Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday the IDF will remain in control of the Gaza Strip after the current war ends, and will not rely on international forces to oversee security along the border.
Netanyahu made the comments in a meeting with the mayors of Gaza border towns at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv. The local leaders oversee many of the communities that were assaulted and had their residents murdered and kidnapped in Hamas’s October 7 massacres of southern communities. Others have faced daily barrages of rockets from Gaza over the past month, and many communities have been evacuated as Israel presses ahead in its military campaign, leaving tens of thousands internally displaced.
“IDF forces will remain in control of the Strip, we will not give it to international forces,” Netanyahu said, according to a readout from his spokesperson, not saying whether it would do so for the short or long term.
Netanyahu and his government have been vague on what they envision for Gaza after the war. Only hours earlier the premier told Fox News that Israel does not want to re-occupy or govern the Strip. Earlier this week, Netanyahu told ABC News that Israel will have “overall security responsibility” over the Gaza Strip “for an indefinite period” after the war against Hamas ends.
US officials have raised the possibility in recent weeks that an international force, possibly with troops from neighboring Arab allies, could manage security in the Strip for an interim period until it can be returned to a functioning Palestinian government, which Washington hopes will be the Palestinian Authority.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called on Israel not to reoccupy the Strip once its war with Hamas ends.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated on Friday that the PA is ready to retake control of Gaza, but said that would only happen if the move is part of a comprehensive political solution that includes a Palestinian state established along the 1967 borders. The PA leader made the same pledge on Sunday during a meeting in Ramallah with Blinken.
He also repeated his allegations that Israel is carrying out “genocide” in Gaza as it battles Hamas there, and called for an international peace conference to provide “international guarantees” and a timetable to end Israeli control of the Palestinian territories.
The group meeting between Netanyahu and local leaders was his first since the October 7 attacks by Hamas terrorists, which saw some 1,400 people killed, most of them civilians, and over 240 abducted to Gaza.
The prime minister had come under fire for waiting over a month to meet the local leaders, criticism that intensified this week as he met settlement mayors before sitting down with the municipal heads of the area devastated by Hamas.
The mayors told Netanyahu they want a different security reality after the war is over and urged him not to agree to a ceasefire until all Gaza terrorists are eliminated, the statement from the premier’s spokesperson said. They also called for a robust government support program to support their communities as the fighting continues.
Netanyahu said in a statement: “There is a great determination by [the residents] and the government to restore things to an even better state than before. To rehabilitate, to build, to grow. And first of all to bring back security, to ensure there is no Hamas and that Hamas does not return, but also to ensure there is strong life [in the communities] afterward.”
Sderot mayor Alon Davidi told Army Radio ahead of the meeting on Friday: “The State of Israel is the one that brought our great enemy upon us… The leadership brought us to this place.”
Among the local leaders in the south are a number of figures influential in Netanyahu’s Likud party, where the prime minister has faced growing criticism for the government’s failures that led to the October 7 attacks as well as those that have followed — in the slow pace of financial and other aid to affected communities.
Netanyahu is the only senior Israeli official who has refused to make a full-throated admission of responsibility for the horrors of the Hamas attacks, and is likely to face growing calls to depart office once the war ends or abates.