The Day After: Competing Visions for the Future of the Gaza Strip

Proposals for Gaza's future post-war vary from direct reoccupation to resistance factions' control, with an intermediary suggestion of local authority under the Palestinian Authority, supported by Arabs. The pivotal factor is the resistance's ability to defeat the occupation.
The performance of the resistance will dictate Gaza's future. [Al Jazeera]

Despite the massive death and destruction Israel has inflicted on the Gaza Strip, it has proven unable to uproot Hamas or achieve the overwhelming victory it sought. This failure has reignited the debate about the “day after” within the Israeli government and the future of the conflict in Palestine.

One vision, promoted by the Biden administration, sees the Palestinian Authority (PA) again assuming governance of the Gaza Strip, as a prelude to a negotiated two-state solution. This plan is associated with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, who is perceived by the religious, right-wing part of the government coalition to be partial to the American view. In fact, Gallant opposes the PA’s return to Gaza, believing that it may indeed mark the first step toward a Palestinian state, which he rejects. But Gallant also opposes an Israeli re-occupation of the Strip, both because of the burden it would place on the Israeli army and the state budget and because it would likely find little support from Western allies. However, he is open to using the PA security services to police the Gaza Strip, root out Hamas, and protect a local Gaza administration that cooperates with Israel.

Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet, has floated a complex vision for the day after in Gaza that involves an international-Arab-Palestinian administration—one that excludes both Hamas and the PA—with Israel retaining control of security. Although vague in its details, his plan would give the Israeli army and security services a free hand in the Strip, much like in the West Bank. In short, he seems to envision an indirect Israeli occupation, given cover by international and Arab parties.

It is not clear what Netanyahu foresees for Gaza after the war ends, though he has repeatedly dismissed the idea of the PA replacing Hamas in Gaza and spoken of a local administration to govern daily affairs, perhaps with cooperation from forces from certain Arab states. Netanyahu’s vision may be best extrapolated by looking at his approach to the war itself. Clearly, he has sought to displace as many Palestinians as possible from the Strip, whether by pushing them into Egypt or creating an environment conducive to “voluntary” migration, hoping to resolve a long-time strategic challenge once and for all. The longer the war goes on, the closer he gets to this goal. Protracted war, whether low or high intensity, must therefore be seen as a day-after scenario for Netanyahu, though if he is persuaded to accept a ceasefire agreement in the coming weeks, he will most likely opt for a partial re-occupation of Gaza, in line with Gantz’s vision.

While it is currently difficult to predict how these competing visions for the Gaza Strip will play out, two things are certain.

Firstly, only the United States is capable of pushing the Israelis in any particular direction. While the US may genuinely wish to end the war and move toward a viable vision for the administration of Gaza, the Biden administration is loath to increase the pressure on the Netanyahu government for fear of alienating the Jewish vote and donors in a presidential election year and because a majority of Congress still supports Netanyahu and Israeli policy.

In this situation, Netanyahu could prolong the war, if he can contain domestic opposition, and perhaps even expand its scope, and he may be able to bring the Biden administration around to this position. If he finds it expeditious to conclude a ceasefire, the US will likely reach an arrangement with Israel on the administration of the Gaza Strip. For example, the US may abandon its vision for a PA-governed Gaza given the near-unanimous opposition to a two-state solution within the Israeli government—a reality that is belatedly dawning on the Biden administration.

Secondly, whatever the American-Israeli consensus on day-after arrangements, no administration of the Gaza Strip will be possible without the acceptance of Hamas and other resistance organisations. Responding to the day-after debate in Israel, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in mid-May unequivocally rejected all forms of foreign occupation of the Gaza Strip, saying that governance in Gaza will be decided through consensus among resistance forces. Haniyeh pointedly did not reject the return of the PA to Gaza or some sort of joint administration. This demonstrates that the Hamas leadership clearly recognises that there will be no reconstruction if it insists on maintaining its rule of Gaza, as neither Arab nor Western states will contribute. Such a scenario would also likely preclude a process of Palestinian national reconciliation. Ultimately, however, any arrangement that does not provide for a permanent ceasefire and a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip will likely be rejected by Hamas and is thus not a viable option.