In her recent stop in Dubai, US Vice-President Kamala Harris outlined five principles for postwar Gaza, after emphases on Palestinian civilian casualties.
True, she gave passing lip service to the terrorist attacks of October 7 that started the war and the casualties, though without emphasizing the difference: that civilian casualties on October 7 were by design, whereas in Gaza casualties to Israel’s actions were consequence of the war – which Hamas could have avoided.
I must guess that the vice-president never read late president Harry Truman’s letter of August 11, 1945, responding to Samuel Cavert, general secretary of the Federal Churches of Christ in America, reprinted below:
Substitute “Israel” for “the United States” and “Hamas” (or Hezbollah, ISIS, or any other Islamist group) for “Japan” and Truman’s points stay as valid now as then. This letter may also help close debates about “proportionality.”
One difference between the situation Truman faced then and Israel now is that Japan was a “state” with which the United States could negotiate and responsible and accountable for respecting treaties, having one government and one army.
Gaza is not a state, and Hamas is just one of a number of armed units operating within the territory. Although countries around the world have recognized Palestine as a “state” – on paper – it is not a state either. It does not have a government willing and able to disarm the many armed cells even in the West Bank, never mind disarming Hamas and other armed units.
This situation also suggests that discussion of using the 1967 borders cannot be a starting point in negotiations. Egypt, which ruled Gaza until 1967, does not want anything to do with it, and is building a wall to ensure that.
Jordan does not want the West Bank, and Syria is a failed state with dozens of armed groups operating and controlling territories within the pre-1967 borders. Same with Lebanon: Hezbollah has a massive army within it, its declared goal being the destruction of Israel. Thus the discussion of a Palestinian state and borders at present appears little more than hallucination on paper.
Once a Palestinian government emerges willing and able to disarm all the various armed units, then there will be meaning to negotiating borders and treatise. Israel did just that back in 1948: After the creation of the Israel Defense Forces, there were Jewish armed units within Israel that did not want to put down the arms and continued importing them.
Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, understood that you cannot create a state while allowing armed units running around, and ordered the IDF to shoot at a ship (the Altalena) that was smuggling arms to these units, killing some 16 Jews on board.
This was a shocking act, happening just a few years after the Holocaust. However, the rebellious cells put down their arms. No such political will and ability exist among Israel’s neighbors with whom it is supposed to negotiate.
Kamala Harris, though, outlined in her speedy Middle East tour the present US administration’s thinking about what to do after fighting ceases that would pave the way toward a Palestinian state.
She outlined the following: “Five principles guide our approach for post-conflict Gaza: no forcible displacement, no reoccupation, no siege or blockade, no reduction in territory and no use of Gaza as a platform for terrorism.”
Nice, but irrelevant. It does not appear that Israel wants or can displace some 2 million people living in Gaza. It does not want to occupy it: Actually, it left it in 2005, leaving behind thriving innovative agricultural hothouses that the World Bank donated to Gaza, and which the locals destroyed in no time.
Israel imposed no siege: In contrast to Egypt, it supplied water, fuel and, when Gaza did not export terror to Israel, it allowed Gazans to come and work in Israel. For few months before October 7, some 20,000 Gazans were passing the border. As to Gaza not becoming a platform for terrorism, sounds nice on paper, but who will enforce it? Who will prevent the import of arms?
Probably the best strategy Israel could pursue after the war is to emulate Egypt. If Egypt can build a wall and strictly control movement of people and goods across the border, so can Israel. Since some 70% of Gazans still support Hamas after the October 7 events, Israel has no obligation to assist it in any way.
Truman’s sharply worded reasoning applies. Moreover, the fact that Gaza would then be closed on the south by Egypt, and east and north by Israel, walled in – has precedent in the Middle East, and it does not imply inability to prosper.
The precedent is … Israel. Before 1967, it was closed by Egypt on the south (at one point Gamel Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s late president, also closed the straits preventing ships to get to Eilat), on the east Syria and Jordan closed it, and Lebanon in the north.
Since the Gazans still do not want anything to do with Israelis except kill them, Israel has no obligation to assist them.
Perhaps Egypt’s and Israel’s walls – like fences – can eventually, gradually make for better neighbors.
Reuven Brenner is the author of History: The Human Gamble, Force of Finance, and series of analyses about the Middle East and anti-Semitism.