The morning after in Gaza

Hussein Haridy
Tuesday 27 Feb 2024

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan for the future of Gaza is a non-starter from both the Palestinian and Arab standpoints.

 

While talks are ongoing between Egypt, Qatar, the US, and Israel to reach a deal on the Israeli hostages held by the Palestinian group Hamas, or as US President Joe Biden has described it, a “hostage ceasefire,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled a draft plan for the day after the Israeli war on Gaza on 22 February.

It was the first time since 7 October last year that he has spoken about such an important matter.

Over the last few weeks, the US administration as well as some Arab countries, including Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf countries, have come up with ideas of their own in this regard. The Israeli draft was described by sources in Netanyahu’s office as being a set of ideas to be discussed soon by the government of Israel.

The draft plan presents ideas that Netanyahu has already touched upon in his public statements. On the face of it, it is a non-starter from both the Palestinian and the Arab standpoints. It can be summed up as a draft setting out Israel’s red lines in Gaza once the guns fall silent.

The proposed plan presupposes the establishment of full security control of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli army. This control would enable Israeli forces to move freely in and out of the Strip whenever the security situation demands. Furthermore, the Strip would be divided into two zones, one in the north and the other in the south extending to the Egyptian border.

It speaks of cooperation between the US, Egypt, and Israel to secure the border and to make sure that no arms-smuggling takes place across it. Commenting on this point, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on 25 February wrote that “Netanyahu’s plan gives Egypt a dramatic role” since under the initiative Egypt will be an important partner “as far as possible” in “preventing smuggling… via tunnels and checkpoints.”

Egypt has persistently rejected Israeli statements about this role, and it goes without saying that Cairo was not consulted about it. Even if it had been, it would be highly reluctant to reach such understandings with the Israelis. After all, Egypt has its own ideas, with its Arab and Palestinian partners, about the security arrangements to be implemented in Gaza once the war ends.

Egypt firmly believes that Gaza is part of the future state of Palestine, and as a result overall security inside Gaza should be the responsibility of a future governing authority in Gaza set up by the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The draft Israeli plan talks about entrusting the day-to-day running of municipal affairs in Gaza to certain “Palestinian notables” who have no relations with countries and organisations that espouse terrorism. Of course, it does not offer any concrete details about how such notables will be chosen or by whom. They should definitely not be chosen by the Israeli authorities, and nor should such a fictitious local administration take orders from Israel.

It cannot be lost on old hands in the Israeli security and intelligence services that no Palestinian will come forward and accept to play such a role. The question of legitimacy is completely absent in the draft plan presented by Netanyahu, who skirts it on purpose.

He is not interested in any structure or authority in Gaza that could develop into an administration affiliated in one way or another with the PA. In fact, the whole draft plan is premised on a separation between Gaza and the West Bank, as opposed to the Arab, Palestinian, US, and European positions that see the two areas as forming an independent Palestinian state in the context of what is known as the two-state solution.

It should be noted that the Netanyahu government unanimously approved a declaration on 18 February opposing the unilateral establishment of such a state. The declaration said that Israel “utterly rejects” what it described as “international diktats” concerning a permanent settlement with the Palestinians. Repeating an Israeli position that dates back more than three decades, it said that such a settlement can only come through direct negotiations between the concerned parties “without preconditions.”

In the meantime, the Israeli plan for the future of Gaza insists on the demilitarisation of the Strip coupled with a programme of deradicalisation. The most surprising part is related to the question of the reconstruction of Gaza once there is a permanent ceasefire. The plan says that this will be under the indirect supervision of Israel and in cooperation with countries of its choosing. This represents a degree of Israeli arrogance that has rarely been seen before, as if the donor countries, especially if they are from the Arab world, would or could accept such a diktat.

The Israeli plan calls for the dismantling of UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, that serves 5.9 million Palestinian refugees and over 685,000 other persons of concern. This was established by the UN General Assembly in December 1949 to provide aid to the Palestinian refugees, and the new Israeli plan in no way tackles the question of which international organisations will shoulder its responsibilities and functions.

The US and Arab reactions to the Israeli plan have not been positive, which was expected as it completely contradicts the framework they have developed over the last few weeks. This framework talks about setting up a local Palestinian government of technocrats chosen by the PA that would be responsible for security in Gaza and would make sure that there is no repeat of the attacks of 7 October.

There is also a growing international consensus that Israel should not subject Gaza to blockades in the future like the one it imposed after Hamas seized power in a coup against Fatah in June 2007.

Although the draft Israeli plan for Gaza has yet to be approved by the Israeli Cabinet, it demonstrates, regardless of the final draft that is approved, that Netanyahu, the Israeli Likud Party that he leads, and the settlers movement in the West Bank will go to great lengths to thwart the implementation of the two-state solution.

Unfortunately, they have none of them drawn the proper conclusions from what happened last October.

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, in an opinion piece published in Haaretz on 22 February, said that “the ultimate aim” of this “gang,” a reference to Bezalel Smotrich, the Israeli finance minister, and Itamar Ben-Gvir, the Israeli national security minister, is to purge the West Bank of its Palestinian inhabitants, cleanse the Temple Mount of its Muslim worshippers, and annex the territories to Israel.

He added that this aim will not be achieved without violent conflict, using the word “Armageddon.”

In its general outline, the Israeli draft plan for the morning after in Gaza represents nothing but the complete subjugation of the Gaza Strip to Israel in parallel to the creeping annexation of the West Bank. Egypt and the Arab countries should take notice and act accordingly.

 

The writer is former assistant foreign minister.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 29 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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