Thu 18-July-2024

Does Israel hold all the cards in Gaza?

Wednesday 19-June-2024

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is often criticized for failing to produce a vision for the “day after” the end of the Gaza war. Some of the criticism emanates from Israel’s traditional Western allies, who are wary of Netanyahu’s personal and political agendas, which are fixated on delaying his corruption trials and ensuring that his extremist allies remain committed to the current government coalition. The criticism, however, is loudest within Israel itself.

“As long as Hamas retains control over civilian life in Gaza, it may rebuild and strengthen [itself], thus requiring the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] to return and fight in areas where it has already operated,” said Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in May, demanding a “day after” plan.

The same sentiment was conveyed by Israeli army Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi. “As long as there’s no diplomatic process to develop a governing body in the Strip that isn’t Hamas, we’ll have to launch campaigns again and again,” he was quoted as saying by Israel’s Channel 13.

It is true that Netanyahu has no post-war plan.

The lack of such a “vision”, however, does not rest entirely on his own failure to produce one, but is also due to his inability to determine, with any degree of certainty, if the war would yield favorable results for Israel.

Nine months of war have shown that the occupation state is simply incapable of maintaining its military presence in urban areas, even those that have been ethnically cleansed or are sparsely populated. This has been proven to be as true in the southern parts of Gaza as in the north, including border towns that were relatively easy to enter in the first days and weeks of the military offensive.

For a post-war plan to be produced that fits Israeli interests, Gaza would have to be militarily subdued, a goal that seems more distant than ever. At the start of the war, and many times since then, Netanyahu argued that Israel would have “overall security responsibility” for the Gaza Strip “for an indefinite period”.

That too is unlikely, as Israel tried to establish such security control between 1967 and 2005, when it was forced, due to the popular resistance during the Second Uprising, to withdraw its settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip, imposing a hermetic siege that has been in effect since then.

Recent events proved that even the Israeli blockade itself is unsustainable, as those who were entrusted with keeping the Palestinians locked in, failed miserably at their main task. This assessment is that of the Israeli military itself. “On October 7, I failed (in) my life’s mission: to protect the [Gaza] envelope [of settlements],” said the commander of the 143rd Division, Brigadier General Avi Rosenfeld, as he tendered his resignation on 9 June.

This means that returning to the post-1967 war status quo is not a rational option, nor is the reactivation of the post-2005 so-called “disengagement plan”.

While Washington is busy hoping to devise an alternative that ensures long-term security for Israel — with no regard for Palestinian rights, freedom or security, of course — Netanyahu refuses to play along. The problem with the American ideas, as far as the Israeli government is concerned, is that such language as “returning to negotiations” and the like is completely taboo in Israel’s mainstream politics.

Moreover, Netanyahu rejects any involvement of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza.

This position, which was even advocated by other Israeli officials, seems to puzzle many, as the PA is already incorporated into Israel’s security arrangements in the occupied West Bank. Netanyahu’s real fear is that a return of the PA to Gaza would come at a political price, as it would give greater credibility to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who is invested keenly in the US-championed “peace process”.

Not only does the current Israeli leadership reject the return to the old political discourse, but it has also fundamentally moved on, passing that language into that of military annexation of the West Bank, and even the re-colonization of Gaza. To re-colonize Gaza, as per the expectations of far-right Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir, two consecutive events would have to take place: first, the pacification of the Gaza Resistance, then, a partial or total ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population there into Egypt.

While the Israeli army is failing at its first task, the second also seems unfeasible, especially since the recent Israeli operation in Rafah has pushed hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians back, away from the Gaza-Egypt border towards the center of the Strip.

Netanyahu does not seem to have an actual plan for Gaza, neither for now nor for the “day after” the war. So, he prolongs the offensive despite the fact that his army is exhausted and depleted, and is being forced to fight on multiple fronts.

Blaming Netanyahu for failing to produce a “day after” vision for Gaza, however, is also wishful thinking as it assumes that Israel has all the cards. In fact, it has none.

Of course, there is an alternative to the never-ending war scenario, namely lifting the siege on Gaza permanently, ending the military occupation, and dismantling the apartheid regime. This would grant Palestinians their freedom and rights as enshrined — indeed, guaranteed — in international and humanitarian laws. If the international community mustered the courage to force such a “day after” reality on Tel Aviv, there would be no need for further war or resistance.

-Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of the Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is ‘These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons’. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC).

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