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Israel-Palestine conflict: What comes after the war in the Gaza Strip?

2023-12-10T11:58:53.667Z

Highlights: Israelis and Palestinians want freedom and peace. Reconciling the two demands is a major challenge. No one in Washington or elsewhere had a good idea of what would happen in the Gaza Strip after the fighting there ended. The likelihood of a renewed Israeli occupation is greater than many suspect. The U.S. plans for Gaza are either unworkable or politically untenable (or both). Israel is willing to accept international annoyance if it is the price of their survival. The occupation of Gaza was the poisonous chalice of victory in June 1967. Many Israelis believe the Israeli right does not exist.



Status: 10.12.2023, 12:47 p.m.

By: Foreign Policy

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Israelis and Palestinians want freedom and peace. Reconciling the two demands is a major challenge.

  • Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and its handover to the Palestinian Authority
  • Hamas Terrorist Attacks on October 7 and Israel's Military Response in Gaza
  • Biden administration envisages international stabilization of the Gaza Strip and two-state solution
  • U.S. Plans Unworkable: Reoccupation of the Gaza Strip Likely
  • This article is available in German for the first time – it was first published by Foreign Policy magazine on December 6, 2023.

Gaza – In the last two months of the war in the Middle East, no one in Washington or elsewhere had a good idea of what would happen in the Gaza Strip once the fighting there ended. At the same time, everyone seems to agree that Israel's reoccupation of the Gaza Strip is a bad idea.

The Biden administration has already warned the Israeli government that it would not support such a return to military administration of the territory.

Nevertheless, the likelihood of a renewed Israeli occupation is greater than many suspect. That's because Israelis want security, and any current ideas for the Gaza Strip are either unworkable or politically untenable (or both).

At the same time, the Israelis see the struggle with Hamas as existential and therefore seem willing to accept international annoyance if it is the price of their survival.

Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005

When reflecting on the "day after" in Gaza, it is important to understand some details about Israel's withdrawal from the territory in 2005. When then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon realized that Israel's occupation of Gaza was no longer worth the cost, many Israelis agreed. There was no convincing reason to stay.

Unlike the West Bank, the Gaza Strip has never been part of the historic state of Israel. And although the security situation there remained tense in the final days of the Second Intifada, the leadership of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) considered it manageable even when there were no more troops in the area.

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My Area

In addition, Israel would gain recognition throughout the world for dismantling the settlements and leaving the area. What remained unspoken was that Sharon's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip would free up resources to continue his efforts to strengthen Israel's grip on those parts of the West Bank that he intended to remain under Israeli control at all times.

Handover to the Palestinian Authority seemed like a victory

For many in Israel, the occupation of Gaza was the poisonous chalice of victory in June 1967, and handing it over to the Palestinian Authority (PA) seemed like a victory. But not all Israelis were so positive.

The settlers lamented what they perceived as Sharon's betrayal, and some resisted. The then Minister of Transport, Avigdor Lieberman, was forced out of the government because of his opposition.

And the Likud party split. Sharon, along with well-known Likudniks such as Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, founded a new party called Kadima. Lieberman and other opponents, including former Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, considered it a mistake to believe that a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip would generate either goodwill or security.

Unlike Sharon, they believed that the best way to ensure the security of Israelis in sovereign Israel was to continue the occupation of the Gaza Strip.

After the terrorist attacks in October: 30 percent of Israelis are in favor of an occupation

In the years that followed, with rockets firing at Israel from the Gaza Strip at regular intervals since the withdrawal, and the United Nations continuing to criticize Israel for an occupation that many Israelis believe does not exist, the Israeli right has claimed that Sharon's withdrawal was a grave mistake.

This view seems to have gained traction in Israel since the October 7 terrorist attacks. In a poll conducted not long after, 30 percent of Israelis favored the occupation and military administration of the Gaza Strip.

Of course, this survey was conducted in the immediate aftermath of the worst security failure in the history of the state. Undoubtedly, emotions ran high in bloody and wounded Israel (and still do).

It could very well be that far fewer Israelis want to reoccupy the Gaza Strip than the poll reflects. However, this does not change the fact that opponents of the 2005 withdrawal have a more convincing argument today than they did then:

People in front of their destroyed homes in Deir al-Balah in the Gaza Strip at the end of November. © IMAGO/ ZUMA Wire

Israeli Defense Minister hints at troop withdrawal from Gaza after war

When Israel occupied the Gaza Strip, there was relative calm, with few, if any, rockets falling on the land; since the IDF withdrew, there have only been mini-wars (2008-09, 2012, 2014, 2021) and now a full-blown conflict.

I was told that no one in the Israeli defense apparatus – the same people who for years ignored warnings about Hamas' plans – wants to reoccupy the Gaza Strip.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant even went so far as to declare that the third phase of the war "will require the lifting of Israel's responsibility for life in the Gaza Strip and the creation of a new security reality for the citizens of Israel," suggesting that after the destruction of Hamas, the IDF will leave the Gaza Strip and seal it off from Israel.

That may be his (unrealistic) intention, but that's not necessarily what others say.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, on the other hand, demands the entire responsibility for security

On November 6, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told ABC News that "Israel for an indefinite period of time ... will have the entire security responsibility [in Gaza] because we have seen what happens when we don't have it."

Of course, the Prime Minister did not explicitly state that the IDF will occupy the Gaza Strip and administer it after the war, but he did not say that either.

Minister Dermer on the withdrawal of troops in 2005: "Obviously we cannot repeat this"

Then there is Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, one of Netanyahu's closest advisers.

Recently, Dermer pointed out to reporters that the Israeli military had not been in the Gaza Strip for 17 years and therefore had not been able to conduct the kind of security operations it routinely conducts in the West Bank – meaning that the 2005 withdrawal had jeopardized Israel's security.

He continued, "Obviously, we cannot repeat this," reiterating what Netanyahu had previously declared, namely that the IDF will have "the ultimate security responsibility" in the Gaza Strip "indefinitely."

From this, it can be concluded that the best way to secure Israel is through occupation; but, of course, there is a certain amount of circumlocution in the words of both men. However, if they were against reoccupation, it would be easy to say, "We are against an occupation, but we will secure sovereign Israel by doing X, Y, and Z."

Lack of Alternatives: Reoccupation of the Gaza Strip Likely

Even if Netanyahu doesn't mean what he seems to say, or if he does, but Israeli policy ensures that he is no longer in power after the war anyway, a reoccupation of Gaza could still be the result of the conflict.

Let's do a thought experiment: let's say the Israeli leadership doesn't want to occupy the Gaza Strip. Let us also assume that the destruction of Hamas remains Israel's goal. And assume that the Israeli public is still quite fanatical.

Let us now assume that neither Washington nor any of the other major global or regional powers can work out a workable and politically defensible plan for the post-war period in the Gaza Strip. What exactly are the Israelis left with?

Biden administration plans international stabilization of the Gaza Strip and two-state solution

The Biden administration's current plan, parts of which have been publicly voiced by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, envisages some sort of international stabilization of the Gaza Strip until a reinvigorated Palestinian Authority can take control, followed by a resumption of U.S. efforts toward a two-state solution.

Any part of this plan is unrealistic. It is unlikely that a multinational force will be stationed in the Gaza Strip, because even if Israel were to succeed in making Hamas incapable of endangering Israeli security, it would be extremely dangerous.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is so badly affected by corruption, dysfunction and lack of legitimacy due to its dependence on and coordination with Israel, as well as the fact that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is not standing for election, that it cannot be helped.

Even if it could be rehabilitated, Netanyahu and his advisers have made it clear that they do not consider the Palestinian Authority a partner, and the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, for its part, has made it clear that it does not want to be Israel's proxy in the Gaza Strip.

U.S. Plans Difficult to Implement: Israelis Confronted with Complex Situation

After all, it seems unlikely that U.S. politicians will be able to offer much that has not already been attempted to persuade Israelis and Palestinians to make peace.

Whether the Israeli public wants to occupy the Gaza Strip remains an open question, but as Israeli friends and interlocutors have told me over the past two months, they are faced with an impossible situation in the current conflict.

They want nothing more than to get rid of the Palestinian issue and have security. They thought that a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip would advance these goals, but the attacks of October 7 shattered that belief.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise if the Israelis reoccupy the Gaza Strip. For Israelis who crave security, there is probably no other choice.

About the author

Steven A. Cook is a columnist for Foreign Policy and Eni Enrico Mattei is a senior fellow for Middle East and African studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. His latest book, The End of Ambition: America's Past, Present, and Future in the Middle East, will be published in June 2024. Twitter (X): @stevenacook

We are currently testing machine translations. This article has been automatically translated from English into German.

This article was first published in English in the magazine "ForeignPolicy.com" on December 6, 2023 - as part of a cooperation, it is now also available in translation to the readers of IPPEN. MEDIA portals.

Source: merkur

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