After the war, what?: The Gaza of the day after worries the world | International

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An expression is frequently heard these days in Israel: “When we win.” It serves to postpone a procedure or imagine a better life when the country finishes the mission that has been publicly set out: ending Hamas in Gaza, responsible for its bloodiest day in 75 years of history. Although the formulation is vague and experts disagree about its realism, it is a clear objective, the one for which it bombs incessantly (the dead exceed 9,000, mostly civilians) and surrounds the capital of Gaza with armor. But what after? Who will govern the Strip, once the Islamist party-militia that has done so since 2007 is deposed? Who will prevent the hatred among its rubble from generating a new post-Saddam Hussein Iraq? These are questions that Washington - with its symbolic withdrawal from Afghanistan still fresh - and the Arab and European foreign ministries, concerned about the potential repercussions, such as a refugee crisis, are asking Israel privately these days.

Last week, national security advisor Tsaji Hanegbi responded defensively (“The day after what?”) in a press conference, to underline that Israel's current concern is to free the more than 200 hostages. and put an end to Hamas. “When we are close to the objective, we can start thinking about the day after,” emphasizes Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat.

The United States, however, urges its ally, which it helps economically and militarily, to think in the medium-long term. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, addressed the issue at a press conference in Tel Aviv this Friday, on his third visit to Israel since the war began on October 7: “Everyone agrees that there is no can go back to the status quo” in which “Hamas continues to have government and security responsibilities.” “But,” he added, “we also know that Israel cannot resume,” nor “does it intend,” to permanently resettle Gaza, which it withdrew its settlers and soldiers in 2005 but has technically continued to occupy. With these in mind, he added, the United States maintains conversations with its regional and international partners from which “several possibilities and permutations” have emerged that it is “premature” to detail.

The debate, however, already dominates academic and security circles. “It is not too early for the Biden Administration to start talking about the issue,” Gerald M. Feierstein, former diplomat and Middle East expert at the US analysis center on the region Middle East Institute, said in a video conference this Thursday. Feierstein criticized that the entire debate “is always only about Gaza,” like “who is going to govern it or what the reconstruction is going to be like.” “We must recognize that this is an Israeli-Palestinian issue, not Israel and Gaza, and that the solution is political, not military, and neither side is going to achieve victory through violence,” he noted.

The conversations already outline a plan. Once the Israeli military destroys Hamas' executive and military capabilities, it would establish a three-kilometer security buffer zone. “Gaza must be smaller at the end of the war” [..] "Whoever starts a war with Israel must lose territory," said Gideon Saar, minister without portfolio in the new emergency government, before the land invasion. He would then remain for a few months with much fewer troops on the ground, opting for frequent incursions to quell the foreseeable sources of insurgency. West Bank style, but without settlers to protect.

In parallel, a multinational force would be articulated, foreseeably with an important role from the part of the Arab-Muslim world that recognizes Israel, such as Egypt, Jordan, Turkey or Morocco. The day-to-day management of Gaza would return to the hands of the Palestinian National Authority, just as in the nineties, after the Oslo Accords, and the coup by Hamas in 2007; and in the cities of the West Bank, under Israeli military occupation.

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All of this would be accompanied by the seals of legitimacy of the United Nations and the Arab League, a shower of millions for reconstruction and a new push to definitively resolve the conflict, with the creation of a Palestinian State.

In addition to its many desiderata, one of the main problems with the settlement is that it responds to many concerns of Israel - which neither wants to manage the lives of 2.3 million Palestinians again nor see hundreds of its citizens die helplessly again, with its sophisticated border security barrier converted into a Gruyere cheese―, but not to those of other actors, whose participation brings them dubious benefits, but is being taken almost for granted. Israel will also demand many guarantees before leaving its security in the hands of others.

Two-state solution

The Prime Minister of the ANP, Mohamed Shtaye, has already come out to point out that they will not enter the scene “on board an F-16 or an Israeli tank”, without “a political solution for the West Bank” and “a global horizon of peace” that allows Gaza to be linked to the framework of a two-state solution. Also being considered is bringing from Dubai the Gazan Mohamed Dahlan, the controversial former security chief of the ANP who Israel views favorably. He has ruled himself out and, although he is from Al Fatah, he insists that “Hamas is not going to disappear” and should be able to attend elections to prepare a technocratic transitional government in the Strip.

The Arab States, for their part, “have never wanted to take responsibility for Gaza,” recently recalled Nathan J. Brown, professor of Political Science and International Relations at George Washington University and author of several essays on politics in the Arab world. “And it is likely that they are even less so now, and they do not want to come together to manage a problem that they feel has been caused by the recklessness of others.”

Neither does Ghassan Jatib, former Palestinian minister and professor of contemporary Arab studies and international studies at the West Bank university of Birzeitit is clear that everyone accepts the hot potato. “Israel did not withdraw from Gaza and return, and I believe that Arab countries have no interest in playing a role in managing Gaza, after what Israel is doing. I don't think the Palestinian Authority is willing to do it either,” she says.

A group of protesters march against Netanyahu's policies near his residence in Jerusalem on November 4.Alvaro Garcia

One of the favorites of the West, Salam Fayad, prime minister of the Palestinian National Authority between 2007 and 2013 after passing through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, issued two warnings last week in the magazine Foreign Affairs: You cannot "impose a concrete agreement on the Palestinians", nor expect the weak and discredited ANP to resume the management of Gaza with its current structure. Fayad proposes reconfiguring it, along with the Palestine Liberation Organization - the legal representative of the Palestinian people and which does not include Hamas or Islamic Jihad - so that they "reflect the entire spectrum of Palestinian views on what “It would be an acceptable agreement.”

Jack Joury, Arab affairs commentator for the newspaper Haaretzwarned this Tuesday that "without rehabilitating the ANP and the institutions of the Palestinian people, Mogadishu and Beirut during their respective civil wars will seem like a paradise compared to what will develop between Jabalia and Khan Younis", in the north and south of Gaza . But neither Western countries nor Israel will accept first the presence in a Hamas Government, because it would give it a kind of effective veto like that of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Schism between Gaza and the West Bank

These days Israel treats the ANP as an old friend that it has ignored for years and suddenly calls to ask a favor. The Government of Benjamin Netanyahu – whose coalition agreement emphasizes “the exclusive right of the Jewish people” to both Israel and Palestine – has been promoting the schism between Gaza and the West Bank for years, to prevent the creation of a Palestinian State; and weakening the ANP without offering a horizon of dialogue that legitimizes it against Hamas. For the extreme right, it is also the enemy, as the current Minister of Finance, Bezalel Smotrich, described: “The ANP is a burden and Hamas, an asset,” because “no one will recognize it, nor will it give status in [el Tribunal Penal Internacional] nor will it allow him to present a resolution in the United Nations Security Council.” A few days before the attack on the 7th, the ultranationalists were crying out loud because the ANP security forces - which are now being tested to deploy in Gaza - had received 18 vehicles financed by the United States.

Daniel Wajner is an assistant professor in the Department of International Relations and European Forum at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, specializing in international legitimation and conflict resolution. He rules out three options: for Israel to resume civilian management of Gaza, for the ANP to do so (“even if it wanted to, it is very delegitimized among its population,” he argues) and an international mandate. He proposes a fourth: involving “central countries of the Arab-Islamic world”, at least Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which had been negotiating to recognize Israel. “I don't know if it is the best plan or the safest, but it is the most legitimized,” he clarifies.

Wajner insists that more important than the number and entity of the countries is the “international coverage” they receive, especially the support of the Arab League. What if they don't want to? “It is the big doubt. The key will be if they understand that they can obtain benefits,” he responds before remembering that both Cairo – with coffers in diapers and skyrocketing inflation – and Amman, in a better economic situation, receive money from the International Monetary Fund.

Vague concept

Another problem lies in the vagueness of the concept of “eliminating Hamas,” a movement that administers Gaza and employs tens of thousands of officials. Up to what hierarchical level will they be arrested or eliminated? Eyal Hulata, Israel's former National Security Advisor, advocated last week for retaining a portion of civilian officials during the transition. A French proposal, which the newspaper reports Haaretzinvolves replacing all officials appointed by Hamas with ANP employees, to whom Ramallah has been paying their salaries without working since Hamas expelled forces loyal to the ANP in street clashes, a year after winning the elections.

Israel also has no easy time agreeing on what it wants. The fiasco of the 7th has sentenced Netanyahu's political future and the emergency government formed for the war harbors sensitivities ranging from those in favor of reinforcing the ANP, who a month ago were part of the opposition, to those who see an opportunity to stay in Gaza and rebuild the settlement of Gush Katif, evacuated in 2005. This is the case of Simja Rotman, the president of the parliamentary Justice commission and striker of the controversial judicial reform, who defined the victory like this: “That a Jewish child can walk through the main street of Gaza.” A leaked working document from the Ministry of Intelligence proposes, for example, expelling the population of Gaza, by force and forever, to the Egyptian Sinai.

"The question: 'How should Gaza be governed when the war is over?' It may not end up having good answers, and it may not even be a good starting point,” summarized the expert Brown, in an article published this Friday in the Carnegie Center on the Middle East. “It would be better to ask: what does it mean to throw a party like Hamas out of power when it dominates all levels of government in Gaza? What does it mean for Israel to try to end the military capabilities of Hamas, a social movement with a military arm that also oversees public security, administration and other government functions, especially when it operates above and below ground? [por la red de túneles subterráneos] What does victory mean? And beyond the goals, what will Israel actually achieve? And how will anyone know that the war is over?”

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