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What is Israel's plan for the day after the war?

December 20, 2023 at 9:01 am

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2R) chairs a Cabinet meeting at the Kirya, which houses the Israeli Ministry of Defence, in Tel Aviv on December 17, 2023 [MENAHEM KAHANA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that his government’s plan for the day after the war is simple: “Gaza will be neither Hamastan nor Fatahstan.” The plan includes a buffer zone between the Gaza envelope — populated areas of the Negev within 7 km of the nominal border — and the Gaza Strip. It also includes controlling a narrow strip 14 km long within Palestinian territory along the border with Egypt, called the Salah Al-Din axis. Can this be achieved? What is the position of Egypt and the US on it?

It has been observed recently that there has been an increase in statements by Israeli and American military and political leaders about post-war Gaza, or what they call “the day after”, when neither Hamas nor Fatah will have a presence or a say in public affairs. Netanyahu discussed his plan with the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, suggesting the establishment of a civil administration in the Strip after its rehabilitation under the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. However, a US State Department spokesman said that America would object to any proposed buffer zone inside the Gaza Strip, because that conflicts with Washington’s position of not reducing its size after the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Egypt announced earlier its rejection of all Israeli plans aimed at changing the status quo in Gaza. It pointed out that there is a peace agreement between Cairo and Tel Aviv, governed by many provisions related to both the Gaza Strip and the Salah Al-Din axis, and that any unilateral move on Israel’s part is unacceptable to Egypt. The Egyptian position is also based on the fact that the Palestinians are the ones who should determine their own fate, and that anticipating scenarios and imposing any solutions on them is unacceptable.

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The British media has pointed out that if elections were held today across all of the occupied Palestinian territories, Hamas would win

The future of Gaza also seems to occupy a large part of British efforts. The Times reported that the UK government is working to train the PA to govern the Gaza Strip, although it is directing a lot of criticism at the Fatah-run authority, stressing its weakness and its inability to manage the West Bank. So how is it now expected to manage the Gaza Strip as well? It is clear that British policy on this issue is based on building upon what already exists among the Palestinians; that is, a state-like entity represented by the PA. Westminster says that if elections are held at the appropriate time, this decision may be welcomed, not only in the West Bank, but also in the Gaza Strip. However, the British media has pointed out that if elections were held today across all of the occupied Palestinian territories, Hamas would win, as its popularity has risen significantly after 7 October.

READ: US poll, most Americans disapprove of Biden’s management of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza

When it comes to political analysis, Netanyahu appears to be driven by a feeling that he achieved a record increase in Western support for the Israeli position, in light of what happened on 7 October. Although this has faded and the hypocrisy of Western governments and the international community has been exposed and criticised severely, the Israeli prime minister still lives in this bubble, which is why he has announced his “day after” plan as if he is the only decision-maker on the ground. He may want to control Gaza in the future, but the Americans are not keen on changing the strategic and geographical status quo. On the one hand, they support him in trying to eliminate Hamas, even though this cannot be achieved by any party, while on the other hand they disagree with him about “the day after” because they want to pave the way for the PA.

US President Joe Biden also, apparently, thinks that it is possible to drag the Palestinians and Israelis into negotiations, so nobody expects Netanyahu to be able to impose a fait accompli, especially given the strong international opposition to the genocide taking place in Gaza. Other parties also have to be considered who do not want the war to expand regionally. There are thus several major incentives for the international community to restrain Netanyahu and for this war to end. Even if he thinks that he can boost his popularity within Israel by challenging the status quo, his vision of a road map is probably not one that Washington will accept. This is a major obstacle, because it is here that the Israeli and American paths diverge.

The question now, therefore, is whether or not Washington has a clear and realistic vision for the day after the war in Gaza; if so, how feasible is it?

READ: Hamas has ‘endless army’, Israel’s dream of destroying it an ‘illusion’, analyst says

Considering the upcoming US presidential election campaign next year; the position taken by Biden and his Secretary of State Antony Blinken vis-a-vis the Palestine-Israel conflict; and the role of the pro-Israel lobby in Western capitals, it is fair to assume that the Americans favour an end to the war. Washington may be supporting Netanyahu in his battle with Hamas, but there is no US approval for what Netanyahu is leaning towards at this stage, neither in terms of displacing the population of Gaza to Egypt, nor in changing the political geography and features of the region, nor bypassing the role of the PA. The Biden administration’s preference is, at the very least, to return to what the situation was before 7 October. However, Netanyahu believes that he can exploit the current situation and use new political capital to impose a different reality. He believes that this is possible, but the truth is that he will not be able to achieve a tenth of what he aspires to, as eliminating Hamas is a fantasy, because it is part of the Palestinian social fabric, not only in Gaza; it is also rooted in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Hence, declaring the end of Hamas in Gaza and preventing Fatah’s return to the enclave are pipe dreams with little connection to reality.

All of Netanyahu’s statements are underpinned by his desire to eliminate the Palestinian cause, not just Hamas. He has been trying to achieve this for years, long before 7 October, but has failed to fulfil any of his objectives. Israel has only been able to commit war crimes: to destroy civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip as well as tens of thousands of homes; kill and maim tens of thousands of Palestinians, most of them children and women; and displace the population from the north to the south. Disease and hunger are rampant. These are Israel’s “achievements”, of which the occupation state and its allies should be deeply ashamed. And, yes, the war — the genocide — is ongoing, and Palestinian resistance is still strong. “The day after” looks further away than ever.

OPINION: Israel is conducting its own ‘Final Solution’ in Gaza

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 19 December 2023

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.