Blinken: Israel has to focus on what the future can and must be

Gallant to PM: Reject Israeli military, civil rule of Gaza after Hamas; I won’t allow it

Defense minister advocates ‘day after’ role for non-Hamas Palestinian entities, tells PM to take tough decisions whatever the personal cost; PM: Won’t let Hamastan become Fatahstan

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) delivers a recorded statement on the war with Hamas in Gaza (Screenshot/GPO); Defense Minister Yoav Gallant delivers a statement to the press, May 15, 2024. (Screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) delivers a recorded statement on the war with Hamas in Gaza (Screenshot/GPO); Defense Minister Yoav Gallant delivers a statement to the press, May 15, 2024. (Screenshot)

In a televised address Wednesday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he must take “tough decisions” to advance non-Hamas governance of Gaza, whatever the personal or political cost, because the gains of the war are being eroded and Israel’s long-term security is at stake.

Gallant warned in his address that he will not consent to Israeli civil or military governance of Gaza, and that governance by non-Hamas Palestinian entities, accompanied by international actors, is in Israel’s interest. Netanyahu, he said, must publicly rule out the notion of ongoing Israeli military or civil rule in the Strip.

The public comments, seen as the most direct political challenge to Netanyahu from within his government since the start of the war, sparked an angry backlash among members of the coalition, who urged Netanyahu to fire the defense minister.

Only hours earlier, the premier declared that any discussions of the “day after” in Gaza are meaningless until Hamas is defeated.

Netanyahu himself quickly retorted that he was “not prepared to switch from Hamastan to Fatahstan,” referencing the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority.

Gallant’s call echoed complaints long made by the United States and others in the international community for Israel to formulate a viable plan for who will rule Gaza after the war.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant prepares to deliver a statement to the press at the Kirya base in Tel Aviv, May 15, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Gallant specified that failing to find a replacement for Hamas in the Gaza Strip will undermine Israel’s military achievements, as the terror group would be able to regroup and reassert control. “As long as Hamas retains control over civilian life in Gaza, it may rebuild and strengthen, thus requiring the IDF to return and fight in areas where it has already operated.

We must dismantle Hamas’ governing capabilities in Gaza. The key to this goal is military action, and the establishment of a governing alternative in Gaza,” he said.

“In the absence of such an alternative, only two negative options remain: Hamas’s rule in Gaza or Israeli military rule in Gaza,” Gallant warned. “The meaning of indecision is choosing one of the negative options. It would erode our military achievements, reduce the pressure on Hamas, and sabotage the chances of achieving a framework for the release of hostages,” he said.

Gallant claimed that since October, during sessions of the security cabinet, he has been bringing up the subject of finding a replacement for Hamas, but has been rebuffed.

“The end of the military campaign must come together with political action. The ‘day after Hamas’ will only be achieved with Palestinian entities taking control of Gaza, accompanied by international actors, establishing a governing alternative to Hamas’s rule. This, above all, is an interest of the State of Israel,” he said. “Unfortunately, this issue was not raised for discussion, and worse, no alternative was brought up in its place.”

“Indecision is, in essence, a decision. This leads to a dangerous course, which promotes the idea of Israeli military and civilian governance in Gaza,” he warned. “This is a negative and dangerous option for the State of Israel — strategically, militarily, and from a security standpoint.”

Troops of the 99th Division operate in Gaza City’s Zeitoun, in a handout photo published May 13, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

“[Should this be the decision], military rule in Gaza would become the main security and military effort of the State of Israel over the coming years, at the expense of other arenas. The price paid would be bloodshed and victims, as well as a heavy economic price,” Gallant argued.

“I will not agree to the establishment of Israeli military administration in Gaza. Israel must not exercise civilian control in Gaza,” he stated bluntly.

“The security establishment and the IDF are responsible for destroying Hamas and retaining full military freedom of action in Gaza. The capacity to do so depends on the creation of alternative governance in Gaza,” he said, “and all parts of the government of Israel have to work on this.”

“The way this is implemented will influence Israel’s security situation for decades to come.”

Gallant then turned directly to the prime minister, who briefly fired him in March 2023 when he spoke out against the “tangible” security threat posed by the rifts over the coalition’s judicial overhaul plans. Some political commentators compared Wednesday evening’s political storm to those events that occurred at the end of March 2023.

File: Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after he fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, in Tel Aviv, March 26, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Gallant said: “I call on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make a decision and declare that Israel will not exercise civilian rule in the Gaza Strip because no Israeli military administration will be established in Gaza and that an alternative government to Hamas in the Gaza Strip will be advanced immediately. That is our obligation and responsibility in order to lead the state to a better place.”

“Right now,” he said, “on our watch, for the sake of the state’s future, we have to take tough decisions — advancing the national interest over all other interests, even if this requires paying personal or political costs.” He said the eyes of the nation “are on us,” and that Israelis “expect us to make the correct decisions.”

Netanyahu and his government have long faced criticism over their refusal to make a plan for the management of the Strip after the war, and the prime minister has refused to hold substantive cabinet discussions on the matter due to concerns they could collapse his coalition amid opposition from the far-right.

The IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi reportedly tore into Netanyahu during security consultations over the weekend for failing to develop and announce a so-called “day after” strategy.

No Hamastan or Fatahstan

Responding to Gallant, Netanyahu adamantly declared that neither Fatah, the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s party, nor Hamas, would be responsible for Gaza after the war.

“After the terrible massacre on October 7, I ordered the destruction of Hamas,” Netanyahu stated in a video response to Gallant. “As long as Hamas remains intact, no other party will step in to manage civilian affairs in Gaza, certainly not the Palestinian Authority. 80 percent of the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria support the terrible massacre of October 7,” Netanyahu said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.

“I am not prepared to switch from Hamastan to Fatahstan,” he said, referencing the Fatah-dominated PA.

The data cited by Netanyahu appeared to come from a December poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research which showed that 82% of West Bank Palestinians supported the events of October 7. A second poll released by the same organization in March showed that number had dropped to 71%.

“The Palestinian Authority supports terror, educates for terror, funds terror. And so the first condition for preparing the ground for another party is to eliminate Hamas and to do so without excuses,” Netanyahu added.

Netanyahu has rejected efforts to include the PA in postwar planning, arguing that the more moderate foil to Hamas, which publicly backs a two-state solution, is no different from the Gaza-ruling terror group in that it too refuses to accept Israel’s existence and promotes hatred of the Jewish state.

In an earlier statement, Netanyahu said that Israel has been dealing with the question of who will run Gaza after Hamas for months.

Netanyahu said that he approved a plan over three months ago for Gazans unaffiliated with Hamas to distribute humanitarian aid in Gaza, but that plan failed because Hamas threatened and attacked them.

“Until it becomes clear that Hamas doesn’t rule Gaza militarily, no actor will be ready to accept upon himself the civil rule of Gaza out of fear for his own safety,” Netanyahu argued.

He said that any discussions of the “day after” are meaningless until Hamas is defeated.

He added that Israel is working to find solutions to the issue of the civil rule of Gaza, and some of what Israel has been doing is confidential.

“There is no alternative to a military victory,” Netanyahu said. “The attempt to bypass it with all sorts of claims is simply detached from reality. There is only one alternative to victory — defeat. A military and diplomatic defeat, a national defeat. My government will never agree to this.”

Blinken: Israel needs a plan

Netanyahu appeared to be responding to comments made earlier Wednesday by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who said that Israel needs a clear and concrete plan for the future of Gaza where it faces the potential for a power vacuum that could become filled by chaos.

“We do not support and will not support an Israeli occupation. We also of course, do not support Hamas governance in Gaza … We’ve seen where that’s led all too many times for the people of Gaza and for Israel. And we also can’t have anarchy and a vacuum that’s likely to be filled by chaos,” Blinken said during a press conference in Kyiv.

The US top diplomat has held numerous rounds of talks with Israel’s Arab neighbors on a post-war plan for Gaza.

“It’s imperative that Israel also do this work and focus on what the future can and must be,” Blinken said. “There needs to be a clear and concrete plan, and we look to Israel to come forward with its ideas.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, attends a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, in Kyiv on May 15, 2024. (Brendan Smialowski/Pool Photo via AP)

Later Wednesday, a senior US official said the administration welcomed Gallant’s call for Netanyahu to advance a plan.

“We share the defense minister’s concern that Israel has not developed any plans for holding and governing territory the IDF clears, thereby allowing Hamas to regenerate in those areas. This is a concern because our objective is to see Hamas defeated,” a senior Biden administration official told The Times of Israel in a statement.

Amid the talk of post-war planning, Hamas’s Qatar-based chief Ismail Haniyeh on Wednesday said the terror group rejects any plan that excludes it. “Hamas existed to stay,” he said in televised speech.

“The movement (Hamas) will decide, along with all national factions, the administration of the Gaza Strip after the war,” added Haniyeh, whose terror group has ruled the enclave since 2007 after violently ejecting the PA.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Qatar-based leader of Hamas, delivers a televised speech on May 15, 2024. (Twitter screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Haniyeh also blamed Israel for the current deadlock in negotiations for a ceasefire and hostage release deal, saying that its rejections of Hamas’s demands led the talks into a stalemate.

Earlier this month, Hamas claimed to have accepted a truce agreement with Israel, though it later emerged that the proposal it said had come from Egyptian and Qatari mediators included several elements fundamentally different from what Israel had agreed to.

Jerusalem swiftly rejected the proposal for falling short of its “vital demands,” but okayed dispatching a working-level delegation to the indirect talks in Cairo.

Days later, however, Hamas said talks had ended after Israel “rejected the proposal submitted by the mediators and raised objections to it.”

The terror group said it had decided to stick to the terms of the proposal it had agreed to, rejecting the possibility of making any concessions.

Haniyeh reiterated Hamas’s demand that a ceasefire agreement should end the war in Gaza, which Israel has said it will not agree to until it achieves its goals, which include destroying Hamas’s military and governance capabilities.

PM: No humanitarian disaster in Rafah

On the military’s ongoing operation in Rafah, Netanyahu said that Israel is evacuating civilians from the city — where Israel believes four of Hamas’s remaining six battalions to be located — and almost 500,000 have left so far.

Israel has faced pressure from the US and much of the rest of the international community not to carry out a full-scale offensive in the city over concern for the humanitarian cost.

“The humanitarian disaster they spoke about did not take place, nor will it,” Netanyahu insisted.

In an earlier CNBC interview, Netanyahu said Israel is proceeding with its offensive in Rafah despite US misgivings because “we have to do what we have to do.”

Acknowledging the disagreements with the US over the operation, Netanyahu said that “sometimes you just have to do what is required to ensure your survival and your future.”

“I hope we can see eye to eye with the United States, we’re talking to them,” he added. “But ultimately we have to do what we have to do to protect the life of our nation.”

War erupted in Gaza on October 7 when Hamas-led terrorists rampaged through southern communities, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 252 hostages. It is believed that 128 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 35,000 people in the Strip have been killed in the fighting so far, a toll that cannot be independently verified. The United Nations says some 24,000 fatalities have been identified at hospitals at this time. The rest of the total figure is based on murkier Hamas “media reports.” It also includes some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Two hundred and seventy-three IDF soldiers have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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