With no good options for ‘day after’ in Gaza, Netanyahu playing for time

The United States wants a situation involving a coalition of Arab states administering post-Hamas Gaza, leading toward a two-state solution.

By Troy Osher Fritzhand, JNS

Despite mounting pressure from coalition members, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced no plan for what comes next in Gaza once Hamas is defeated—and apparently feels no need to do so, either.

According to a senior government official, “There is public pressure in bringing home the hostages, destroying Hamas…but the public is not pushing for the Palestinian Authority to take over Gaza.”

The official spoke to JNS after Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in a video message aired Wednesday called on Netanyahu to reveal what his plan for post-Hamas Gaza is—and to rule out the option of the territory being administered by Israel.

“Since October, I have been raising this issue consistently in the Cabinet and have received no response. 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,” said Gallant.

“Indecision is, in essence, a decision,” he added. “This leads down a dangerous path, which promotes the idea of Israeli military and civilian governance in Gaza. This is a negative and dangerous option for the State of Israel—strategically, militarily and from a security standpoint…The price paid would be bloodshed and victims, as well as a heavy economic price,” he said.

“I must reiterate: I will not agree to the establishment of Israeli military rule in Gaza. Israel must not establish civilian rule in Gaza,” he continued.

He called on the prime minister to “make a decision and declare that Israel will not establish civilian control over the Gaza Strip, that Israel will not establish military governance in the Gaza Strip, and that a governing alternative to Hamas in the Gaza Strip will be raised immediately.”

While Gallant’s speech may have been well received in Washington, D.C., Netanyahu, members of the coalition and of Gallant’s own party immediately pushed back.

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“I am not willing to exchange Hamastan for Fatahstan,” said Netanyahu in a video statement, referring to Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction.

The premier has made such statements throughout the war, citing polling that shows that an overwhelming majority of Palestinians both in Gaza and Judea and Samaria support Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre. He has also pointed to the P.A.’s refusal to condemn the attack.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich chimed in as well, telling Ynet, “Minister Gallant today announced his support for the establishment of a Palestinian terrorist state as a reward for Hamas for the most horrific massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”

Smotrich called on Netanyahu to give Gallant an ultimatum: either implement government policy or resign.

Both Smotrich and Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir have called for full Israeli civilian and military control of Gaza, the reestablishment of Israeli settlements there and for encouraging the “voluntary emigration” of Gazans.

On Independence Day this week, tens of thousands of Israelis marched in Sderot calling for the resettlement of Gaza. The march was put together by the Nachala Settlement Movement along with other Zionist groups including the Sovereignty Movement and Torat Lehima.

Addressing the group, Ben-Gvir said, “Two things must be done: One, return to Gaza now, return home, return to our holy land. And two: encouraging emigration. To encourage the voluntary departure of the residents of Gaza. It’s moral, it’s rational, it’s right, it’s the truth. This is the Torah and this is the only way—yes, it is also humanitarian.”

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The United States government, however, is starkly opposed to this idea. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in November during the G7 summit that, “It’s … clear that Israel cannot occupy Gaza,” though he acknowledged that “the reality is that there may be a need for some transition period at the end of the conflict.”

At a press conference in Kyiv on Wednesday, Blinken said, “We do not support and will not support an Israeli occupation. We also of course, do not support Hamas governance in Gaza.”

The United States wants a situation involving a coalition of Arab states administering post-Hamas Gaza, leading toward a two-state solution. The second part of this plan has been outright rejected by Israel, with Netanyahu saying he will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state “as a reward for terror.”

For their part, the Arab states have flatly rejected the idea of joining a coalition to administer Gaza without a clear path to Palestinian statehood.

United Arab Emirates Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan said on May 11 that the UAE “refuses to be involved in any plan aimed at providing cover for the Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip.”

Al Nahyan, who is also the UAE’s foreign minister, stressed that “when a Palestinian government is formed which meets the hopes and aspirations of the brotherly Palestinian people, and is distinguished by integrity, competence and independence, the UAE will be fully prepared to provide all forms of support to that government.”

An official close to the Saudi palace also told Israel’s Channel 12 News that Riyadh will likewise refuse to help rule Gaza.

“We are with the UAE on this. We demand an end to the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and to find a permanent political solution for the Palestinian people to end this prolonged conflict,” the source stated.

Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza, is also not interested.

As for Netanyahu, on multiple occasions during the war, he has seemingly ruled out any Israeli civilian presence in Gaza, though he has said that the Israeli military must retain freedom of operation in the territory for an unspecified period.

In an interview with CNBC on Wednesday, for example, he said, “What I’d like to see is a non-Hamas civilian administration there [in Gaza] with an Israeli military responsibility, overall military responsibility. That’s the only thing that would work.”

According to professor Gideon Rahat, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a Senior Fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, Netanyahu’s refusal to lay out a firm plan is part of his “strategy of playing for time.”

“It’s not about making decisions, it’s delaying decisions,” he said.

He told JNS Netanyahu is waiting for a solution to fall into his hands, versus actively seeking one.

“It’s important to remember that while buying time, hostages are dying and people in the north are living in small hotel rooms instead of their homes. There’s a price people are paying for this strategy,” he said.

Netanyahu is faced with a difficult task, with competing forces from every side pushing for what they believe to be the best path forward in Gaza, each idea seemingly conflicting with the next.