Since the current Israeli government was established in December 2022, Israeli-Palestinian escalation has seemed inevitable. The far-right composition of the coalition, its initial actions, and the early statements made by key members all indicated things were heading in a negative direction. 

In the months that followed, despite some international efforts toward de-escalation, tensions steadily mounted: In March-April, during the month of Ramadan and its overlap with Passover, violence erupted in Jerusalem; in May, there was a new round of fighting between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip; and in July, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carried out a major military operation in Jenin, the largest in two decades. 

The trend is clear and if it continues unchecked, a wider and more significant Israeli-Palestinian flare up, which has been avoided thus far, might eventually happen. Given the worrying trajectory, the United States should be more involved in Israeli-Palestinian relations. In recent months, U.S. efforts have focused mostly on preventing escalation and condemning negative actions and statements, rather than advancing peace or creating a political horizon that can catalyze diplomatic advancements.

The U.S. should revive the regional security summits it convened in February and March, in Jordan and Egypt, as a channel for “minilateral” preventative diplomacy and dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian officials. The U.S. should ensure that the two sides fulfill the commitments they made at the summits, that agreed-upon follow-up meetings take place, and that the mechanisms defined in the Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh joint communiques — on security and economic issues — be set up and implemented. Despite the prevailing skepticism toward this process, the mere establishment of such a channel for dialogue is an accomplishment, and one worth trying to build on.

The U.S. should encourage non-security-related engagement between Israeli and Palestinian government officials from various ministries, so joint interests can be advanced. This has been done under previous Israeli governments and can enable professionals to reach ad-hoc win-win arrangements on issues like the economy, energy, environment, agriculture, and health. Special emphasis should be placed on convening officials from the Israeli and Palestinian foreign ministries, who rarely meet but are relevant to shaping diplomatic realities. 

In its engagement with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the U.S. should express its commitment to a two-state solution and spell out a political horizon as well as its expectations and red lines. This can reduce unilateral steps that lead to a further deterioration in the situation and make peace more distant. The U.S. should also prioritize safeguarding Israeli democracy, as democratic erosion negatively impacts Israeli-Palestinian relations as well. Washington can step up its statements on the issue, but it needs to move from words to deeds too.

In addition, the U.S. should advance Palestinian inclusion in Israel-Arab cooperative endeavors, while accepting Palestinian opposition to formally taking part in the Negev Forum. It is important for the U.S. to clarify to various regional actors that it does not see the advancement of Israel-Arab cooperation as a means to sideline the Palestinian issue. Existing regional projects, like the Israel-Jordan-UAE water-electricity swap deal, should be implemented in a way that also benefits the Palestinians, and Palestinian interests and needs should be considered in new regional projects that are developed.

When discussions about additional normalization between Israel and neighboring countries move forward — for example, with Saudi Arabia — the U.S. should ensure that this happens in a way that promotes Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, in the spirit of the Arab Peace Initiative (API). The U.S. can help the Israeli public understand the linkage, which the current Israeli government denies, between developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the possible scope of broader Israel-Arab relations. Moreover, Washington can also provide concrete support to initiatives that include a mix of Israeli, Palestinian, and regional partners. 

The U.S. should encourage current EU efforts to update existing incentives for peace with the aim of producing a coordinated international package. The U.S. can update its security plan for a two-state solution, devised during the Obama presidency; it should be part of the EU’s engagement with Saudi Arabia and the Arab League on the “comprehensive regional peace” approach, which also seeks to update the API; and it should be involved in merging the different incentives and in devising a strategy that combines short-term measures aimed at relaunching peace talks with longer-term incentives aimed at increasing public support and political will for a final-status agreement. 

The U.S., together with allies in Europe and the United Nations, should lead the conceptualization and formation of a new international mechanism to advance Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, instead of the defunct Quartet. Such a mechanism can include countries with a track record of advancing a two-state solution (such as the members of the Munich Group: Germany, France, Jordan, and Egypt) or a clear interest in doing so, and which are capable of working together toward a common goal. The new mechanism could be effective in reflecting shared positions, laying out red lines, coordinating between different initiatives, advancing multilateral proposals, resolving crises, expanding constructive interaction between Israelis and Palestinians, and helping both sides to fulfill commitments.

Moreover, the U.S. should also enhance its support for Israeli-Palestinian civil society initiatives, via the Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act (MEPPA), and make necessary adjustments to enable the fund to fulfill its potential. The U.S. should convince other countries to invest in such initiatives as well, with the goal of creating an international fund to support unofficial peacemaking efforts. The U.S. can help to reduce reluctance on the part of Israelis and Palestinians about participating in pro-peace people-to-people initiatives and ensure that peacemakers on both sides are free to meet and work together, without facing legal or security constraints. 

To improve conditions on the Palestinian side, the U.S. should push for the development of the Gaza Marine natural gas field, to advance the Palestinian economy and empower moderates. This could be done through the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF), where all the relevant actors are full members. The U.S. can also advance the newly expanded al-Arish port in Egypt as an additional seaport to serve the Gaza Strip, under existing security arrangements. This will reduce Palestinian dependence on the Ashdod port, enable Palestinian trade with additional countries, and could bring tangible economic benefits in terms of pricing. 

And, finally, the U.S. should work to advance unification between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as a prerequisite for genuine progress toward a two-state solution. The U.S. should support efforts in that direction, diffusing Israeli opposition and ensuring Israeli security interests, while also pushing for Palestinian elections and a smooth transition of power once a change in Palestinian leadership happens. It could mobilize support from regional countries toward that aim, benefiting from recent reconciliation processes that enable former rivals, like Qatar and the other Arab Gulf countries, as well as Egypt and Turkey, to advance shared regional goals.


Dr. Nimrod Goren is the Senior Fellow for Israeli Affairs at the Middle East Institute, President of Mitvim - The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, and Co-Founder of Diplomeds - The Council for Mediterranean Diplomacy. 

Photo by MAJDI MOHAMMED/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

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