IDF said advancing Gaza City pilot to have unaffiliated locals take over governance

TV report says military met with community leaders in Zeitoun neighborhood, wants them to take charge of aid distribution in hopes of establishing alternative to Hamas rule

Israeli soldiers patrol in Gaza City's Zeitoun neighborhood on November 25, 2023, on the second day of a truce between Israel and Hamas. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Israeli soldiers patrol in Gaza City's Zeitoun neighborhood on November 25, 2023, on the second day of a truce between Israel and Hamas. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The Israel Defenses Forces has advanced plans to establish a local Palestinian governing body to replace Hamas in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City, Israeli television reported Wednesday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel wants local Palestinian community leaders who are not affiliated with either Hamas or the Palestinian Authority to take over the governance of Gaza after the war.

Channel 12 news said Zeitoun will serve as a pilot program for this effort, adding that IDF officials have already met with a group of unnamed Palestinian community leaders who will be tasked with governing residents of the area who did not flee southward due to the fighting.

The report, which did not cite any sources, said Israel hopes that having the locals take charge of aid distribution will help create an alternative to Hamas, but noted the biggest challenge would be securing the area “to prevent Hamas from interfering.”

The network further reported that as part of the pilot, Israel is stressing a complete overhaul of the curriculums taught at Gaza schools, saying the textbooks incite against Israel and Jews.

Analysts have expressed heavy skepticism of this effort, noting the likelihood that any Palestinian community leaders seen openly and unilaterally cooperating with Israel will quickly be delegitimized and possibly find their lives at risk. They say a similar effort was advanced by the United States after it invaded Iraq two decades ago only to backfire.

While many in the security establishment believe that the PA should be tasked with leading the governmental effort, the IDF is under direction from Netanyahu’s office not to formally draft any plans for post-war governance in Gaza that involve the PA and accordingly have been left with the framework that they’re currently trying to advance in Zeitoun, officials have told The Times of Israel.

Troops of the 36th Division operate in Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood, in a handout image released on November 20, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Speaking Wednesday, war cabinet minister Benny Gantz referred to a “pilot program” for aid distribution in Gaza, where he vowed Israel will retain complete security control but no civilian control after the fighting sparked by the Hamas-led October 7 terror onslaught is over.

“In any future situation, Israel will maintain its supremacy and its operational capabilities in the entire Gaza Strip,” he promised, insisting that Israel “will not allow murderers to return to control places where the IDF has operated.

“We are examining a number of options so that aid to Gaza will be delivered through an international administration of moderate Arab countries with the support of the US. We are currently promoting pilot programs of the transfer” through third parties, he said.

“Our goal and the goal of the donor countries is the same: aid to the residents and not to the terrorists” and “we are working to strengthen the moderate axis vis-à-vis Iran, and establish a regional administration that will help the Palestinians build another government in Gaza.”

Gantz also addressed post-war Gaza in remarks on Sunday, when he cautioned it could take years to rebuild “governance capacity inside Gaza, which cannot be Hamas and should not be Israel,” and stated a future civilian administration of the coastal territory will likely be composed of “local Palestinians supported by some sort of regional committee or arrangement.”

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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