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Kamala Harris Revealed What the U.S. Wants to See After the Israel-Hamas War Is Over

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Since the onset of the current war in Gaza, as an integral part of the small inner circle of senior administration officials guiding the U.S. response, Vice President Kamala Harris has carved out a role leading the effort focused on what White House officials describe as “the day after” the conflict.

This past weekend, on a whirlwind one-day trip to Dubai for the COP28 climate summit, the vice president met with heads of state from across the Middle East to develop a consensus for a shared vision of what a lasting and just solution to the conflict looks like.

While Harris has been intensively engaged with the president and the rest of the team shaping the U.S.’ actions in the region since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack against Israel, she has from the outset shared the president’s concern that somehow the cycle of violence between Israel and the Palestinians must be broken.

Precisely what interim steps must be taken to achieve that goal was the subject of her meetings with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, King Abdullah of Jordan, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan—who is president of the United Arab Emirates, and a phone call she had with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani.

In a public statement following the meetings, the vice president said, “There is a mutual desire to figure out how we are going to approach ‘the day after’ in ways that bring stability and peace in the region.”

While the U.S. has been in close contact with regional partners since the current crisis began, the Dubai forum allowed Harris to conduct some of the face-to-face high level meetings that had originally been scheduled for President Biden during his trip to the region in October. Due to the concerns of regional leaders following the explosion at the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza, a meeting in which Biden was to have participated in Amman, Jordan was canceled. While much has happened in the nearly two months since then, the vice president’s trip to the COP summit offered an opportunity to underscore the U.S. commitment to coordinating with and listening to the key parties in the region.

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In the views of U.S. officials with whom I spoke, while each of the meetings was wide ranging, the vice president’s exchanges did reflect the specific interests and particular roles played by the leaders in question.

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Vice President Kamala Harris, speaks at the COP28 Climate Conference on December 02, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Given Egypt’s shared border and long history of involvement in Gaza-related issues, the Sisi discussions had a particular focus on Gaza-specific concerns. As in each of the meetings, Harris emphasized her focus not only on the essential step of eliminating Hamas from the equation, but on the three core areas on which a peaceful “day after” will depend.

These are the economic and humanitarian recovery of Gaza, security for both Israel and the Palestinians, and resolving the question of how to govern Gaza going forward. Also, in response to recent statements by members of the Israeli prime minister’s coalition, Harris also made it clear that “under no circumstances will the United States permit the forced relocation of Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank, the besiegement of Gaza, or the redrawing of the borders of Gaza.”

It is fair to say that no one on the vice president’s team…sees the achievement of any of the steps outlined by Harris to be easy or indeed, a foregone conclusion.

Harris’ discussions with King Abdullah, with whom she has twice previously had long meetings in the past, were, given Jordan’s proximity to Israel’s West Bank, more focused on West Bank related issues. These included questions about how to revitalize the Palestinian Authority.

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It is the belief of White House officials that a revitalized Palestinian Authority with political control of both the West Bank and Gaza is, while enormously challenging, one of the critical components of the governance priority cited by Harris in all of these conversations.

An even more sensitive component of the governance issue cited by more than one official with whom I have spoken in the Biden administration is that it will also require a change of government in Israel. While few expect a new government to be radically different from that current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it is fair to say that all see his likely departure following a cessation of hostilities in Gaza as a “positive development.”

The discussions with the leaders from the Gulf touched upon these issues but also contained active discussions about reducing the further risk of regional escalation of the conflict, and also about what the preconditions might be for putting together the kind of significant reconstruction packages that will be required in the wake of the current conflict.

More broadly, the takeaway of the vice president and her team was that the exchanges were productive and positive but, at the moment, it is very hard to proceed on the core issues associated with arriving at a solution to the conflict while the war continues.

There is, I am told, a broad sense among the region’s leaders that Hamas “must go” but that concerns about the toll in Gaza particularly with regard to women and children are very important factors that make progress difficult for now.

It is fair to say that no one on the vice president’s team—nor that of the administration as a whole—sees the achievement of any of the steps outlined by Harris to be easy or indeed, a foregone conclusion.

A wide view of the audience at COP28. Kamala Harris is displayed on a screen.

Vice President Kamala Harris, speaks at the COP28 Climate Conference on December 02, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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Sean Gallup / Getty Images

The resumption of fighting in Gaza has brought even higher death tolls among Palestinian civilians. Should this trend continue, tensions are likely to rise between the U.S. and the Israeli government. Harris addressed this point in remarks in Dubai when she stated that “the scale of civilian suffering and the images and videos coming from Gaza are devastating” and that “we believe Israel must do more to protect innocent civilians.”

On the vice president’s flight home from Dubai, she also spoke with Israeli President Isaac Herzog. She made the above point to him while also reiterating continued U.S. support for Israel’s right to self-defense. She also directly raised with him administration concerns regarding Israeli actions, not just in Gaza but in the West Bank.

Administration officials have said to me that the strong, behind the scenes message to the Israelis is that, as the Gaza campaign continues in the south, it must “learn the lessons of the north.” As for the West Bank, the conversation is said to have referenced U.S. concerns regarding Israeli settler efforts to appropriate more land in the region, as well as growing violence in the region between settlers and Palestinian residents.

Continuing the theme of this important weekend of high-level diplomacy, the official White House read-out of the Herzog call stated, “Building on the vice president’s meeting in Dubai, the vice president reiterated the importance of planning for the day after the fighting ends in Gaza and she underscored our commitment to a two-state solution.” The returning of the two-state solution to centrality among administration priorities is perhaps the ultimate extension of the vision for “the day after.”

This trip underscores once again that Vice President Harris has undertaken an active role in foreign policy issues that is uncommon for the vast majority of U.S. vice presidents. From her active diplomacy associated with the U.S. support of Ukraine to her multiple trips and meetings on three continents tied to counterbalancing the rise of China, this has become a major part of her portfolio, albeit one that does not get the attention it deserves.

In this case, few discussions could have been more urgent or central. Additionally, by having the vice president personally lead U.S. efforts to start conceiving what the “day after” may look like for Israel, the people of Palestine, the region, and the world—the Biden administration is making it clear that it is taking a comprehensive, strategic approach to managing the current crisis.

It is too easy in situations like this one to become caught up in tactics and addressing short term problems. The result of such efforts, typically, are faux “solutions” that themselves only last for a short time.

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What is essential is imagining a desired end result and then reverse engineering it from there. That requires active, complex, high-level diplomacy and that is precisely what was provided by the vice president during her recent trip to the Middle East.

Source: The Daily Beast

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