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No one knows who will govern Gaza when the dust finally settles

Israeli soldiers walk through rubble, amid the ongoing ground invasion against Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip, November 8, 2023.

Israeli soldiers walk through rubble, amid the ongoing ground invasion against Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip, November 8, 2023.

REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Waging war without a plan for what comes after the fighting stops is a lot like jumping into an empty pool — it's a good way to get hurt, and yet it's exactly what Israel is doing in Gaza. The Jewish state's endgame is looking increasingly murky as the war against Hamas escalates and Israeli troops push farther into the territory.

The Biden administration this week scrambled to warn its top Middle Eastern ally against reoccupying the Gaza Strip. This came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised concerns with an announcement that Israel intended to take indefinite control over security in Gaza.

Echoing recent statements from the White House, Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday underscored that it’s clear Israel “cannot occupy Gaza.” Blinken also said that Hamas, which currently governs Gaza, can’t be in charge. The top US diplomat said the reality is there will likely need to be a transitional period once the conflict ceases.

Blinken’s British counterpart, James Cleverly, on Wednesday, said “a move toward a peace-loving Palestinian leadership is the most desired outcome” — as soon as it’s “practicable.”

In short, no one knows who will govern Gaza once the dust settles. Meanwhile, experts are concerned that a protracted Israeli military presence in Gaza will ultimately benefit Hamas.

No postwar plan: The Israeli government, which maintains that Hamas cannot continue to rule over Gaza, also says it doesn’t intend to govern the territory or engage in a long-term occupation. But it’s hard to see how Israel will avoid assuming at least some responsibility for Gaza’s governance as it moves to assert security control over the coastal enclave and expresses a desire for a buffer zone.

Indeed, the Israelis don't have a clear road map for what happens if they succeed in destroying Hamas — and there is no guarantee Israel will achieve this goal.

“The Israeli military operation will succeed in weakening Hamas military infrastructure,” says Ayham Kamel, head of Eurasia Group’s Middle East and North Africa research team. “Hamas remnants will probably still exist but the same level of political control before October 7th is highly unlikely,” he added.

Blinken has emphasized that the Palestinian Authority, which has limited control over parts of the occupied West Bank, should be at the heart of any discussions on Gaza’s postwar future. But there are open questions about whether the PA, which is not particularly popular with Palestinians, is a viable option for effective leadership.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has said that the PA does not want to govern in Gaza without a political solution to the situation in the West Bank, where expanding Israeli settlements — illegal under international law — continue to be a major source of tension.

The bottom line: The region could be consumed by even more violence and chaos for years to come without a cogent postwar plan for Gaza.


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