Subscriber OnlyOpinion

What will happen in Gaza when the war ends? No one seems to know

Attempt to seek an arrest warrant for Netanyahu has briefly rallied support around the Israeli leader, but that masks a deeper divide over the ‘day after’

The decision by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan, to seek arrest warrants for Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, defence minister Yoav Gallant and three key Hamas leaders has potentially far-reaching implications. If the arrest warrants are granted – a decision to be made by a panel of judges at the ICC – states that have signed up to the Rome Statute which established the court will be obliged to detain both men, if they have the opportunity to do so. One hundred and twenty-four states have signed up to the statute, including all European Union members. Khan’s decision has been met with predictable outrage on both sides. A statement by Hamas denounced what it terms the equation of the victim with the executioner while Netanyahu’s response was to label Khan as “one of the great anti-Semites in modern times”.

In this, he received strong support from Gallant, who said that Khan had drawn a “despicable” parallel between Israel and Hamas and was trying to deny Israel the right to self-defence. However, this show of unity between Gallant and Netanyahu masks deeper differences between the two men relating to the conduct of the war in Gaza and the absence of a clear and coherent plan for when, eventually, it comes to an end.

In a televised speech earlier this month, Gallant expressed his frustration at the failure of Netanyahu’s government to address the issue of a post-conflict plan for Gaza. In that speech, Gallant insisted that Netanyahu must commit to finding an alternative to Hamas governance in Gaza, without Israeli civilian control. He argued that Hamas had been effectively dismantled as a military organisation but that, for as long as it retained control over civilian life, it could rebuild, which would mean the return of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) to fight in areas where they have already operated. Gallant went on to suggest that in the absence of such an alternative, two unacceptable options remain – Hamas rule in Gaza or Israeli military rule. Instead of these, he seemed to propose that the Palestinian Authority (PA) might take over the running of Gaza, stating that an alternative government must be led by “Palestinian entities ... accompanied by international actors”. Similar concerns were voiced, earlier in May, by the chief of staff of the IDF, Herzi Halevi, who stated that for as long as no diplomatic process existed to develop a governing body in Gaza that isn’t Hamas, the IDF “would have to launch campaigns again and again ... to dismantle Hamas’s infrastructure. It will be a Sisyphean task.”

Netanyahu’s response to Gallant was to suggest that he was making excuses for not having completed the task of eliminating Hamas. He added that he was not willing to replace “Hamastan” with “Fatahstan”, a reference to the dominant political faction in the PA. Gallant was denounced by those on the far right of the political spectrum in Israel. The national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, accused him of seeing no difference between Gaza governed by the IDF or by Hamas, while the finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, called on Netanyahu to propose a cabinet decision to reject PA control in Gaza.

READ MORE

Notwithstanding Gallant’s criticism of the Israeli prime minister’s lack of a plan, Netanyahu did, in fact, set out some of his ideas on a post-Hamas Gaza in February of this year, albeit in somewhat vague and sketchy form. In his “plan” Netanyahu called for the complete demilitarisation of Gaza, the closing-off of the southern border with Egypt, and an overhaul of Gaza’s civil administration and education systems. The plan further envisaged Israel working to “shut down” Unrwa, the UN body that is at the heart of humanitarian aid efforts in the enclave. He appeared to reject any role for the PA in Gaza and also rejected any possibility of recognising a Palestinian state. While Netanyahu’s plan is vague, at best, on the nature of post-conflict governance in Gaza, Israel’s far right is clearer on what the future should hold. Earlier this month, thousands of settlers and their supporters, including senior ministers, gathered in the city of Sderot, which is next to the border with Gaza, calling for settlement building in the enclave and for the government to encourage Palestinians to “emigrate”. The gathering took place on Israel’s Independence day, the 76th anniversary of the 1948 Declaration of Independence – known to Palestinians as the Nakba (the catastrophe), when more than 700,000 Palestinians were dispossessed of their homes and forced into exile. At the Sderot rally, Ben Gvir stated “We’re going home to Gaza”.

Netanyahu’s position on “the day after” has met with criticism from within Israel, from the United States and from Arab leaders. Within Israel, there is speculation that Gallant’s views are shared by the entire security establishment, the IDF as well as the Shin Bet security service, who believe that Israel needs, as a matter of urgency, to prepare for a Palestinian security force to take over if the war’s gains are not to be lost.

Many within the security establishment fear that in the absence of a meaningful plan, conditions in Gaza will force Israel into indefinite military occupation and civil administration of the enclave at enormous economic as well as political cost to the country. The Biden administration has made its frustration increasingly clear. The US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, recently stated that “[I]f Israel’s efforts are not accompanied by a political plan for the future of Gaza and the Palestinian people, the terrorists will keep coming back”.

The Americans have also expressed scepticism in relation to Netanyahu’s war aims. Kurt Campbell, the US deputy secretary of state, referring to Israeli expectations of “some sort of sweeping victory on the battlefield” stated: “I don’t think we believe that that is likely or possible.”

The US and its Arab allies have repeatedly asserted a preference for interim arrangements in Gaza that would involve a reformed PA operating as a technocratic entity, with a regional Arab peacekeeping force and massive infusions of aid from the Gulf monarchies. However, for the Arab states, any involvement in the governance of a post-conflict Gaza, whether direct or indirect, would require, at a minimum, some movement in the direction of an independent Palestinian state, something which Netanyahu has opposed his entire political career.

Similarly, the position of the PA is that it will not assume responsibility for Gaza unless as part of a political solution to end the occupation. In any case, the notion of a plan for post-conflict governance in Gaza in which the PA would play a key part rests on the assumption that a “reformed” PA would somehow come into existence in the near future. However, at the moment, there is little sign of this. Thus far, despite the appointment in March of a new prime minister by Mahmoud Abbas, there is little evidence of change in PA governance in the West Bank, where its credibility and popular support are at an all-time low.

In addition, there is little likelihood of the PA regaining democratic legitimacy through fresh elections over which Israel holds a veto. Finally, all talk of post-conflict arrangements for Gaza rest on assumptions regarding its habitability in the first instance. But, in January of this year, UN Trade and Development (UNCTAD) described a scenario in which the enclave was becoming uninhabitable. The scale of the impact of seven months of assault is almost incalculable. More than 45,000 bombs have been dropped on Gaza since the start of the war. Apart from the enormous loss of human life, the infrastructural, economic and environmental costs are staggering. A recent report by the World Bank and the UN estimated the cost of damage to critical infrastructure at more than $18 billion (€16.5 billion). More than 60 per cent of all homes and 84 per cent of healthcare facilities have been damaged or destroyed. Ninety per cent of pre-conflict jobs are gone and UNCTAD has predicted, at pre-conflict growth rates, that it will take up to 2092 for Gaza to reach the level of economic performance seen in 2022.

In the absence of a track towards Palestinian self-determination, however unlikely that may seem right now, it is almost impossible to see how the extraordinary governance challenges that will be faced in post-conflict Gaza can be met.

Dr Vincent Durac lectures in Middle East politics in the UCD school of politics and international relations

Read More

Recommended