As Israel continues its efforts in Gaza and the region to achieve security through military means, its leaders should also accede to resolving the country’s conflict with the Palestinians. Israelis currently oppose the concept by an almost 2-to-1 margin; and international demands that a still-traumatized Israel agree to a near-term two-state solution are almost certain to backfire. But for Israelis, hard as it is to imagine today, a resolution to the conflict would provide the long-term security they seek beyond anything that can be achieved through military operations alone.

At the same time, the Palestinian Authority should view a potential resolution as the best way to achieve legitimacy among its own people and, by extension, externally with the supporters it will need to gain Palestinian sovereignty. For Palestinians – who are traumatized by the deaths of more than 32,000 Gazans since Oct. 7 and continued humanitarian disasters like this week’s Israeli strike that killed World Central Kitchen personnel – sovereignty is also the best way for them to ensure their future security.

In other words, each side should stop thinking of negotiations in the idealistic terms of a peace process and view them instead as part of a pragmatic mechanism to achieve their most crucial goals.

Even before the October 7th Hamas-led attacks, Israeli support for a two-state solution had faded to about that level. Many Israelis are particularly bewildered by the suggestion that now is the moment to revive a “peace process” that if successful, could, in the words of President Isaac Herzog, threaten “to create another Iranian-led platform” on Israel’s border.

But the October 7th attacks remind us that the lack of a sovereign Palestinian State also hasn’t prevented Iran-backed terrorists like Hamas from successfully using Gaza and the West Bank as attack platforms. And while Hamas can be further degraded, the aim of completely eliminating the organization, ideology and all, is not feasible – which even Israeli military intelligence understands and some Israeli officials publicly accept.

Instead, resolving the conflict would enhance Israel’s security against its true existential threat, Iran, by enabling Israel to normalize relations with almost all its Arab neighbors, not just a few. The alternative is a patchwork of relationships with regional players whose support for, and joint endeavors with, Israel, ebb and flow based on the intensity of the violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

A resolution to the conflict, conversely, would enhance Israel’s regional security and not compel it to rely on secretive cooperation. For example, broad Arab acceptance of the State of Israel would almost certainly increase the potential for regional integrated air and missile defense that has been discussed for years but failed to materialize. And it would enable better technology-sharing between Israel and Gulf States, some of which would be applicable for security efforts.

And while symbols may not win wars, they do have value. The image of joint training exercises between the Israel Defense Forces and Arab militaries would not go unnoticed in Tehran. A public readout of a conversation between Israel’s Mossad chief and his Omani counterpart over Iranian smuggling operations to the Houthis would highlight a level of coordination impossible to imagine today.

Such a result would, of course, increase Iran’s perception of threat in the region and its concerns of isolation. But Tehran’s overriding priority is regime stability. While its potential willingness to leverage terrorist partners and proxies to attack regional States as a means of demonstrating its displeasure with new Israeli-Arab relations cannot be dismissed, Iran also would be unlikely to undertake actions that could provoke a broader war and jeopardize the Iranian homeland directly.

An Alternative Path

Israel is right to believe it will not be able to achieve or obtain long-term security if Hamas remains a force in post-conflict Gaza, nor did it fight the last five months, with more than 251 soldiers killed – in addition to the death toll of 1,200 in the October 7th Hamas attack that set off the current round of conflict – to see the remaining cohorts of Hamas reassume power in Gaza directly. Or, perhaps worse, to see Hamas undertake a Hezbollah style set-up in Gaza in which Hamas remains the dominant power but gets to forego all responsibility associated with governing the Strip.

But with no international partner willing to provide security in the Gaza Strip, despite Israeli preferences, Israel is slowly defaulting back into reoccupation of Gaza – as Netanyahu himself laid out as part of his own post-conflict Gaza plan, no matter the nomenclature used to describe it.

At the same time, the last two decades of IDF operations in the West Bank, where Palestinian authorities say more than 440 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or settlers since Oct. 7 and thousands have been detained, provides significant evidence that Israeli troops reoccupying Gaza is no guarantee of Israel’s security.

But Israel could pursue an alternative to reoccupation that would be more beneficial for its long-term defense and that might persuade the global community to participate in an international force to fill the near-term security gap in Gaza – and the longer-term one in the West Bank — as part of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Jerusalem could use its very real domestic security concerns, made so painfully clear on Oct. 7, to insist that Palestinians agree to security arrangements that the international community might have previously balked at compelling the Palestinian Authority to accept. For example, Israel could demand that a future State of Palestine not only be demilitarized but that it also accepts an international security force permanently stationed in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The force cannot be the end-game unto itself; its formation and operation would need to support a new political horizon for a Palestinian State – something Israel is almost certain to balk at, but would probably be a necessary condition for broad international participation.

A United Nations-led force would be a non-starter for Israel. Israel’s distrust of U.N. institutions is most reflected by its allegations that 12 staff of the U.N. relief agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, participated in the October 7th attack. But it also includes the Blue Helmets who operate in Lebanon and have unintentionally undermined Israel’s security as Iran, following the 2006 war, has supplied Hezbollah with a lethal and sophisticated inventory of missiles and rockets, beyond anything it ever had before.

But while the U.N. would not be an option, a NATO-led international force similar to the Kosovo Force (KFOR) could provide an initial roadmap for success. The differences between Kosovo and the security requirements in a future Palestinian State are substantial. But NATO has shown it can lead and build an effective force in hostile and unstable situations to implement the terms for a cessation of hostilities; and has the advantage of the United States, U.K., and Germany as leading states of the organization, all countries Israel views as true allies.

The Palestinian people would probably be resentful of a force of foreign nationals providing security but might be persuaded to support it precisely because having such an arrangement would also portend a new opportunity for sovereignty and eliminate the historic challenge of the IDF rushing into Palestinian territory to address any situation it deems a threat. Arab States, which have been clear that they will not independently send troops, would almost certainly welcome such a development as a structure that could lead to sustained security and a resolution to the conflict.

Even with such a force, Israel is likely to suffer from future Palestinian terrorist attacks – something equally true if a resolution of the conflict does not come to fruition. The difference would be the future ability of Israel to leverage regional Arab States – as part of a resolution to the conflict – to play a meaningful role in helping counter and respond to Palestinian terrorists, including Hamas. It would be naïve to think that Arab States would on their own volition explicitly and publicly do more than simply provide condolences for future attacks, even as they shared intelligence with Israel behind the scenes as they do now. But Saudi Arabia, as a cost of normalizing relations with Israel, is seeking U.S. security guarantees and a civilian nuclear program (regardless of whether these demands are ultimately met), as well as an agreement from Jerusalem that provides an irrevocable pathway for Palestinian statehood.

Israel, in a post-October 7th world, should no longer view normalization as sufficient unto itself. As part of a multilateral agreement, Israel should seek guarantees from Saudi Arabia to help prevent and respond to future Palestinian terrorist attacks. Doing so would ensure Arab States have some responsibility for Israel’s security, just as Riyadh wants the United States to have some responsibility for Saudi security.

The decision for Israel is no longer whether it is inclined to resolve its conflict with the Palestinians. The question is whether Israel, recognizing that decades of counterterrorism efforts haven’t meaningfully improved its domestic security, is ready to try something new and cede some tactical control associated with its upcoming default occupation of Gaza, in exchange for enhancing its long-term strategic and regional security.

The Absent Domestic Legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority

Convincing Israel to reconsider its stance on a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, however, is only half the challenge. The Palestinian Authority (PA) must also engage in negotiations, and for that to happen, it must address its own lack of domestic legitimacy and the realities on the ground.

The PA was violently thrown out of Gaza by Hamas in June 2007, and it now lacks full control in some West Bank cities such as Jenin and Nablus. It is powerless to influence the direction of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, but if it does retake authority there, it will be responsible for revitalizing an utterly devastated civil society, traumatized population, and destroyed infrastructure.

And PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah political party, after years of corruption and failure to deliver an independent Palestinian State, are extraordinarily unpopular. Recent polling shows that 84 percent of Palestinians want Abbas to resign – a number that’s even higher in the West Bank, 93 percent. And while the new Palestinian Authority government made headlines around the world, there’s little indication, so far, that it is designed to prompt fundamental changes to the Palestinian Authority that would resonate with Palestinians on the ground, such as  bringing in new voices and ending corruption.

The PA’s best chance of reclaiming domestic legitimacy – in addition to ending corruption – would be to deliver what it has been promising for 30 years and what fewer and fewer Palestinians believe is even possible anymore: sovereign statehood for the Palestinian people, which would bring with it security for the Palestinian people as well.

It will not be easy. A sizable majority – 61 percent – of Palestinians no longer believe a two-state solution is possible as a result of settlement expansion, which has accelerated under Netanyahu. Fifty-five percent view a new intifada as the best pathway to a future Palestinian State, 52 percent oppose a two-state solution (with West Bank opposition at 66 percent), and 58 percent support dissolving the PA entirely; numbers that are reflected by increasing Palestinian radicalization.

A new intifada likely would only extend the rise of the Israeli right; embolden Israeli settlers to increase their numbers in the West Bank; and risk legitimizing in the minds of more Israelis both settler violence and the racist views of ultranationalist Cabinet ministers eager to expel Gazans – a plan that could be expanded to the West Bank.

Such a sequence of events probably would mean the end of the PA as a viable governing structure, and it would jeopardize any remaining hope of an independent Palestinian State; no Israeli leader would consider negotiations if their people and country are under perpetual attack.

An intifada also would drive the Palestinian cause back down the priority list of at least some Arab governments, especially in the Gulf, whose leaders’ existing frustration with PA counterparts would only grow more intense. Saudi Arabia’s post-October 7th insistence that normalization requires international recognition of a Palestinian State would not end, but Riyadh probably would recalibrate its effort once again for the Palestinian cause, amid yet another period of violence. Current Saudi insistence for ending the conflict is about ensuring the support of the broader Arab street, not an admission it was wrong about its years-long antipathy toward Palestinian leaders.

The United Arab Emirates, for its part, has long been frustrated that it never received what it felt was sufficient credit for preventing West Bank annexation as part of the Abraham Accords, especially after PA leaders slammed Abu Dhabi for agreeing to normalize with Israel. Even Egyptian leaders are exasperated by years of failed efforts to promote reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. Today, they prioritize protecting against threats to President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s rule, including from Islamists and militants, cognizant that their best partner in this effort is not the PA but Israel.

Arab leaders recognize the need to be responsive to the Arab street’s overwhelming solidarity and support for the Palestinian people. But as Abbas begins the 20th year of his four-year term as president, many Arab leaders have little interest in propping up him and his colleagues, given they have no legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinian people.

Palestinians understandably want statehood now, rightly frustrated that 30 years after the Oslo Accords they are further from sovereignty, not closer to it. Netanyahu shares fault for that, having sought to keep the PA weak and actively promoted policies that undermine the viability of a two-state solution. But PA leaders also shoulder significant blame due to their decades of corruption – something Netanyahu is also dealing with personally – as well as their lack of transparency and squandered financial support from Gulf allies. All of that has helped feed the Palestinian street’s distrust and contempt for those leaders.

The U.S. calls for a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority continue to be a key part of “day after” discussions and negotiations related to Gaza, especially when it comes to security, including the potential recruitment of additions to the Palestinian Authority Security Forces and retraining of others. But an insufficiently “revitalized” PA restructured to consist of relatively superficial administrative reforms will spur questions as to whether it will be able to deliver on commitments it makes as part of a multilateral agreement, dooming any negotiation to fail before it begins.

On-the-ground realities require a pathway toward a Palestinian State – even an irrevocable one, as the Saudis have demanded – not the immediate emergence of one led by a Palestinian Authority still lacking legitimacy with its own people. PA legitimacy is only possible if younger individuals take the reins of a revitalized Palestinian Authority and detailed steps for ending corruption and providing transparency are implemented. Anything short of that and the PA’s long-term governance is at risk; and its downfall will be driven by Palestinians, not Israelis.

That means the “grand bargain” that U.S., Arab, and European allies are currently seeking – which would include not just an end to the conflict in Gaza but Israeli-Saudi normalization and U.S. security guarantees to Riyadh, but concrete measures today toward a Palestinian State – is probably less likely than an intermediate step that better reflects the current mass trauma both Israelis and Gazans are suffering and that would set the Palestinians on an irreversible path to sovereignty but doesn’t provide it immediately.

Short-Term Politics Impeding Long-Term Progress

Despite the hopes and desires of many global leaders, the reality is that progress toward ending the Israeli-Palestinian and broader Arab-Israeli conflicts won’t happen until both Netanyahu and Abbas have left office.

For all their years of animosity, they have two critical things in common today: both are desperate to remain in power and neither has ever shown a willingness to take the types of risks – or responsibility – required to resolve the conflict, or even make progress toward it.

When the parties are ready to negotiate, there will need to be a public recognition by them and by U.S. and Arab leaders that Israelis and Palestinians cannot resolve the conflict bilaterally. Israelis and Palestinians lack sufficient trade-space nowadays to make a deal solely between them as envisioned by the Clinton parameters or Trump proposal.

Instead, a new multilateral agreement that includes the United States, Arab States such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and others as a direct part of an agreement will be needed for a two-state solution to emerge. Bringing in more countries as part of a broader deal that includes but is not limited to Israeli-Palestinian peace will further complicate the process, but it also would create additional room to find agreement on a range of issues, including those related to final status. And that will be true regardless of whether it takes the form of an immediate “grand bargain” or a longer-term process.

For Israel and the PA, finding a way to finally resolve their conflict should no longer be viewed primarily as being about peace with each other. For Israel, it’s the basis for long-term security; for the PA, the basis for its domestic legitimacy and the pathway to Palestinian sovereignty. Without it, both will suffer.

IMAGE:  At left, Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas waves during a swearing-in ceremony of newly-appointed ministers, on March 31, 2024, in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank. (Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images) At right, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L), Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (C) and Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz hold a press conference in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv on October 28, 2023 amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by ABIR SULTAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)