on corruption. But there is something to be said about Hamas’ narrative about resistance and that—in contrast to Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, which has said we will achieve our national goals and—(off mic)—through negotiation, only to see the number of settlers in the West Bank explode. And Hamas, which has said there is another way, and that definitely certainly seems to resonate with people, particularly at moments of crisis, as Amaney’s polls point out. And so it is important—just to go back to the previous question—that whoever emerges in Gaza not be seen as an American/Israeli proconsul in the Gaza Strip, and that’s a real challenge at this point.

As far as Israel’s reputational damage around the world, I think, you know, look, the protests and the social media I think speak for—speak for themselves. I will point out, however, that although the Jordanians have recalled their ambassador, the Bahraini ambassador didn’t go back to—go back to Tel Aviv, no country has broken relations with Israel. Israel is an important country. It is well integrated into the global economy. It’s an important cog—one of the most important cogs in technology, cybersecurity, and those kinds of things.

All that being said, a push into the south and enormous numbers of casualties and killed will test the ability of leaders across the Arab world who have established relations with Israel to maintain those relations. I think the Israelis don’t have much more time and certainly cannot kill as many people as they have killed in the next phase and expect there not to be a significant change.

As far as youth, I think the politics of Israel is already changing in this country. The question is, how much will this conflict change it? And with that, I think Amaney has a much better view of that, given that she works on a college campus.

FROMAN: Good transition.


JAMAL: Yeah. No, thank you so much. You know, I mean, it does raise the question of just the duration of this conflict, the number of casualties, and that corresponding level of how much is Hamas being weakened by this, right? So it’s not entirely clear where all this stands, and if you’re going to see another, what, ten (thousand), fifteen thousand casualties, it’s going to put a lot of pressure on Arab countries. The populations there, the region, the entire region was turning a page in terms of, you know, who would have imagined twenty years ago you’d have, what, eight countries almost in bilateral peace treaties with Israel in the Arab world? I mean, so there’s a lot of momentum now that is working towards what we’re calling this reconciliation phase and I think this has to be part of this project. And the truth is, you know, more civilian casualties is not really going to solve this conflict, unless we were sure that it was really weakening Hamas. And I’m not entirely—you know, again, I’d like to hear from others. So that’s the first thing. So, you know, this is where we are also going to need those Arab leaders if diplomacy is going to stand a chance.

What’s happening on college campuses is—across the country—you know, is—there’s a lot of activism around this issue. There’s—you know, both on the pro-Israeli side, on the pro-Palestinian side. Again, from my lens, what I’m seeing new that I didn’t see twenty years ago is the pro-Palestinian coalition has changed in its character. It now includes progressive Jewish voices; it includes other minorities and other people who sort of are treating the conflict part of a larger set of conflicts that pits sort of the more advanced world against the Global South. So that’s, like, it’s a much broader coalition. But in the end of the day, you know, in our position as deans and as administrators, you know, our job is to continue educating, making sure that the space is provided for—hopefully—open and rigorous debate, free speech on our campuses, and the ability to counter harmful speech, is just to consistently engage our students to be thinking along those lines.

I think our universities should be modeling what the future of this conflict is going to look like, which is the following: We are always going to have varying viewpoints on the subject matter. People are going to disagree. You’re going to have disagreement within the Palestinian camp; you’re going to have even disagreement in the Israeli camp, let alone across the divide, but we have to keep—and not dialoguing for the sake of dialogue, because that’s sort of what Oslo sort of what—people sort of thought that was Oslo’s demise. But we need to sort of work together to sort of dialogue around, well, how do we fix this together? How do we address it? How do we—you know, come up with recommendations? And that’s what I hope—I hope this energy that our students are exhibiting is translated into this really meaningful work, because peace-building is not easy work. You know, Dennis and others can tell you that.

FROMAN: Thank you, Steven, Dennis, Amaney, for taking the time, joining us.

Thank you, everybody, for calling in and participating.

This of course was on the record. There will be a video and a transcript posted on our website, We encourage you to go to the website to see other materials that CFR and Foreign Affairs have been putting out on the Middle East crisis. And we will continue to come to you regularly with press and other briefings. Thanks very much for joining us.


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