With Israel having expanded its punishing assault on Gaza, the war sparked by Hamas’ shocking Oct. 7 terrorist attacks, which killed 1,400 Israelis, has dramatically escalated. The death toll among Palestinians has risen to more than 8,300 and Gaza’s infrastructure lies in ruins. Early U.S. diplomatic efforts to limit the conflict, deter other malign actors from entering the war, and address the quickly deteriorating humanitarian situation must now shift toward facilitating a rapid end to hostilities, laying the foundation for an eventual sustainable political settlement, and preparing for potential post-conflict scenarios, all while evacuating Americans trapped on the ground, helping free hostages, redoubling relief efforts to aid the embattled Palestinian civilian population, continuing to support Israel, and reassuring other nervous allies in the region. How can the U.S. accomplish these at times contradictory objectives, and what further diplomatic steps are needed to promote regional stability while defending America’s strategic national interests? What might the “day after” look like for Gaza, and what will that mean for Palestinians, Israelis, and the wider region?
To answer these critical questions and more, MEI has assembled a panel of policy experts and former U.S. diplomats with experience in the region.
President, Middle East Policy Council; Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council; former U.S. Ambassador to Malta; former Director for the Office of Egypt and the Levant, U.S. Department of State
Gerald M. Feierstein
Distinguished Sr. Fellow on U.S. Diplomacy and Director, Arabian Peninsula Affairs, Middle East Institute
Vice President of Policy, Middle East Institute
Senior Fellow and Director, Conflict Resolution and Track II Dialogues Program, Middle East Institute
Paul Salem, moderator
President and CEO, Middle East Institute
Five Key Takeaways
- The Need for a Political Solution: Ambassador (ret.) Gerald Feierstein underscored the need for a renewed commitment to a long-term political resolution to address the Israel-Hamas conflict. Despite the United States not occupying the same unipolar position as in the past, it remains a pivotal player in convening and facilitating peace talks. Feierstein emphasized the importance of recognizing the legitimacy of Palestinian aspirations and understanding the context of the conflict for effective diplomacy.
- U.S. Partnerships in the Region: Brian Katulis delved into the evolving priorities of the Biden administration, noting that the Middle East was not initially a primary focus. There was a clear shift in U.S. strategy towards reactive crisis management in response to the Israel-Hamas conflict. Katulis outlined the myriad challenges facing the U.S., including the need to balance support for Israel's self-defense, prevent a regional war, and ensure civilian protection in safe zones. He also discussed the efforts to coordinate with partners who may not fully align with U.S. policies and explored the concept of establishing a regional security force in Gaza.
- Leadership Challenges in Israel and Palestine: Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley pointed out the leadership challenges within both Israel and Palestine, raising questions about the capability of leaders to guide their people toward peaceful resolutions. She suggested that the presence of new leadership was necessary and that taking concrete actions, such as stopping settlement activity, could garner support for peaceful initiatives. The focus was on the need for leaders who could guide their respective populations towards a resolution and provide alternatives to supporting groups like Hamas.
- Levant Countries' Stake in the Conflict: Randa Slim discussed the perspectives and interests of countries in the Levant region, including Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. She highlighted concerns about potential forced population transfers and their political implications, particularly regarding the Sisi regime in Egypt and the stability of Jordan. Slim mentioned the possible consequences of events in the West Bank, such as settler-related violence, and its impact on the Palestinian Authority's survival. Additionally, she noted the role of Gulf countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE, in potential reconstruction efforts for Gaza. The emphasis was on addressing not only security concerns but also basic needs like water, electricity, and housing.
- Iran's Role in Prolonging the Conflict and Potential Negotiations: Randa Slim discussed Iran's involvement in the conflict and its support for the "axis of resistance," which includes Hamas, Hezbollah, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. She suggested that regional mediation between Iran and Israel was crucial to address the underlying dynamics of this conflict. Slim raised questions about the "day after" the conflict and the need for united positions among Arab countries and the Abraham Accords signatories. She also mentioned the potential role of Turkey as a mediator between Iran and Israel and emphasized the need to address the broader conflict axis in the region.
Detailed Speaker Biographies
Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley is a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Programs and at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security. A thirty-year diplomat, Abercrombie-Winstanley served as the US ambassador to the Republic of Malta and is the person to serve longest in the role. Through a series of senior positions that included advising the commander of US cyber forces on US foreign-policy priorities, expanding US counterterrorism partners and programs as deputy coordinator for counterterrorism, and coordinating the largest evacuation of US citizens from a war zone since World War II, her professional life has played out almost daily in international media.
Gerald M. Feierstein
Amb. (ret.) Gerald Feierstein is a distinguished senior fellow on U.S. diplomacy at MEI, and director of its Arabian Peninsula Affairs program. He retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in May 2016 after a 41-year career with the personal rank of Career Minister. As a diplomat he served in nine overseas postings, including three tours of duty in Pakistan, as well as assignments in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Lebanon, Jerusalem, and Tunisia. In 2010, President Obama appointed Amb. Feierstein U.S. Ambassador to Yemen, where he served until 2013. From 2013 until his retirement, Amb. Feierstein was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. In addition to his career-long focus on the Near East and South Asia, Amb. Feierstein also played a prominent role in developing and implementing State Department policies and programs to counter violent extremism. As Deputy Coordinator and Principal Deputy Coordinator in the State Department’s Counter-Terrorism bureau, Amb. Feierstein led the development of initiatives to build regional networks to confront extremist groups as well as to counter terrorist financing and promote counter-terrorism messaging. He continued to focus on defeating terrorist groups through his subsequent tours as Deputy Chief of Mission in Pakistan and as Ambassador to Yemen.
Randa Slim is the Director of the Conflict Resolution and Track II Dialogues Program at the Middle East Institute and a non-resident fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced and International Studies (SAIS) Foreign Policy Institute. A former vice president of the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue, Slim has been a senior program advisor at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a guest scholar at the United States Institute of Peace, a program director at Resolve, Inc, and a program officer at the Kettering Foundation. A long-term practitioner of Track II dialogue and peace-building processes in the Middle East and Central Asia, she is the author of several studies, book chapters, and articles on conflict management, post-conflict peace-building, and Middle East politics.
Paul Salem is president and CEO of the Middle East Institute. He focuses on issues of political change, transition, and conflict as well as the regional and international relations of the Middle East. Salem is the author and editor of a number of books and reports including Escaping the Conflict Trap: Toward Ending Civil Wars in the Middle East (ed. with Ross Harrison, MEI 2019); Winning the Battle, Losing the War: Addressing the Conditions that Fuel Armed Non State Actors (ed. with Charles Lister, MEI 2019); From Chaos to Cooperation: Toward Regional Order in the Middle East (ed. with Ross Harrison, MEI 2017), Broken Orders: The Causes and Consequences of the Arab Uprisings (In Arabic, 2013), "Thinking Arab Futures: Drivers, scenarios, and strategic choices for the Arab World", The Cairo Review Spring 2019; “The Recurring Rise and Fall of Political Islam” (CSIS, 2015), Bitter Legacy: Ideology and Politics in the Arab World (1994), and Conflict Resolution in the Arab World (ed., 1997). Prior to joining MEI, Salem was the founding director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, Lebanon between 2006 and 2013. From 1999 to 2006, he was director of the Fares Foundation and in 1989-1999 founded and directed the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, Lebanon's leading public policy think tank.
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