Netanyahu’s war of conquest

Hussein Haridy
Tuesday 13 Feb 2024

Israel may have set its sights on resettling Gaza after the war has made it suitable for Israeli settlers, writes Hussein Haridy


I wrote last week on the fifth tour of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the Middle East since last October. He visited Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Israel, and Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank from 4 to 8 February.

The major objective of this tour was to reach an agreement between Hamas and the Israeli government on a “humanitarian pause” in the fighting in Gaza that would lead to the release of Israeli and foreign hostages and an extended truce renewable every 45 days in three phases culminating in 105 days in total. During this time, Israel would release Palestinian prisoners and detainees (their numbers would be negotiated) and there would be the redeployment, if not the withdrawal, of Israeli forces from Gaza.

Another objective of the tour was to prevent further military escalation in the Middle East and the Red Sea region. Blinken also talked with regional leaders about the regional integration that would be linked to securing conditions for the implementation of the two-state solution.

Blinken met President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi on 6 February, and according to a readout from the State Department the discussions dealt with the draft agreement concerning a humanitarian pause in the fighting in Gaza, the need to increase the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians, and the protection of Palestinian civilians in the midst of the Israeli onslaught.

The two men discussed regional stability and security and joint efforts towards a political solution to the Palestinian problem. Blinken emphasised the US rejection of the forced displacement of the Palestinian people, which has become a major security and humanitarian preoccupation in Egypt.

From Cairo Blinken flew to Israel, where he held meetings with Israeli leaders including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli minister of defence.

In remarks to the press on 7 February at the conclusion of his seventh visit to Israel since 7 October last year, Blinken said that the US remains determined to “pursue a diplomatic path to just and lasting peace and security for all in the region.” From a US perspective, this means an “Israel that’s fully integrated into the region with normal relations with key countries, including Saudi Arabia, and with firm guarantees for its security alongside a concrete, time-bound, irreversible path to a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel with the necessary security guarantees.”

Two days later, Netanyahu ordered the Israel army to prepare plans for a military operation in Rafah along the Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip where more than one million displaced Palestinians are living in tents with no infrastructure whatsoever and suffering from disease and hunger. He justified this order by stressing that the “total victory” over Hamas, which he had previously promised ten days before, necessitated the annihilation of four Hamas battalions in Rafah.

The US administration made it clear that it is against such an attack “under the present circumstances,” meaning the presence of those hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians in a very small stretch of land. In an interview with the US TV network ABC on 11 February, Netanyahu said that the Israeli army was working on a plan to move them to a safe area. In the meantime, Israeli leaders, including the defence minister, believe that the prospect of an impending military attack on Rafah will lead Hamas to adopt a more flexible position on the release of the hostages and an extended truce in Gaza. The catch is that Hamas announced on 11 February that an Israeli attack on Rafah would scuttle any deal in the foreseeable future on the release of the hostages.

After the conclusion of Blinken’s fifth tour of the Middle East, US President Joe Biden for the first time since last October said on 8 February that the military operations by the Israeli army in Gaza have been “over the top.”  A US national security memorandum dated 8 February also stated that forms of US military aid to Israel could be suspended if reports of violations of US laws governing the provision of military assistance are found to be credible.

The US secretaries of state and defence have 90 days to submit a report on whether recipients of US military aid are complying with international law. This report should be filed on a yearly basis. According to the Israeli newspaper the Jerusalem Post on 10 February, Blinken underscored for Israeli leaders the importance of treating seriously humanitarian issues relating to the Israeli army’s campaign to destroy Hamas in Gaza.

In the light of these developments in the US position towards the war in Gaza, some have interpreted them as an indication of a growing rift between the US administration and Netanyahu. A telephone call between Biden and the Israeli prime minister on 11 February laid such speculation to rest, however.

A White House readout of the call indicated that Biden reaffirmed what he termed “our shared goal to see Hamas defeated and to ensure the long-term security of Israel and its people.” As to a possible attack on Rafah, Biden provided Israel with the political cover to go ahead on the condition that a “military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for more than one million people sheltering there.”

Just for the record, on the day of this call the number of those who have lost their lives during the last four months of the Israeli war on Gaza had reached more than 28,000 and counting. It is in this context that the US president is only interested in the security of “Israel and its people.”

Over the last few weeks, attempts to reach a deal to end the war in Gaza have been turned down by Netanyahu on the grounds that “total victory” over Hamas is near, even at the expense of returning the Israeli hostages safely back to Israel. However, in Israel there are also political observers who believe that the war in Gaza has become Netanyahu’s war for his own political survival.

This could be true, but we should not discard the possibility that the far-right in Israel has set its eyes on resettling Gaza and that Netanyahu is supportive of such a plan after the war on Gaza, now in its fifth month, has made the Gaza Strip once again inhabitable for Israeli settlers.


The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 15 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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