The entire Middle East is in turmoil due to the Gaza war. If the Palestinians do not get more rights, there will be no stability in the region.

An Israeli soldier in a backlit tank.

An Israeli soldier takes position on the border with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel. Photo: Tsafrir Abayov/ap

In recent weeks we have become accustomed to a dangerous escalation in the Middle East that extends far beyond Israel and the Gaza Strip. US warplanes are now bombing positions of Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria, which have previously attacked more and more of the remaining US army bases there. US and British warships bomb positions of Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have repeatedly attacked merchant ships in the Red Sea in recent months.

The events have one thing in common: the groups responsible justify their actions by saying that they want to exert pressure to end the Gaza war. These groups not only receive open logistical support from Iran and act as its satellites. They also find support among a large part of the Arab public, precisely because they are linked to the Palestinian question.

US military action against these groups is almost interpreted as complicity in the Gaza war. An entire region is in turmoil because of this war and the suffering of the people of Gaza. Today it is clearer than ever: without Palestinians gaining more rights, there will be no stability in the region.

Gone are the days when the West held out hope that the Middle East region could be stabilized by simply ignoring the Palestinian issue. People celebrated the so-called Abraham Accords, in which the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Bahrain normalized their relations with Israel as a new path to peace, and hoped that Saudi Arabia would soon join them. However, the calculation was made without the Palestinian host and without Arab public opinion, for which the Palestinian question remains central even 75 years after the founding of Israel.

This not only raises the question of what will happen to the Gaza Strip after the war, but also what scenarios currently exist for the entire Palestinian issue. Because seven million Israeli Jews and seven million Palestinians will not vanish into thin air with their demands. Basically, there are four possible scenarios here.

Scenario 1: status quo

The first scenario would be the continuation of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and further expansion of Israeli settlements there. In addition, there is a new closure of the Gaza Strip, with the great unknown of who will manage the ruins there and the 2.3 million people who live there after the war.

The status quo also includes continued unequal treatment of Palestinians who live in Israel and hold Israeli passports. They now represent a fifth of Israel's population.

The biggest problem with maintaining the status quo: it was never sustainable for the Palestinians. It has also become clear, by October 7 at the latest, that this is not sustainable for Israelis and their security.

Furthermore, the West is increasingly losing its sovereignty in interpreting the conflict according to the current status quo. The votes in the UN General Assembly demonstrate this. 153 countries recently voted in favor of a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, 10 voted against and 23 countries abstained, including Germany. But it is also evident in proceedings initiated by South Africa and accepted by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which examine whether Israel's actions in the Gaza war constitute genocide.

Scenario 2: Expulsion of Palestinians

The second scenario, which some ministers in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right cabinet openly and repeatedly debate, is the expulsion of the Palestinians from the Gaza Strip. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir have made no secret of the fact that they imagine the future of Gaza without the majority of its Palestinian residents. Some settlers are even discussing their expulsion from the West Bank as a second step.

From a purely military perspective, Israel would probably be capable of carrying out this type of ethnic cleansing. However, from a political point of view, such a scenario is difficult to imagine. The international outcry would be too great. And Israel's main military and financial backers in Washington and some European capitals would be hard-pressed and forced to reconsider their position.

Scenario 3: two states

This brings us to the third scenario, the two-state solution, that is, a Palestinian state alongside Israel. This solution is what the EU and the US have been officially demanding for two decades. But in the last 20 years it has degenerated into European and American verbiage, a kind of mantra that has accompanied the status quo ante.

In reality, no power wanted to invest politically in promoting this solution against Netanyahu. During his tenure in government, he did everything he could to torpedo a two-state solution, most notably through a massive expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal under international law.

Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, which aimed to create a Palestinian state, the number of settlers has increased from 264,000 to 502,000. If you look at a map of the West Bank with Israel's settlements, settler roads and restricted military zones, you can no longer see any coherent potential Palestinian territory.

Some Palestinians also criticize the second-state solution. This would give them their own state, but they would have to give up their national ambitions for all of Palestine. They maintain that such a State would be established in only 22 percent of its original territory.

Despite much resistance and the practical question of whether there is still enough room for a viable state to exist, the international community is sticking to the two-state solution as the only viable option. This would only really be conceivable if at least some of the Israeli settlements were abandoned.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently said: “The two-state solution has been vilified, undermined and declared dead many times. However, it remains the only achievable, lasting and just solution for peace in Israel, Palestine and the region.”

Scenario 4: One State for all

The fourth scenario is a one-state solution, that is, a secular and democratic state in which Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians live together on equal terms. To do this, both sides would have to give up their national ambitions with Jewish or Palestinian identities. There would no longer be a Palestinian state, but at the same time there would not be an exclusively Jewish one either. That would also be the end of the Zionist idea in its current implementation.

This idea is presented by an absolute minority on both sides, mainly in the academic sector. One of its Israeli representatives is former employee of the Israeli internal secret service Shin Bet and current philosophy professor Omri Boehm. Is it better to abandon Zionism or cling to an idea tainted by the expulsion of the Palestinians?, he asks. He advocated this three years ago in his polemic “Israel. A utopia” to rethink the statehood of Israel. Instead of a two-state solution, he speaks of a “Palestinian-Israeli federation: one country for both peoples.”

The late prominent Palestinian intellectual and thought leader Edward Said also spoke 20 years ago of the possibility of a one-state solution, which would have to go hand in hand with the principle of one citizen with shared rights and responsibilities. If everyone had the same rights and privileges, the dogmas of religious chauvinism and national ideologies would be lost forever, he wrote.

The one-state solution changes one of the fundamental characteristics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is no longer a territorial dispute, but rather the fundamental question of the equal rights of two peoples in one State.

Analyzing the four scenarios, it is clear that the first two, status quo and expulsion, are ultimately military solutions. They depend on Israel's military superiority and Israel's waning international support.

The other two options, one-state and two-state, are political in nature. They are the only solutions that create more justice. October 7 made one thing very clear: without Palestinians being granted their political rights in some way, there will be no security for Israelis.