Netanyahu’s ‘Day After’ Gaza Plan is a Non-starter

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Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s plan for Gaza’s future once the guns fall silent is likely to be a non-starter.

Rather than provide a pathway to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the plan aims to squash Palestinian national aspirations and ensure continued Israeli control.

It also assumes, against all odds, that Israel will succeed in destroying Hamas. Destroying Hamas is a goal of Israel’s war that a majority of Israelis believe is unachievable.

Mr. Netanyahu’s proposal, entitled ‘Plan for the day after Hamas,” also flies in the face of formal and/or informal red lines laid down by the United States; various Arab states, including Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestine Authority, and, yes, Hamas.

Those red lines include no Israeli reoccupation of any part of Gaza, no reduction of Gazan territory, and no rejection of Palestinian national rights to a state alongside Israel.

The red lines also mandate a credible process to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a concept absent from Mr. Netanyahu’s suggestions.

Mr. Netanyahu’s plan makes reconstruction of war-devastated and traumatised Gaza conditional on Israel’s ability to demilitarise the Strip and reshape Palestinian attitudes and aspirations in Israel’s mold to ensure compliance with Israeli rather than Palestinian needs.

“Rebuilding Gaza will only be possible once the Strip has been demilitarized and once a process of deradicalization has started. The rehabilitation plan will be carried out with funding from and under the leadership of countries of which Israel approves,” the plan said.

Palestinian workers clear rubble from the al-Jawhara Tower in Gaza City. Photo: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images
If anything, Mr. Netanyahu’s plan highlights the yawning gap between Israel’s vision of the future and that of all other major players.

As a result, any effort that transcends ending the war and freezing the conflict will have to involve significant change not only on the Palestinian side, embodied in the phrase, ‘revitalisation of the Palestine Authority,’ but also in Israel.

Ultimately, that change will have to include a recognition by Israelis and Palestinians that their concerns and fears are mirror images of one another and need to be taken into account equally and equitably.

That notion, too, is absent from Mr. Netanyahu’s proposal. It kicks off with the proposition that “Israel will maintain operational freedom of action in the entire Gaza Strip, without a time limit, for the purpose of preventing the renewal of terrorism and thwarting threats from Gaza.”

Mr. Netanyahu ignores the fact that Palestinians are as traumatised by Israel’s Gaza war conduct as Israelis are by Hamas’ October 7 attack that sparked the latest hostilities and carnage.

In other words, Palestinians feel as much need to be shielded against Israeli violence as Israelis feel the need for protection against Palestinian violence.

Implicit in Mr. Netanyahu’s vision is the notion that Israel has a right to defend itself and ensure its security at whatever price.

His vision not only denies Palestinians the same right but also, leaving aside the nature of Palestinian resistance, the right to oppose occupation and pursue their right to self-determination, anchored in international law.

In a sign of the times, Ma Xinmin, the Chinese foreign ministry’s legal adviser, this week defended at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) the Palestinian’s right to resistance under international law “including armed struggle”, which “in this context, is distinguished from acts of terrorism.”

China’s Ma Xinmin addresses the International Court of Justice in a case regarding the impact of Israel’s activities in the West Bank on Palestinians, February 22, 2024. Photo: Screenshot from UN Web TV
Mr. Ma was speaking during week-long ICJ hearings on the legality of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.

Mr. Netanyahu’s plan explicitly rejects the international community’s red lines by insisting that a “security space established in the Gaza Strip in the area bordering Israel will exist as long as there is a security need for it.”

Adding fuel to the fire, Mr. Netanyahu’s far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, intends to emphasise his problematic concept of security by pushing forward in the coming days the construction of more than 3,000 new housing units in Israeli settlements in the West Bank in response to a Palestinian attack on the Israeli settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. One person was killed and ten others wounded in the attack.

In demanding that Israel have a security presence in Gaza, Mr. Netanyahu is in effect seeking to ensure that no third country or entity would be a party to governing and rehabilitating post-war Gaza.

Mr. Netanyahu appears to envision that Israel’s security presence would be along Gaza’s border with Egypt in a move that is designed to maintain the kind of control of what goes in and out of the Strip that has hampered economic and social development in Gaza for almost two decades.

“Israel will maintain a ‘southern closure’ on the Gaza-Egypt border, for the purpose of preventing the re-intensification of terrorist elements in the Gaza Strip. The ‘Southern Barrier’ will operate, as much as possible, in cooperation with Egypt and with the assistance of the US and will be based on measures to prevent smuggling from Egypt both underground and above ground, including at the Rafah crossing,” according to Mr. Netanyahu’s proposal.

Mr. Netanyahu’s insistence on demilitarization “beyond what is required for maintaining public order” constitutes an effort to destroy Hamas’ military capability by other means after its military campaign failed to achieve its objectives.

Leaving aside Hamas, which insists on ending armed struggle at the end of a process to resolve the conflict rather than as a pre-condition, it’s unlikely that any Arab or Palestinian party would engage in governing Palestinian lands under Israeli tutelage and without a credible peace process.

Similarly, no Palestinian or Arab party is likely to engage in a plan that is designed to counter Palestinian national aspirations under the mum of ‘deradicalisation’ and would involve the dissolution and replacement of the controversial United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and reform of religious, educational, and welfare institutions in the Gaza Strip.

Despite recent Israeli and US claims that 12 UNRWA employees participated in Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel, Israel’s long-standing campaign against the agency is driven by the fact that its educational materials and social work allow for the promotion of Palestinian national identity.

Workers of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) hand out flour rations and other supplies to people at a UNRWA warehouse in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP
Moreover, more than half a century of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands illustrates what Mr. Netanyahu means by ‘deradicalisation.’ Israel bans in Israel itself as well as in the occupied West Bank any expression of Palestinian national identity, including displaying a Palestinian flag.

The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, this week bolstered Mr. Netanyahu’s approach by overwhelmingly rejecting “unilateral” attempts to impose on Israel a timeline for the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

The Netanyahu proposal and the Knesset vote came amid reports that the United States, Qatar, Egypt, and the Palestine Authority were working on a plan for a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

US President Joe Biden’s top Middle East envoy, Brett McGirk, was in Israel to discuss a temporary ceasefire in the war and a Hamas-Israel prisoner swap as Mr. Netanyahu made his plan public.

Mr. Netanyahu’s vision and the also constitute a response to the ICJ hearings that could lead the court to declare Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands illegal, a finding that would shape any future Israel-Palestinian negotiations.

The vote implicitly reinforced Mr. Netanyahu’s proposal that ends with the assertion that “Israel outright rejects international dictates regarding a permanent settlement with the Palestinians. Such a settlement will only be achieved through honest negotiations between the parties, without preconditions.”

Mr. Netanyahu is correct that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs to be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians.

The problem is that in Mr. Netanyahu’s vision Palestinian negotiators would be compliant negotiators sensitive to Israeli needs rather than credible representatives of widely held Palestinian national aspirations.

In addition, Mr. Netanyahu’s call for negotiations without preconditions is deceptive. Mr. Netanyahu’s precondition is that he will only talk to Palestinians who recognise Israel as a Jewish state and renounce violence upfront.

That approach was adopted by Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat when he engaged in the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat applauds Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and US President Bill Clinton at the signing of the Oslo I Accord on the White House’s South Lawn, Washington DC, September 13, 1993. Photo: Mark Reinstein / Corbis via Getty Images
More than 30 years later, Palestinians have yet to fulfill their aspirations.

No doubt, Palestinians are often their own worst enemy. However, that does not absolve Israel from responsibility for doing and having done everything to ensure those aspirations never materialise.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is an Adjunct Senior Fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, and the author of the syndicated column and podcast, The Turbulent World with James M. Dorsey.