Despite Israel’s deadly and unprecedented war on Gaza, its cities, towns, villages and refugee camps, its government has been involved in a soul-searching exercise and anguish about the future of the strip. Israel has literally gone on the rampage with killing Palestinians but how long can it continue to do that?
And so, it has already started thinking about the post-conflict in Gaza that unfortunately, is not related to the mayhem it is creating on the ground, but to its vicious narrow self-interest. Its government is already drawing up scenarios relating to what it claims would make Israeli security watertight. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said ever since the war started that things cannot go back the same as they were prior to 7 October. They must change.
By that he meant the Israeli objective is to eliminate Hamas and its military structure, adding the enclave must be “demilitarized, deradicalized and rebuilt.” But we now know this is proving much harder and longer than he first expected, especially now Israel is engaged in a land war with Izz Al Din fighters and losing many soldiers, tanks and artillery on a daily basis, the size of which it will not truly disclose nor verify because of Tel Aviv’s stringent laws regarding military censorship.
However, and this is part of its propaganda machine and the fact it’s pandering to a dissatisfied public opinion which is increasingly dismay about the conduct of the war, with a majority wanting Netanyahu out as per continuous polls showing. Thus, the Israelis government is seeking to shift focus. It is now concentrating on post-war Gaza in which Israel would once again play a major role and control the strip, after supposedly eliminating Hamas.
But this is leading to jack-in-the-box scenarios and a great deal of confusion and ambivalence inside Israel and in its government. For Netanyahu, this may be intended and deliberate as he is an old hand political player with much dexterity in domestic manipulation and brinkmanship considering that he is facing court on corruption.
The war on Gaza has once again resharpened the divide in Israeli society with subdivisions in between especially on the political front. Take the extreme right for instance. Quite simply, they want to reoccupy Gaza and have it as an Israeli outpost to increase its security as claimed but basically to do with it what it wills despite the fact its fanciful thinking because of the Palestinian armed resistance, but nevertheless this is what is on the tables.
Within this is a more hawkish subdivision that stands out of Jewish extremists who want a reoccupation of the Palestinian enclave and fill it with Israeli settlements. They argue that pulling out of Gaza in 2005 and dismantling its 21 Jewish settlements was Israel’s greatest mistake. Right-wingers like Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gavir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich adhere to this extremist view.
They represent extremist views with the Israeli government, which Netanyahu have sought to distance himself from somewhat because of other political consideration relating to the American support for the war in light of the fact that up to 1200 Israelis were murdered on 7th October when Hamas operatives dramatically entered into Israeli territory and took 250 Israeli and foreign hostages back to the Gaza Strip.
Rather than outright re-occupation there is a third view among the Israeli military and political establishments which is in favor of the creation of a buffer/security zone that is to be created inside northern Gaza to be manned by the Israeli military. This would be a belt of one kilometer thick and would have a permanent military presence ensure Israeli security.
Netanyahu is not committed to any of these suggestions. He wants to establish an “overall security responsibility” and it would be for “an indefinite period”. The rightwing prime minister wouldn’t at first go into detail about this but his view was quickly interpreted to mean Israeli reoccupation for the foreseeable future. But later on, he tried to clarify that Gaza, in any post-war scenario would need to have a “civilian government”.
But the problem here also is that he wouldn’t go into any detail as to the form of this civilian government. For him, Hamas wouldn’t be part of any future government in Gaza whilst rejecting the idea of installing the Palestinian Authority to run the Strip. This is a concept floated around since the beginning of the conflict which Palestinian president Mahmood Abbas rejected because he saw it as half-baked.
He said the only way the Palestinian Authority would agree to such proposal is if it’s within a context of reviving the long-stalled peace process and the two-state solution, ideas also pushed forward by the Joe Biden administration. It now sees the conflict in Gaza as an opportunity first of all to get rid of Hamas which they long regarded as terrorist organization and creating two states alongside each other – an Israeli and Palestinian – to establish security and stability in the Middle East whilst ending violence.
But this is still going to be a hard sell to the Israelis who are definitely thinking along different lines and are in no mood to giving Palestinians a different state. In between these scenarios, is the question of Hamas, it hasn’t gone anywhere, the Israelis are still fighting it on the ground in Gaza and its military wing is putting up still resistance firing missiles at Tel Aviv, other settlements and military bases and they are killing soldiers and destroying tanks, military vehicles and other artillery. The question here is where will Hamas and its armed wing fit in in any post-war Gaza scenario. If they don’t, then they will have to be beaten first!
Marwan Asmar is a journalist from Jordan