This will not end well. It never did any previous time: not after the First Intifada (1987-93), the Second Intifada (2000-05), or any of the “lesser” uprisings in the intervening years. And then, on a completely different scale, there was the attack of Oct. 7, 2023. The Israelis and the Palestinians each want the other side to just “go away,” but that’s not going to happen. They are stuck with each other, and that is the problem. Author Donald G. Ellis calls this situation a “fierce entanglement” in his book by the same name. Ellis defines it as “a contentious relationship that you cannot extract yourself from. It’s a relationship based on unavoidable interdependence so that you cannot simply leave.” His is an apt description.

I worked closely with the Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF) and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for three years (2015-17), though never in the same room with both (and never with Hamas in Gaza). As the United States’ Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (USSC), I led an international mission to assist the PASF in becoming more capable and professional, all with the approval and support (sometimes) of the IDF and the Israeli government. PASF personnel, numbering around 30,000, adequately conduct day-to-day policing of “Palestinian only”-designated areas in the West Bank, but their capabilities were never the big issue for the Israelis; it was the Palestinian Authority (PA) government that the Israeli side really didn’t trust.

Things never got “bad enough” for Israel to work toward a better (even lasting?) solution with the Palestinians — until now. Oct. 7 abruptly changed the “let’s just maintain the status quo” approach that Israel clung to for so long. But has there ever really been an actual “status quo?” When I met with my many IDF interlocutors weekly, they would sometimes refer to the uneasy coordination (never cooperation) with the PA government and its security forces as a status quo arrangement. Speaking with the American bluntness that my Israeli counterparts expected (and gave as good as they got), I would tell them that status quo was nothing more than a fiction. From all I could directly observe in my constant meetings and interactions with the Palestinians, things were most definitely not static — they were getting worse all the time.

Unlike the Israeli government, the IDF never wanted to “own” the West Bank; and similarly, Israel’s military now doesn’t want to occupy the Gaza Strip permanently. The reason that so few IDF forces are committed to duty in the West Bank is that they rely (yes, rely) on the PASF to maintain day-to-day security and policing throughout the Palestinian-only designated areas there. Similarly, the IDF is reticent to permanently occupy Gaza because of the manpower and resource drain such a mission would require.

One possible solution to this quandary is to get the PA government and its security forces to take on the day-to-day responsibility for Gaza, initially with the help of select Arab partners. Yes, we know that Fatah, which has dominated the PA for decades, lost to Hamas, its archrival, in the last Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 (before being “kicked out” of Gaza the following year). But 18 years later, Gazan Palestinians may be ready for a change in government

What the PA lacks, however, is money. Gaza was already in a terrible state even before the Israeli response to the Oct. 7 attacks. Now it is in ruins. The rebuilding of Gaza will be a Herculean undertaking, and the funding will have to flow in from regional Arab states, international contributors, and non-governmental organizations. It will be a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar effort just to get the standard of living to a barely adequate level.

But Gaza and Hamas’ horrific attacks still are only symptoms of the larger, festering problem. Israel can’t go back to some fictional status quo with the Palestinians. Israel must throw the Palestinians (not Hamas) a “lifeline” to provide real hope for change. The Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995 (now often spoken of only as a curse by the Palestinians) were that hope, which was ultimately dashed. The accords outlined a series of incremental steps that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Ironically, even though the accords were eventually rejected by Israel, the latter still used them to divide the West Bank into three areas of varying levels of administrative and security responsibility, unimaginatively designated as A, B, and C. This division has locked the vast majority of West Bank Palestinians into approximately 169 PA-administered “islands” in Areas A and B, together comprising approximately 40% of the territory, surrounded by the much larger, Israeli-controlled Area C. It’s within that larger territory — around 60% — that the burgeoning and oft problematic, not to mention illegal under international law, Israeli settlements are located.

But the Oslo Accords were at least a plan, a roadmap, that laid out a way ahead for a future Palestinian state. It was a multi-year plan, with incremental steps and benchmarks. It was something on which the Palestinians could hang their hope. That is what is needed again — but this time, with tangible intermediate steps both the Israelis and Palestinians will accept, however grudgingly.

From a strategic perspective, I can understand why the Israelis don’t want another state wedged between them and Jordan. Just look at the map. Were there to be a Palestinian state, the sliver of land that is Israel would have no buffer against land-based attacks coming from the east. That is why the Israelis kept the West Bank (and the Golan Heights) in the first place, even after returning the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. They want to control the airspace and the electromagnetic spectrum over the entirety of the West Bank to better counter potential attacks from this territory and further afield. But despite Israeli efforts to ignore the demographic facts, reality rears its ugly head. There are approximately 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank, 2 million in Gaza, and they’re not going anywhere. So here is an idea.

What if Israel gave the Palestinians “state-like” autonomy over the entirety of Areas A and B of the West Bank, along with the very small portions of Area C where Palestinians also live (and cede portions of Area C to create the necessary “connective tissue” between “Palestinian only” areas), all the while maintaining control of the airspace? For such an arrangement to work and be palatable to both sides, diplomats should seek to convince and incentivize Jordan to sponsor the Palestinians as a “protectorate” (a state that is controlled or protected by another), an approach that was never tried under the failed Oslo Accords. It is worth trying now, for several reasons. Given its common boundary with the West Bank and the 3 million Palestinians who reside in Jordan, the Hashemite kingdom has a vested security interest in resolving the Palestinian issue. Palestinians tend to have a positive attitude toward King Abdulah and his government. And critically for Israel, Jordan is a friendly country with which it signed a peace treaty in 1994. The “all-or-nothing” approach that the PA demands has gotten the Palestinians nowhere, and the “concede nothing” approach of the Israeli government guarantees that its “Palestinian problem” will only get worse.

Jordan has been very clear that it wants to see a genuine two-state solution, and it does not wish to be put in a position of accepting millions of Palestinian refugees or of supporting them outside its borders. But even if Amman can be convinced to actively back quasi-state Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank where Israel (for now) retains control over the airspace, a number of other thorny issues will also need to be resolved. There is, first of all, the complicated historical legacy of Jordan’s temporary annexation of the West Bank and the collective memory of it among both Palestinians and Jordanians themselves: Both sides would likely raise concerns about what a “protectorate” status would mean for the ultimate goal of a fully independent and sovereign Palestinian state. Second is the issue of the growing number of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. And finally, for the Israeli side to feel ready to curtail its on-the-ground troop presence, it would need to be able to rely even more on the PA and its security forces and feel confident in their capabilities and effectiveness.

The US and international effort to assist the growth, training, and sustainment of the security forces of the PA has gone on for almost two decades. As the security coordinator shepherding this effort, I was frequently asked by my Department of State sponsors, “When would our training be completed?” I thought it was a trick question. I’d respond, “When will there be a Palestinian state?” From a security perspective, training never stops. You never reach the “they are all trained” point. It’s a cyclical effort that must continue until the Palestinians are on their own, whenever that may be.

After the visceral anger subsides and Hamas is replaced in Gaza, Israel and the PA must work together for something other than “waiting for the next round of violence.” I would say “something’s got to give” — but nothing has so far. For all who are truly committed to a solution, we have a duty to hope. I met with good people on both sides who want a resolution; and yet here we are. A definition of insanity comes to mind — “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” It’s time to finally break the cycle.


Lt. Gen. (ret.) Frederick Rudesheim served for over 36 years in the US Army, later in his career working extensively in the interagency policy process, directly for the State Department, and with international partners.

Photo credit should read ABBAS MOMANI/AFP via Getty Images

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