Israeli leaders split over post-war Gaza governance

AFP , Saturday 18 May 2024

New divisions have emerged among Israel's leaders over post-war Gaza's governance, with an unexpected Hamas fightback in parts of the Palestinian territory piling pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a ceremony marking Memorial Day for fallen soldiers at Jerusalem s Mount Herzl military cemetery Monday, May 13, 2024. AP


The Israeli army has been waging its bloodiest war on Gaza for more than seven months killing more than 35,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, as it claims to wage war against Hamas.

In recent days, broad splits have emerged in the Israeli war cabinet after Hamas fighters regrouped in northern Gaza, where Israel previously said the group had been neutralised.

Netanyahu came under personal attack from Defence Minister Yoav Gallant for failing to rule out an Israeli government in Gaza after the war.

The Israeli premier's outright rejection of post-war Palestinian leadership in Gaza has broken a rift among top politicians wide open and frustrated relations with top ally the United States.

Experts say the lack of clarity only serves to benefit Hamas, whose leader has insisted no new authority can be established in the territory without its involvement.

"Without an alternative to fill the vacuum, Hamas will continue to grow," International Crisis Group analyst Mairav Zonszein told AFP.

Emmanuel Navon, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University, echoed this sentiment.

"If only Hamas is left in Gaza, of course they are going to appear here and there and the Israeli army will be forced to chase them around," said Navon.

"Either you establish an Israeli military government or an Arab-led government."

US pressure

Gallant said in a televised address on Wednesday: "I call on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make a decision and declare that Israel will not establish civilian control over the Gaza strip."

The premier's war planning also came under recent attack by army chief Herzi Halevi as well as top Shin Bet security agency officials, according to Israeli media reports.

Netanyahu is also under pressure from Washington to swiftly end the Israeli war, which has sparked global outrage towards the historic allies and caused immeasurable suffering for Palestinians.

Washington has previously called for a "revitalised" form of the Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza after the war.

Netanyahu has rejected any role for the PA in post-war Gaza and instead clung to his elusive goal of "eliminating" Hamas, asserting that "there's no alternative to military victory".

Experts say confidence in Netanyahu is running thin.

"With Gallant's criticism of Netanyahu's failure to plan for the day after in terms of governing Gaza, some real fissures are beginning to emerge in the Israeli war cabinet," Colin P. Clarke, director of policy and research at the Soufan Group think tank, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

"I'm not sure I know of many people, including the most ardent Israel supporters, who have confidence in Bibi," he said, using Netanyahu's nickname.

Experts say that although many Israelis initially supported Netanyahu's blunt goals to seek revenge on Hamas, hopes have faded for the return of the hostages and patience in Netanyahu may be running out. 

On Friday, the army announced it had recovered bodies of three captives who were killed during Hamas's October 7 offensive on Israel from Gaza.

After Israeli forces entered the far southern city of Rafah, where more than a million displaced Palestinians were sheltering, talks mediated by Egypt, the United States and Qatar to release the captives have ground to a standstill.

"The hostage deal is at a total impasse -- you can no longer provide the appearance of progress," said Zonszein of the International Crisis Group.

"Plus the breakdown with the US and the fact that Egypt has refused to pass aid through Rafah -- all those things are coming to a head."

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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