Netanyahu debates annexation, resettlement of Gaza with coalition lawmakers

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vision is for Israel to retain full military control while the Gulf countries pay for the Gaza Strip’s reconstruction.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday debated plans to rebuild Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip after Hamas is defeated, apparently pushing back on calls by the nationalist-religious wing of his coalition to resettle the coastal enclave.

Meeting with the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Netanyahu responded negatively to the suggestion raised by Limor Son Har Melech (Otzma Yehudit) of the possible annexation of the coastal enclave and renewal of the settlements that were evacuated in 2005.

“We can conquer, we can annex, but at what price?” he said, thereby seemingly quashing the idea that he has previously called “unrealistic.”

He did restate his belief that Israel must retain security control of the Gaza Strip to ensure no terrorist threat can emanate from the area again.

“Only the State of Israel will be responsible for the demilitarization of the Strip,” he said. “The Gulf countries will invest in reconstruction and we will have to build an entity that does not want to destroy us that will manage the civil administration there.”

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As yet, no Arab country has said it would be willing to step inside Gaza with the IDF still playing a prominent role there.

The right-wing Otzma Yehudit and many in the Religious Zionist Party are in favor of bringing civilians back to live in Gaza for both ideological and security reasons.

In a late November meeting of 11 grassroots organizations that support such a plan, Son Har Melech had said, “Today, every citizen in the State of Israel knows that to restore security to the South, to remove from common parlance the words ‘rocket’ and ‘red alert,’ to give back to each and every child a sense of security, there is no choice but to reassert full control over Gaza.”

Brig. Gen. (res.) Amir Avivi, head of the Israel Defense and Security Forum (IDSF), a security advocacy group with 16,000 members that include dozens of reserve-duty generals, backed the politician, explaining that “Where there is a strong continuum of settlements there is security; where there are no settlements there is no security.”

Two Likud backbenchers, Ariel Kellner and Tally Gotliv, attended the meeting as well.

The international community has made it clear that it would oppose an Israeli reoccupation of the Gaza Strip as the endgame scenario for the current war.

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Last month, for example, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told the press that “A reoccupation by Israeli forces is not the right thing to do.”

On the other hand, after President Joe Biden had repeatedly stated that the Palestinian Authority should be reinstated as the leading power in the Strip after the war, Kirby said in an interview on ABC last week that “We don’t believe the PA is in a position right now to be a credible control of governance in Gaza,” although a “reformed and revitalized” PA would be the preferable option.

Most Israelis find it hard to believe that such a reform is possible, and Netanyahu has rejected the PA outright.

Over the course of its three-hours meeting, the committee also discussed the danger from Lebanon, as Hezbollah launches several rockets a day at Israeli troops and the evacuated villages on the border, making it untenable for the residents to return.

On this subject, Netanyahu stated, “First of all, we will win in the south and then we will also take care of the north. As a first step we will distance Hezbollah beyond the Litani River, and later we will also have to take care of the organization itself.”

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Pushing the terrorist organization north past the river line was one of the requirements of UN Resolution 1701 that ended the Second Lebanon War. It was never realized.