Gillibrand: Israeli-Arab mega-deal is on the table, if Israel is open to two states

The New York senator said Arab states are willing to put boots on the ground in Gaza for anti-Hamas operations as part of a regional peace deal

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) speaks at a news conference following a closed-door lunch meeting with Senate Democrats at the U.S. Capitol on October 31, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who recently returned from a trip to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, told Jewish Insider on Thursday that Arab states stand ready to seal a regional peace deal with Israel in the near future — if Israel commits to a two-state solution.

“They’re available to do this long-term peace agreement. They are willing to play a role in rebuilding a Palestinian state, providing security and creating an international regional alliance to fight against Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and all its proxies,” Gillibrand said. “I know and I hope that can happen in the months to come — not years — months to come.”

“What Israel has to give, in this scenario, is the willingness to have a second state,” she continued.

Based on her recent visit to Israel, Gillibrand described this as a major sticking point that has developed since Oct. 7. She said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in meetings a year ago, was not opposed to a two-state solution as he laid out an ambitious plan for normalization with Saudi Arabia and broader regional peace.

Netanyahu publicly ruled out a two-state solution last week.

“[Hamas] did the most barbaric attack they could even conceive of, so that Israel couldn’t come back to the table for peace. This is the design of Hamas,” Gillibrand said. “My hope is that the Israeli people, and the Israeli government, and Prime Minister Netanyahu can collectively decide, ‘We will not be manipulated into giving up our own vision for peace.’”

She said she had conveyed to Netanyahu that the Arab states are ready for a deal, a message she said was met with “almost disbelief.”

“He didn’t say, ‘No,’ he just said, ‘I don’t know if the Arab world is serious about it,” Gillibrand recounted. She insists they are.

“[Netanyahu] needs to be at the negotiating table, because he needs to remember this is his vision, and not be afraid to move forward with this vision,” she said. “The challenge is that the brutality of the Oct. 7 attacks… is seared into the minds and hearts of every Israeli right now, and it’s hard to think peace is even possible.”

Gillibrand said that the Saudi government is willing to conduct anti-terrorism and security operations with its own military personnel inside Gaza as part of an international force, with guidance from Israel.  And she said the Jordanian government is “positioned” to help bring in a new Palestinian government — ”they have proposals, they have a plan.”

She argued that such an arrangement can and should come before Hamas is fully rooted out from Gaza. She explained that a regional multinational security force including Arab allies and the Palestinian population would be more effective in eliminating Hamas than Israel acting alone.

“What [Israel] will get in this scenario is allies and partners that will do the work… so that it’s not just Israel — that will support anti-terrorism, support an alliance against Iran and its proxies, support the mission of eradicating Hamas from all leadership and all positions within a Palestinian state,” Gillibrand said.

She noted that this outcome would also improve Israel’s regional security picture, creating an alliance that can share intelligence and conduct joint operations against Iran and its proxies throughout the Middle East.

“That is the path to peace, that is the path to regional stability, and that is the path to a strong Israel,” she said.

The New York senator said that, once Israel has “degraded the tunnel system sufficiently and taken out enough of Hamas leadership,” it should begin these efforts to both rebuild Gaza and continue to eliminate Hamas, at the same time.

She said that a key step to moving regional peace efforts forward will be securing the remaining hostages’ freedom in exchange for a pause in the fighting, which would build “goodwill” and “stability” and open the “opportunity” for a larger deal.

Gillibrand said that the U.S. — including lawmakers — needs to “keep pushing” Arab allies, especially Qatar, “to do more” to pressure Hamas and facilitate the release of hostages. She said that continued meetings between Qatari, Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi officials and U.S. officials and lawmakers are “imperative.”

But she’s skeptical of more aggressive proposals, such as threatening to reevaluate or downgrade the U.S.’ relationship with these partners or revoke Qatar’s major non-NATO ally status, given the “delicate negotiating position.” 

“We need more goodwill, not less goodwill. We need more collaboration and more unity, not less,” Gillibrand said. “I don’t think using a big stick is the approach to bring people to you. The Middle East is about to fracture irreparably for generations. So we need to prevent that from happening.”

Gillibrand said she’s been meeting frequently with the families of the hostages and victims of Oct. 7, recounting their deep pain and uncertainty about their loved ones’ conditions. On Thursday, she took to the Senate floor for the ninth time since Oct. 7 to highlight the hostages’ stories.

“It’s very important to me that I keep the lives of these hostages in the front of people’s minds,” she said. “Every time I meet with [their families], I’m more resolved than ever to just keep their stories alive, because people have to understand time is of the essence. And we have to do whatever we can to support Israel and get these hostages home.”

The New York senator said she doesn’t think efforts by Democratic colleagues to condition or otherwise restrict U.S. aid to Israel are necessary or appropriate. She said she believes Israel is in compliance with the U.S.’ laws for recipients of military aid.

Gillibrand added that Israel has a “very hard mission” on its hands — particularly in eliminating Hamas’ tunnels — that “cannot be done without kinetic activity.” 

But she said she met in Israel with personnel involved in the operations and saw that Israel abides by a “very robust” review system for selecting targets, which takes into consideration human rights and international law, involving lawyers as well as military and intelligence experts.

Israel is moving to smaller-scale and more targeted operations focusing on on-the-ground operations rather than air strikes, she added.

“They are endeavoring to follow all of the requirements that are on all military aid by the United States. And they have robust requirements for doing it,” Gillibrand said. “If they’ve made mistakes, or targets have not been accurate in the review — I can’t answer that question. I just know their intention is to follow all laws… and they’re doing their absolute best.”

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