Netanyahu’s post-war plan for Gaza Strip draws cool US reception

White House spokesperson says US doesn’t want to see Hamas govern, but also opposes displacement, downsizing of Gaza * Blinken will ‘reserve judgment’ until seeing full details

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with the IDF Artillery Corps’ elite Sky Riders Unit, also known by its Hebrew acronym Rochash in Zikim, February 20, 2024. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with the IDF Artillery Corps’ elite Sky Riders Unit, also known by its Hebrew acronym Rochash in Zikim, February 20, 2024. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

A plan put forward by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on post-war management for the Gaza Strip has been received coolly in Washington, with a White House spokesperson saying the Biden administration has been “consistently clear” with Israel about what it would like to see in the Palestinian enclave after the war.

Speaking at a press briefing Friday, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said “the Palestinian people should have a voice and a vote… through a revitalized Palestinian Authority.”

Kirby said Washington has been “consistently clear with our Israeli counterparts” about what was needed. He said the US doesn’t “believe in a reduction of the size of Gaza… we don’t want to see any forcible displacement of Palestinians outside Gaza and, of course, we don’t want to see Gaza dominated or ruled or governed over by Hamas.”

The US has been pushing for a reformed PA to take over the governance of Gaza the day after the war, which Israel under the leadership of Netanyahu has rejected outright.

The international community is also pushing for the PA to eventually govern Gaza, given that it already has some of the infrastructure in place to do so. Its legitimacy among Palestinians is lacking, but the stakeholders are hoping that this will change after it institutes a series of reforms.

An Israeli official revealed Thursday that one aspect of the plan is already being advanced, and argued that the PA should not be included in post-war governance, noting its failure to condemn the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists went on a murderous rampage across southern Israel, killing 1,200 and taking 253 hostages.

People check the destruction caused by overnight Israeli strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 23, 2024, as battles between Israel and Hamas continue. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Asked about the plan during a visit to Argentina earlier Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he would “reserve judgment” until seeing all the details, but that Washington was against any “reoccupation” of Gaza after the war.

“Gaza… cannot be a platform for terrorism. There should be no Israeli reoccupation of Gaza. The size of Gaza territory should not be reduced,” Blinken said in Buenos Aires.

Netanyahu’s plan lays out that the IDF would have “indefinite freedom” to operate throughout Gaza to prevent any resurgence of terror activity and that Israel will move forward with its already-in-motion project to establish a security buffer zone on the Palestinian side of the Strip’s border.

It will remain in place “as long as there is a security need for it,” according to the plan, which is directly at odds with one of the Biden administration’s own principles for post-war Gaza: that there be no reduction in the enclave’s territory.

Netanyahu’s plan, released overnight in Israel, is largely a collection of principles the premier has been vocalizing since the beginning of the war, but it was the first time they have been formally presented and submitted to the cabinet for approval.

The plan calls to install “local officials” unaffiliated with terrorists to administer services in the Strip instead of Hamas, for Egyptian cooperation to end smuggling into Gaza, for Arab countries to fund reconstruction of the Strip and for shuttering UNRWA.

It also calls for Gaza to be demilitarized and for its population to be “de-radicalized.”

For over four months, Netanyahu has held off holding security cabinet discussions regarding the so-called “day after” the war, fearing this could lead to fractures in his mainly right-wing coalition. Some of his far-right ministers aim to use such meetings to push for the re-establishment of Israeli settlements in Gaza and the permanent Israeli control of the Strip — policies the premier says he opposes and would surely lead to the dissipation of Israel’s remaining support in the West.

Netanyahu has sufficed with saying that he will not allow the PA to return to govern Gaza. He has sometimes qualified this assertion by saying that Israel won’t allow the PA in its current form to return to the Palestinian enclave, indicating that Israel could live with a reformed PA of the kind that the Biden administration has been pushing. Other times, though, Netanyahu has given a more blanket rejection of allowing Gaza to become “Fatahstan” — referring to the political party headed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands during their meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah, February 7, 2024. (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

Notably, the document of principles Netanyahu presented to security cabinet ministers at Thursday night’s meeting did not specifically name the PA or rule out its participation in the post-war governance of Gaza.

Instead, it says that civil affairs in Gaza will be run by “local officials” who have “administrative experience” and who are not tied to “countries or entities that support terrorism.”

The language is vague, but it could rule out groups that receive funding from Qatar and Iran — as Hamas does — or possibly the PA, whose welfare program includes payments to convicted terrorists and their families.

Netanyahu’s office said the document is based on principles broadly accepted by the public and that it will serve as the basis for future discussions regarding the post-war management of Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority swiftly rejected the plan, which — in addition to the “local officials” whom Netanyahu envisions being responsible for public order and civil services — says Israel will also promote a “de-radicalization plan… in all religious, educational and welfare institutions in Gaza.”

This too will be advanced “as much as possible with the involvement and assistance of Arab countries that have experience in promoting de-radicalization.”

This line appears to be a nod at Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but both have repeatedly made clear that they will not play any role in the rehabilitation of Gaza unless it is part of a framework aimed at an eventual two-state solution.

Palestinian men check the rubble of the al-Faruq mosque on February 22, 2024, following an overnight Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Some of these countries have been in talks with the US on the day after the war in Gaza, the Kan public broadcaster reported Friday.

The report said the Biden administration has updated Israel on a plan being formulated by Arab countries that may include a clause integrating Hamas into the Palestine Liberation Organization, or the PLO, headed by Abbas.

The public broadcaster reported that during a visit to Israel on Thursday by US special envoy Brett McGurk, he pressured Netanyahu to hold cabinet discussions on post-war Gaza, warning that if Israel doesn’t make decisions, the US and Arab allies will move forward on plans without it.

Netanyahu presented the plan to the security cabinet Thursday night and publicized the document overnight Thursday-Friday.

AFP contributed to this report.

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