Tue 11-June-2024

In flattening the Gaza Strip Israel’s bleak choices for the day after

Friday 10-November-2023

Undoubtedly the Al-Aqsa Flood Operation launched by Hamas and its resident allies on 7 October is already having profound repercussions that will shape the political and strategic thinking for years to come. For Israel the day after will only compound current chauvinist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s problems and could well speed up his long sought downfall from power further multiplying his legal troubles. Many Israelis are accusing him of being unfit as a leader and want him out. He has already been threatened with a jail term because of cases against him. His approval ratings have plummeted to less than 30 per cent. Netanyahu came to power promising Israelis more security and unleashing the armed settlers to grab more Palestinian land. But within a year of his return to power he failed to deliver any security as the Al-Aqsa Flood Operation has shown.

After a month of slaughtering Gazans killing over 10000 civilians including over 4000 children Netanyahu is yet to offer any serious and clear plan for the day after in the Gaza Strip. The current bloody campaign will end one day however long it takes and however many more thousands of civilian Palestinians are killed.

The Israeli war cabinet is already divided over the question of what to do with the over-crowded strip of land where once Israel was in direct control.

The more hawkish warmongers prefer playing by the colonial textbook which means re-occupying the entire Gaza Strip or even annexing it altogether—an already tried and failed approach. Others think neither Hamas nor Israel should govern the region which will mean inheriting a waste land good only for creating more Hamas(s) even if the current one is “wiped off the face of the earth” as has been the stated goal of the current war—many IsraelI officials including Netanyahu have been repeating this slogan as the only war objective.

For his part the Prime Minister offered the world a glimpse of his thinking in an interview with ABC in which he said that Israel will have “overall security responsibility in Gaza for an indefinite period”. But just as when he first announced the war objectives Netanyahu failed to explain what that means in reality.

How could Israel be in complete charge of security in the waste land of the Gaza Strip without being in full charge of the daily affairs of the survivors of the onslaught? It is like the ill-defined war objective of finishing Hamas off for good but at what cost? Hamas continues to be the “ghost” army it has always been and eradicating it is easier said than done.

Being in charge of security means among other things Israeli security agencies’ physical presence on the ground watching every aspect of Gazans’ lives every minute of every day twenty four hours a day. Such an approach will also mean Israel will find itself responsible and legally bound as Occupier to meddle in the Gaza Strip’s ruined economy as more unemployment more rebuilding and more civil administration will be needed. This policy will essentially lead to more Israeli intermingling with daily life which will eventually lead to more and wider control.

This is a repetition of the same old story and complete déjà vu which ended in a string of disasters for the Gazans and for Israel too peaking into the latest war. Israel’s security again will not be the outcome of such planning. At some point Gazans will resist as they have been doing since 1967 and again Israelis will suffer as a result.

Most Western sponsors of Israel have already rejected this approach without offering their own alternatives. The United States President a big fan of the murderous war has warned Israel that staying in the Gaza Strip will be a big “mistake”. Another huge fan of Israel the President of the European Union Ursula Van der Leyen doubled down on Biden by saying that “long-term Israeli security presence” in the area is no starter.

It is not that the US or the EU are likely to penalize Israel if it does re-occupy the strip of land – of course not. But they are advising Israel as good friends and reliable allies that such a course of action is too bad a long-term option.

Netanyahu might be thinking of copying the West Bank model and applying it to Gaza. According to the notorious Oslo Accords the Palestinian Authority (PA) is supposed to control the civilian population and related issues; Israel has almost full control of security. However even the hated and corrupt PA is very unlikely to accept such a treasonous arrangement. No Palestinian politician would like to come to Gaza on the back of Israeli tanks and thousands of dead Gazans. Besides the PA has already had its fingers burned when in 2007 it conspired with Israel the US and EU to deny Hamas power after Hamas won the 2006 elections.

The other option left may be some kind of arrangement made up of experienced “bureaucrats” who survived the war to manage the daily ruined lives of the population under some ad-hoc umbrella of local dignities and social leadership constantly coordinating with Israel. Even if accepted by Gazans this option is also unlikely and it is a risky one. Most such bureaucrats tend to be Hamas trained and mostly loyal to it without necessarily being among its fighting brigade. Hamas as Israel knows only too well is a huge network of social work medical services and educational institutions. On top of that there is absolutely no sympathy whatsoever among Gazans towards Israel but hate and more hate making collaboration with Israel a very slim possibility.

The last option might be some Western financed United Nations international or regional security arrangement in which Israel will play no role. But this scenario will never be accepted by today’s Israel and no regional country is likely to join such a plan. Palestinians might accept such an arrangement as long as it is not long-term and ends up in elections to produce a new government even if that means Gaza only elections. However this is no long-term solution but a bad choice amongst worse ones. It might work but it will certainly reset everything to where it was on the morning of 7 October.

Israel is indeed in a rather complicated labyrinth of its own making.

The last option that might have the potential for settlement of the entire 75 year conflict is a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians that would lead to an independent Palestinian State alongside Israel. Again wounded and humiliated Israel under its current fascist government will never swallow such bitter medicine.

Logically one owns what one breaks but Israel has been defying any logic since it was created.

– Mustafa Fetouri is a Libyan academic and freelance journalist. He is a recipient of the EU’s Freedom of the Press prize. His article appeared in MEMO.

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