Transcript: How do Palestinians Envision the Future of Gaza - with Khaled Elgindy

Ori Nir  00:10

Hello, everyone, welcome to this Americans for Peace Now webinar, I'm Ori Nir. Today we're going to discuss an important aspect of this crisis that we've been following, with heavy hearts obviously, since October 7. We will discuss the Palestinian perspective on the future of the Gaza Strip and, more broadly, the impact of the current crisis on Palestinian politics and the Palestinian arena. You were originally invited to hear Zaha Hassan, who is a scholar at Washington's Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Zaha couldn't make it, she asked me to apologize on her behalf and generously offered to reschedule, and we will do so hopefully very soon. Thankfully, in short notice, another Washington based scholar of Palestinian affairs, Khaled Elgindy, agreed to join us today and share his analysis with us on this topic. Khaled is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute here in Washington, and he's also the director of the Middle East Institute's program on Palestine and Israeli-Palestinian affairs. He is the author of "Blind Spot: America and the Palestinians." It's a history of 100 years or so of US policy on Palestine and the Palestinians. I actually read the book and I recommend it warmly. Some of you may remember that when the book came out, about four years ago or so, we hosted Khaled on our podcast for a conversation on the book. And just to complete Khaled's bio, before joining the Middle East Institute, he was a fellow at the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. And before that he served as an adviser to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, on permanent status issue negotiations with Israel. I don't expect to agree with everything that Khaled will say, you may also take issue with some of what he has to say. But as we always point out, we're here to learn, to hear a variety of views and perspectives. And we're grateful to our guests for sharing their views and wisdom with us, particularly when they do it in such short notice, as Khaled is doing today. So with this long introduction, Khaled, thank you for joining us.


Khaled Elgindy  02:33

Yeah, thanks for having me.


Ori Nir  02:35

I wanted to start by referring to an expression that you used in a recent Foreign Affairs article, where you wrote about the current crisis as a cataclysmic events in Palestinian history. You describe the situation in the Gaza Strip, as well as the political disarray in the Palestinian arena, and the economic crisis in the West Bank and the possibility of a violent eruption in the West Bank. The question is, before we discuss the proverbial "day after", which is the topic of our conversation today, can the Palestinians at all arrive at the "day after" in any reasonable shape to function as a collective?


Khaled Elgindy  02:35

Yeah, I mean, this is the million dollar question that everybody's asking. So before getting into the "day after" discussions, such as it is, I think it's important to put in perspective what's happening in Gaza now. I think it's impossible to overstate the scale and significance of the ongoing catastrophe in Gaza. I think it is on a par with, and in many ways even surpasses, 1948 and 1967. For Palestinians, of course, 1948 being the Nakba, you know, the catastrophe that kind of defined everything that came after and that shaped Palestinian political consciousness. What's happening now, I think, in many ways surpasses that. It is the deadliest event in Palestinian history. The deadliest single event, at least between 25,000 and 30,000 had been killed already. We know there's another 8,000 or so buried under the rubble. So that number is very much tentative. At least 10,000 children, 1.9 million people internally displaced, repeatedly displaced, particularly in the south, they're constantly being moved. Many have been moved 5, 6, 7 times in the last three months. And this is the largest forced displacement in Palestinian history, including, of course, 1948. We're seeing most of Gaza's infrastructure has been destroyed, 70% of Gaza's housing stock has been damaged or destroyed. We're seeing mass starvation and disease. 93% of Gaza's population is facing crisis levels of hunger and malnutrition. More than half a million are facing catastrophic conditions of hunger. This is an entirely manmade famine. We're seeing videos of mothers picking weeds to feed their children. It's really quite, quite devastating. We're seeing wanton destruction - schools, universities, hospitals, whole apartment blocks are being destroyed. Many of you may be seeing the videos of soldiers, in some cases gleefully destroying an entire university or apartment block, sometimes even doing sort of, you know, as a gift to loved ones back home. Kind of the the equivalent of snuff videos in the Israeli-Palestinian context. I think, that Israel is using starvation and disease as a weapon is now indisputable. Of course, we have the statements by Israeli officials, including the defense minister himself, who said that he's ordering a complete closure of food, electricity, fuel, and so forth. And Israel has been quite restrictive in what has been allowed. We're talking about on average, about 3% of what was entering Gaza before October 7, is is now being allowed in. And of course, we're seeing the effects of that. Human Rights Watch, B'Tselem, and other groups have accused Israel of using starvation as a weapon of war. Save the Children, the World Food Program, Senator Van Hollen and his colleagues, Senator Merkley, have come to the same conclusion that this is based on a political decision by the Netanyahu government. In other words, it is not a consequence of war, but a deliberate act. We can talk about the specifics of that. But I think that's important to say. So it's hard for people to hear. But I think the conclusion that I've drawn and that many people are drawing, and probably the impetus for things like the South Africa genocide case, is that the mass suffering that we're seeing is, in a very, very large measure, deliberately created. I know that's hard to hear. But I think the evidence bears that out. So let's talk about the "day after." I think, in a very real sense, there is no "day after." Because, one, we simply don't know where, when, or how this war ends, or what's left of Gaza, or what it looks like. Israel is waging an open-ended war. We may, in fact, never see a ceasefire. Even if the intensity of this particular phase dies down or is diminished, we're going to see fighting on and off for quite a while. And I think that is also deliberate. I think the last thing Israel wants to do is arrive at a ceasefire, even in three months or six months, because it will mean that it's two main objectives of destroying Hamas - that won't be achieved, right? You can't sign a ceasefire with someone who doesn't exist, or who will no longer exist. So there's a kind of fundamental contradiction built in there. The second thing I would point out is that the scale of death and destruction and dislocation is just so massive, that it's impossible to imagine at this stage, what it would take to meet the immediate subsistence needs of the population, much less to think about how to make Gaza livable again. Whole sections of Gaza have been rendered unlivable. Again, this very much looks like a deliberate plan. We've seen bakeries bombed, we've seen universities bombed, we've seen infrastructure destroyed, we've seen agricultural crops destroyed. All of that seems to give the indication that Gaza is being purposely rendered unlivable. So really, the best that we can do is not talk about a "day after," but about a "what now?" You know, what do we do now? What do Palestinians do? What does the international community do? What do the Arab states do? And that's where there's very, very little consensus. The American view of the so-called "day after" is very different than the Israeli view and is also very different than the Palestinian view. So we have three or four, at least, very different visions of what should come next. And that will complicate things, even when the intensity of the fighting stops.


Ori Nir  03:24

So can you talk about the Palestinian view? You mentioned that it's different from the US and Israeli one? What is it, actually, what is it comprised of?


Khaled Elgindy  10:42

Well, the Palestinian view is, well, it depends on which Palestinians, you ask. Officially, the view of Mahmoud Abbas and his leadership is that the PA does not want to go back to Gaza on the back of Israeli tanks. They cannot do that, for their own domestic political reasons. They've resisted doing that in the past under much less devastating conditions. And they're not going to do that now. I think what they're saying is, they are willing to go back, provided: A, that there is sufficient international and especially financial support for rebuilding Gaza, and B, that Gaza's reconstruction and the return of the PA be linked to a pathway toward a Palestinian state. And so that means what the Palestinians and the Arab states are now talking about are irreversible. gestures on the part of Israel toward Palestinian statehood. That's a tall order, of course, given the composition of this government, or, frankly, any conceivable Israeli government. That will be a very difficult thing to achieve. But that's the price that they're requesting is -


Ori Nir  12:09

Can you give a couple of examples of such irreversible gestures?


Khaled Elgindy  12:13

Well, the big one that the Palestinian Authority is seeking is recognition by the United States, by Western European powers, of a Palestinians state. And I think they see that, that would be a game changer, that would kind of bookmark a two-state solution. It would not radically change the situation on the ground, but it would demonstrate seriousness on the part of the United States and others to work toward that goal. Because you can't, even if - I mean, I suppose anything is possible. But even if there were a change in administration, let's say, a Trump administration, it would be very difficult to undo. I think, of course, that doesn't mean that he wouldn't undo it. But those are the kinds - of course nothing is - everything is reversible, theoretically, right? So they're looking for, for gestures that can be made that would signify a seriousness about a Palestinian state. And another thing that I can think of is, you know, again, along the declarative lines, would be something on Jerusalem. You know, a statement to the effect that Jerusalem will be the capital of two states or that Jerusalem will, in fact, be divided. Because, you know, the current US policy is a bit of a contradiction, where everyone understands that there needs to be a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, but Jerusalem should never be redivided. And those two things are incompatible. If you're going to have a sovereign Palestinian state with a capital, there needs to be, you know, a territorial division in Jerusalem. So that's one, you know, that's another idea. Those things, I think, are highly, highly unlikely at this stage.


Ori Nir  14:27

So I'll go back - you said, depending on which Palestinians you ask, right, when we talked about the "day after," or the Palestinian thinking about the "day after." Let's, if you may, if you'd like, talk a little bit about Hamas, about what is Hamas' vision, I don't know if long term, but you know, looking forward. But also, and I see that we have a couple of questions about it already in the Q&A, what was Hamas thinking? Why isn't Hamas crying uncle? Why don't they surrender? Why don't they seek a ceasefire?


Khaled Elgindy  15:12

Well, I mean, of course Hamas has been calling for a ceasefire, just not one that involves their surrender. I think it should be understood, although I'm not sure that it is. You know, part of the problem that we're in is that ever since October 7, we've been in this kind of zero sum frame of mind. Everything is absolute. Netanyahu and others in his coalition keep talking about the total dismantling of Hamas, and "we will fight on and continue regardless." And, you know, that's maybe, you know, understandable from the standpoint of domestic consumption. But it's not realistic. So the goal of destroying Hamas was never a realistic one, and, you know, it took almost three months for the Biden administration to finally climb down from that perch, even if the Israelis, you know, have not. So that's one thing, Hamas is not going to be destroyed. Nor are they going to come out with, you know - you won't see Yahya Sinwar waving the white flag surrendering, because that's not what resistance movements do. He would rather die, and I think a lot of people in leadership would rather kind of go down with the ship, you know, die as heroes and martyrs rather than, you know, surrender. Because the surrender is not just - it wouldn't just be seen as the surrender of Hamas, it would be this sort of, would be a capitulation of any and all resistance. So that's not going to happen. And even frankly, if it did, if Hamas said, okay, you know, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, they quit, well, you'd simply have new resistance movements that would emerge in the vacuum. And so -


Ori Nir  17:07

Because the idea of resistance, of an armed struggle, is very popular in the Palestinian arena, right?


Khaled Elgindy  17:14

Yeah, it's, of course, because you have an armed occupation. And so when you have an occupation that is enforced militarily, and that is maintained through brute force and coercion and violence, structural violence, well then of course you're going to get armed resistance. And that armed resistance will be glorified and praised, and they're seen as heroes. In the same way, you know, every national liberation movement has gone through that. And so it's not reasonable to expect the Palestinians to behave in ways that no other national liberation struggle would behave. If Hamas were to, you know, as I said - if Hamas were to surrender, that would not just be a surrender of one organization, that would be, essentially, a surrender and a capitulation and the surrender of all Palestinians. It would essentially mean, look, we lost, we are content to live as a lesser-than people, without rights, indefinitely. And that's not going to happen. So it was never a reasonable - you know, it's kind of upsetting what I keep, we keep hearing, even someone who I think is quite reasonable, like Secretary Blinken, talking about, you know, "this could end tomorrow if Hamas surrenders." And I mean, come on. I mean, this is just not a realistic expectation. And so it was never on the table in the past, I mean, no one expected in the Second Intifada that Hamas would, you know, disband and disarm unilaterally and say, okay, yeah, we lost. You need to find an accommodation with armed groups in the political realm, right? They have political objectives. Whether we like their methods or not, these are political groups with political objectives. But, you know, the question of what was Hamas thinking? That one is, that's a question that I think people will be grappling with probably forever. You know, I think a lot of us in the analyst community have the sense that, you know, October 7, probably was, as an operation, was more "successful," quote unquote, than they had imagined or originally set out. Don't think they were planning on this level of death and destruction in a single day, I think they had much more modest aims. It was still bold, obviously. But we don't know, we don't know what happened or, you know, was it  once the border fence was breached, and you know, anyone could could crossover. And so you add a bit of chaos, you had all kinds of armed and unarmed elements entering, you know, through the fence. And so how much of the violence that we saw on October 7, how much of it was planned, was under orders, and how much of it was chaos and unplanned? I don't have a good sense of that. But I imagine it's more than zero.


Ori Nir  20:51

And I assume that as a result of that, because the success, Hamas' success was such, they probably also did not expect the strength of Israel's response.


Khaled Elgindy  21:08

Right. I mean, I'm sure they expected a response. But, you know, again, I don't know exactly what the plan was, as it was drawn up. But if it was originally planned, as, you know, to be focused much more on the military versus civilian targets, then we would have had a different response. You know, they would have had, if, let's say, you know, they killed 200 soldiers and police and a dozen civilians and took back 20 hostages. I mean, I don't know that that was the plan. But somewhere between that and what actually happened was the plan. But, you know, that would have elicited a very different response internationally, but also from Israel. It was the scale of civilian deaths and attacks and the brutality of it that elicited such a strong, strong response. That said, we also don't know the full picture on the Israeli side. We know that many of the deaths were inflicted by Israeli forces, we don't know how many, we don't know how wide it was. But that picture is also unclear, maybe that will become clearer over time. But regardless, we know that Hamas, or people who entered with Hamas and Islamic Jihad and other armed groups, carried out massacres of civilians, hundreds and hundreds of civilians. So that much we know for certain. We may never know the exact motivation or what the exact plan was. But in its most basic form, the goal was to deliver a shock to the Israeli system, and to shatter the sense of complacency that Israelis had kind of immersed themselves in, and the hubris and arrogance that went with it. And so in that sense, it was very similar to almost exactly 50 years earlier, the surprise attack in on October 6, 1973. That was also designed to shock the Israelis out of the sense of, you know, "we were victorious in six days, and now we, you know, we're masters of the region, nobody can touch us. And we don't have to compromise. We don't have to think about diplomacy." So I think that was the, kind of, core objective. Which happened, but it was different, right? It was a very different outcome than 1973.


Ori Nir  24:02

Right. I want to relay a question that I've seen, again, in the Q&A, several people related to it. And I know that it's relevant to the discussion that we're going to have in a few minutes. And that is the following question people are asking. It's "one shouldn't even be talking about ceasefire, as it relates to Hamas. Because Hamas does not want to cease fighting Israel, because its goals, its ideology talks about the full destruction of the State of Israel. They don't want an accommodation, in other words, what they want is to continue fighting." How do you see that? Is that Is that a correct statement?


Khaled Elgindy  24:45

Yeah, no, I have a different understanding of Hamas' mission and objectives. I don't think Hamas is waging a war of extermination, or they're trying to destroy Israel. I think Hamas has reconciled itself long ago to the reality that is that Israel is a reality. Even if it's not something that they will accept morally, they accept it physically, as a political, military, physical reality, economic and otherwise. And you know, people forget this, but the reality is that Hamas has accepted the concepts, the principle of a Palestinian state in the West Bank in Gaza and a capital in East Jerusalem. Sheikh Ahmed Yasin, the founder of Hamas, his successor, al-Rantisi, and virtually every leader of Hamas since then, has affirmed their acceptance of that principle within the Palestinian political consensus, right? So there are the basis of a Palestinian consensus, of the PLO, and even though Hamas is not part of the PLO formally, they have adopted, or they've accepted, the basic pillars of anti-Israeli occupation, a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, a capital in Jerusalem, right of return for the refugees, and so on and so forth. These are matters of political consensus among, across the Palestinian factions, and Hamas is part of that. But there's another reason why I don't believe Hamas is engaged in that. We don't have to take them at their word. I think as a matter of political relevance, as a matter of political pragmatism, if their goal is to rule, is to be, you know, the number one political -  the leaders of the Palestinian national movement, they're not going to do that if their goal is to liberate from the river to the sea, right? They're not going to preside over a Palestinian state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. If that's their goal, then they're never going to rule. And that's not their goal, their goal is to be politically relevant. Now, if Palestinian public opinion shifts - and it is shifting against the two-state solution - but it hasn't shifted toward anything concrete, like a one state solution, that's been fleshed out and, you know, has a political constituency and has a, you know, vision and strategy and the kind of ideological coherence, that hasn't emerged yet. But if that were to happen, then sure, Hamas and maybe even Fatah as well could evolve in that direction. But for now, I think Hamas absolutely would accept, and is probably hoping for, a diplomatic process that would eventually lead to a genuine creation of a Palestinian state, from their standpoint, minus the recognition of Israel, right? That can be Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas, and they can recognize Israel. But from their standpoint, morally, that's not something that they will, that they would concede. But I do think they would concede and live within a two state solution de facto.


Ori Nir  28:40

Now, you know, that many people are saying, Okay, this is something that we would have believed on October 6, but after October 7, you know, we can't accept this, because they've just proven the contrary. But you do still think that they are pragmatic enough to reach, to seek some kind of accommodation?


Khaled Elgindy  29:06

I do. I mean, look, we have to distinguish between extremist methods and extremist goals. And sometimes groups have both, have extremist methods and extremists goals. Sometimes groups have very reasonable goals, but extremist methods. So I think that's the case here with Hamas. I think Hamas, since the Second Intifada, but particularly since 2006, when it won a surprise election victory, I think they've been struggling to kind of find the right balance. You know, how do we maintain our resistance credentials and our identity as the resistance group, as distinct from Fatah and their very accommodationist approach. And at the same time, you know, they want international legitimacy, they want to be accepted as a normal political party and movement within the Palestinian landscape, right? They have a diplomatic strategy, they've had one. And so they've tried different approaches. They tried running in elections, which they had previously opposed. They tried to say, okay, you know, we'll join the PLO, we'll be part of that framework. That didn't work. They tried, they modified their charter. They distanced themselves from the Muslim Brotherhood, mainly to accommodate the Sisi regime, which, obviously, in Gaza, they had to have a good working relationship with. So they would make all these kind of pragmatic gestures. Meanwhile, you had this more militant wing within Hamas. Like all movements, there are different factions. There are moderates, there are militants, there are extremists. And the more militant and extreme faction was always there saying, all that stuff will get you nowhere, it's only force, force violence, and armed struggle that will achieve results. And conditions eventually bore that out, where there was consistently these dead ends, right? They even got to a point where they were being perceived, as you know, the PA is the security contractor in the north, and Hamas was now the security contractor in the south, almost replicating the same kind of dynamic. They would prevent people from firing rockets, you know, other groups, from firing rockets at Israel, because they didn't want to disrupt the status quo that was, somewhat, you know, bearable and useful for them while they bided their time. So they had tried all these different avenues, and everywhere was a dead end. And so the militant - you know, this is my interpretation, this isn't like, again, I don't have inside information. But, you know, over time, the militant wing got stronger and stronger, and they said, Look, all you guys tried, you know, your political, diplomatic, pragmatic efforts, and they didn't work. We need to deliver a significant blow. And so they came out on top, but I don't think it was inevitable. I think lots of things would have and could have avoided October 7. I think about, sometimes, what if Palestinians held elections in 2021, as originally scheduled, and Hamas might have been fully integrated into the body politic, maybe joined the PLO formally. Maybe, you know, Israel wouldn't have liked it, but they would have acquiesced in it on some level, the Americans would have, you know, something similar. That could have avoided October 7, lots of things could have avoided October 7, including Palestinian reconciliation. Many of us have been saying for a long time, this division is not only bad for Palestinians. It's destabilizing and it's dangerous. And it will backfire. And it's only a matter of time before it explodes, and of course, it did. So now everybody understands, "well the PA has to come back." Well, the PA can only come back as a matter of internal Palestinian consensus. If Hamas doesn't approve of the PA going back, the PA will not go back, whether or not Hamas is still in control in Gaza. That's just a, it's not necessarily a military reality, but it is a political reality.


Ori Nir  34:07

So let me ask you about that. I was intending originally to get through it later, but since you referred to it. In the article that I mentioned earlier, you write, and I quote, "it is extremely difficult to see a way forward for Palestinian politics with Hamas, but equally, there is no way forward without it." Now, I think most of our listeners, our viewers, would probably understand what you mean by the first part of that statement, of that assertion. But what about the second one? Could you explain why Hamas is necessary for Palestinian politics to function? Isn't there a way for Hamas to cease being a political player in the Palestinian arena?


Khaled Elgindy  34:56

So it's a good question. So it's not a about Hamas being necessary for Palestinian politics to function, or to exist, it's about the fact that it exists. Right, Hamas exists. And you won't, Israel won't bomb it out of existence. That's just not an achievable goal. This is a movement, it has support in the West Bank, Jerusalem, you know, not just in Gaza. You certainly can't kill everyone who sympathizes with or supports Hamas. So that's just not feasible. So it will continue to exist. And so if it exists, in what form does it exist? Does it capture 1% of the, you know, public support? 20%? 50%? It's clearly at least the second most influential Palestinian political faction. At this point, it may be the most popular, I think after October 7, it has grown in its popularity. I think a lot of people you know, are - there's enormous support for Hamas everywhere, inside and outside of Palestine, but particularly inside. It's hard to know exactly what people in Gaza are thinking, because they're still, they're just, they're in survival mode. They're just trying to stay alive and keep their families alive. They're not really thinking about politics as such. So the question is, if we know Hamas exists, and we know it has a significant following, well then what you do with it? Do you pretend - do you do what we've done the past 30 years and pretend that it doesn't exist, then just try to exclude it not only from a peace process, but from internal Palestinian politics? That doesn't seem reasonable, or tenable. And that is very destabilizing, because that's what got us into this mess, in very large part. So, you know, and then there's the question of who gets to decide, right? I mean, who gets to be a political actor in someone else's politics? The answer should be Palestinians get to decide. How? So let's say there's an election, okay? Not now, but let's say in a few years, when it becomes feasible to hold an election. Should Hamas be allowed to participate? Israel and the United States, probably, and many, some, you know, the UK and others might say, absolutely not. Hamas is disqualified itself from from ever being a legitimate political actor. Okay, well, you can exclude a major political actor from elections. But will those elections be legitimate? Probably not, they will not be seen as legitimate. So that's the conundrum, is if you exclude Hamas, you have an illegitimate outcome. If you include them, there are also risks. But I think the risks are much more manageable, because then Hamas is part of the political process. They have a stake in Palestinian politics, in Palestinian political institutions, even as an opposition movement. And so yes, that would complicate, greatly, future negotiations, because now you have Hamas, an opposition group, they could veto the whole process, right? They could, but they're doing it in a way that would be through politics, through, you know, negotiations or internal politics. And that's just, that's the norm. Right? You know, we can't pretend that they don't exist. In the same way that, how many Israeli prime ministers have said, I can't talk about those things. Because there's these guys behind me in the opposition, who will have my head if I talk about dividing Jerusalem and, you know, settlement freeze or all of these things. And so yes, it complicates the negotiation process. But it also makes the outcome much more durable, because now Hamas has bought into the game, they have a stake in the success of the process that they're a part of. And so no one is saying that Israel has to negotiate with Hamas directly. But Hamas should be part of the political landscape, either as an opposition, or perhaps someday they may be the dominant force. If they are the dominant force in Palestinian politics, then it still makes sense. Because at the end of the day, you don't negotiate peace with your friends, you negotiate with your enemies, people who've done terrible things to you, and that you will have, frankly, also done terrible things to. You know, inducing mass starvation in Gaza is not a nice thing to do. And so there's deep, deep, deep trauma that will be generational for Palestinians coming out of this, in the same way that that Israelis suffered trauma on October 7, and are suffering trauma because of the hostages. That's why you have peace processes. That's why you have negotiations, is to reconcile these two sides that have done terrible things to each other. It doesn't make sense to exclude them otherwise, because then they will always play the role of a spoiler, as they've done. So to me, it's just not logical to to exclude them. You have to take the good with the bad.


Ori Nir  41:06

Before we get to the to the next questions, I just wanted to take a moment and relate to some of the questions that have been asked here. Many of them are vexing questions that show me, tell me that people are not quite happy with what they're hearing. Some of those questions have to do with facts, with facts that relate to the past. I'm thinking that maybe in a column or something sometime soon, I will address some of those, because it is important to talk about things like the positions, the historic positions of Hamas, and I think that Khaled has depicted them correctly. Other questions are just vexing questions that are trying to pick a fight, and I'm not going to relay them to Khaled.


Khaled Elgindy  42:04

It's good that I can't see the questions.


Ori Nir  42:06

I'm looking for ones that are more a matter of just seeking facts. And one of them that I just saw a moment ago here and I wanted to relay to you is: what could could make the PA a viable representative of the of the Palestinians, and could the recognition of a role for Hamas, as you pointed out, serve that goal?


Khaled Elgindy  42:31

So here's the thing, there's two different political entities that Palestinians have. One is the Palestinian Authority, and the other is the PLO. My own view, and I think the view of a lot of Palestinians, maybe most Palestinians, is that the PA is not the political address, it's not the proper place to be the political address of the Palestinian national movement. Historically, that has been the PLO. The PA was supposed to be a vehicle toward, you know, initially self-governing and then eventually would graduate to a state, and then both the PA and the PLO would be merged into that state. But that never happened. And so the PA was kind of frozen in its development and is, at this point, I think, a, you know, it operates as a kind of glorified municipal authority. So there's a difference between governance and leadership. What Palestinians need now -  well, I mean, Gaza needs governance and aid and rehabilitation and so forth. So you need a governance body. That body should be de politicized, in my view, as much as possible. It should not be the representative of the Palestinian people, because the Palestinian people are not located only in the West Bank and Gaza. They are in the diaspora as well. And they are, they are a constituency that have a stake in the outcome. So, my own view is to sort of downgrade the PA to a technical body that does service provision, and can also be responsible or oversee Gaza's reconstruction, but operates in both the West Bank and Gaza, under the political guidance of a revamped PLO, which would be inclusive and genuinely representative. So historically, the PLO was a representative body, I mean, it represented people inside the occupied territories, in the refugee camps, in the diaspora - in general, it included all the political factions. That ceased to be true after the late 1980s, it hasn't been true since Hamas' creation. The fact that Hamas and other groups have been outside the PLO has denied the PLO that legitimacy that it used to enjoy. So we're talking about two different institutions here. I think it's much more important for Palestinians to to have a political leadership, that is representative and that is legitimate. And that should be vested in the PLO, in a revamped, reconstituted PLO. The PA is a different matter. There may never be a Palestinian state. And so that needs to be something that people grapple with as a matter of reality. So if there is no future for a two state solution, then again, you still have a political leadership in the form of the PLO that is not tied to some imaginary two state solution, like the PA, right? So the PA could could exist, or could not exist. The Palestinian national movement should not be, and the Palestinian leadership, should not be a function of whether or not there is or isn't a two state solution around the corner. And I think Palestinians have suffered because of a lack of political leadership. And so it's a complex, it's a complex situation.


Ori Nir  46:27

Yeah. And again, you relate to it in the article that you've written. I can't at the moment put the link to the article in the chat. But if people go and Google it, it'll come up, it was in Foreign Policy.


Khaled Elgindy  46:48

Foreign Affairs.


Ori Nir  46:49

Foreign Affairs, sorry, Foreign Affairs, that's it. I wanted to ask you a question that is controversial, it may even be provocative. But it has to do with something that you mentioned earlier, and that is how the events that have unfolded after October 7 on the Palestinian arena, evoke the founding Palestinian trauma, which is the Nakba. By the way, for Israelis, October 7 also evoked a trauma, which is the Holocaust, and we've seen many, many references to that. My question has to do with what, for Palestinians, is the most dominant characteristic of the Nakba, which is dispossession. And so, I fully understand why Palestinians, and others, would be opposed, vehemently opposed, to relocation of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip. But bear with me for question that is not - that tries to find the way to do it that is not dispossession. And that is the following: Most of Gaza's residents are refugees. They're descendants of refugees or refugees themselves, who do not consider Gaza as their permanent home, but rather a temporary home. Would it be possible at all to have Gazans temporarily settle in the West Bank, or maybe somewhere else, but I think in the West Bank, which is the other lobe of the Palestinian political entity, at least temporarily, while Gaza is being rebuilt? So that there's a little bit of, kind of, a pause, if you will, in the civil efforts to rebuild Gaza. Is that something that could happen? That - and I'm not talking at the moment about possible Israeli objection, which I think will be there, but let's just suppose for a moment that that's not going to be an impediment.


Khaled Elgindy  49:05

Yeah, I mean, I this is a difficult issue, because anytime you're talking about relocating Palestinians, it brings up that old trauma. And I mean, look, I think the West Bank is at least a better option than the Sinai. But history has shown, regardless, that any time large numbers of Palestinians have been uprooted and forced out of their homes and land, they've not been allowed to return. So there's no precedent, really, for any significant return. The only, you know, there was the returnees during the Oslo process after 1993. And you know, those were, I forget exactly how many thousand. But there's no precedent other than that. And that was in the context of, you know, returning police forces and you know, things like that. So, realistically, it's hard to imagine, particularly if they were displaced outside of Palestine, that they would ever be allowed to return, and I think that's where the resistance to the idea comes from. I think the question is - a couple of questions. One, if Gaza has been rendered unlivable, why has it been rendered unlivable? And shouldn't the solution be to stop rendering it unlivable? And to, even, start compelling Israel to pay the costs for the problems that it's created, right? I mean, these are, you know - one of my great frustrations is, people tend to treat Israel and its actions as though it were a kind of meteorological event. You know, it's just how it is, you have to brace yourself, you bring an umbrella, but you can't stop it. And, you know, we're forgetting that there are choices, Israel's making choices. Israel's making a choice to dislocate 90% of the population, is making a choice to deny food and water and fuel, it is making a choice to bomb densely populated civilian areas with the most powerful bombs ever created. Those are choices. Those are not - they're not inevitabilities. And so Israel can make different choices, people can make choices to compel Israel to make different choices. I think if Israel believed that it would have to pay the price for making Gaza unlivable, it might think twice about doing so. And so what concerns me, and I think what would concern a lot of Palestinians, is the precedent that this would set. And so, I mean, first of all, I don't know where you put 2 million people in the West Bank, you know -


Ori Nir  52:11

Not 2 million, let's say, several, I don't know, a couple hundred thousand, 300, 400 - I'm just throwing out numbers.


Khaled Elgindy  52:18

Okay, a couple of hundred thousand. Okay, but sure, maybe the West Bank can hold some, but why not Israel? Why isn't Israel also - part of the question is, well, why can't they be temporarily relocated to Israel? There's a lot of space in the Negev, they could build housing, temporary housing. And after all, Israel did create this problem, Israel did give these people orders to evacuate, and they destroyed their homes. And so, I think what people find objectionable is this idea that Israel will create this human and humanitarian catastrophe, and then others will pick up the tab and pay the, you know - and clean up the mess, whether it's the PA or the Saudis, or the Egyptians, or whoever. And, you know, but they're not even really thinking about the "day after," right? They're not particularly concerned with where they end up or go or don't go, or if they have homes, or they don't have homes. This is one of the frustrations of the Biden administration, is they have not given any real thought to what happens next, even though it has enormous consequences, even for them. So if you could change that calculation, then why not? You know, if you could change Israel's calculation that not everything is, you know, a mess that other people have to clean up.


Ori Nir  52:46

So we have three minutes left, and I'm counting the questions that we have here. They're 63 questions, and I have some questions of my own, but we really don't have the time to entertain them all. Maybe to end, I will just ask you, if you could think of three main things that should happen immediately in order to, let's say, alleviate the dire situation that we're in, what would you say? It can be more than three, but just a few things that can be done immediately, now.


Khaled Elgindy  54:27

I think the ceasefire is absolutely the first one, and maybe one two and three. I mean, nothing is more important than ending the damage that's being done, some of which, most of which, part of which is irreversible. And so the first step is to stop doing more damage. The continued bombing - this same dynamic could go on for months with very little impact on Hamas. And the real impact is on the Palestinian people in Gaza. The running joke now, which of course is not at all funny, is that Israel is fighting a war against Palestinian civilians and that Hamas is the collateral damage. Occasionally they, you know, they do some damage to Hamas, but there is no good that can come out of continuing even for another day what is happening now. There is only degrees of disaster. So that's number one. I think number two would be for Palestinians to put their internal house in order. It is precisely in this kind of moment, when Palestinians have a weak and not very credible leadership, that bad things happen to them. That was true in 1948, that is true now. You know, having a credible leadership is not a failsafe against annihilation and catastrophe, but it's impossible to confront those, what is a real existential threat to Palestinians, without a credible leadership. So this has been absolutely catastrophic, this lack of political leadership. So whatever that takes, revamping the PLO, you know, a succession process for post-Abu Mazen, a lot of people are talking about, you know, Marwan Barghouti as a kind of unifying figure. That's for Palestinians to decide, but that needs to happen immediately. And then the third thing is for the United States and the international community to lay out a very clear process for ending - not just a pathway to a Palestinian state, but for deoccupation, and decolonization. Those are dynamics that have to be begun on the ground with actual steps. So not just freezing settlements, rolling back settlements. You know, concrete steps toward for dealing with the driver of this conflict, which is Israel's occupation, and the repression and violence that goes with it. Those are the most important three things, and they're everything. You know, it's like, I don't actually see anything else beyond those three.


Ori Nir  54:28

Thank you very much. This was truly eye opening. Khaled, thanks again for joining us.


Khaled Elgindy  56:55

Yeah, thanks for having me.


Ori Nir  57:04

All right. Goodbye now.


Khaled Elgindy  57:28

Good bye.