Realistic postwar Gaza scenarios prove elusive as Israel-Hamas war intensifies

Analysis Realistic postwar Gaza scenarios prove elusive as Israel-Hamas war intensifies
Palestinians fleeing Gaza City walk amid the ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
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Updated 11 November 2023
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Realistic postwar Gaza scenarios prove elusive as Israel-Hamas war intensifies

Realistic postwar Gaza scenarios prove elusive as Israel-Hamas war intensifies
  • Anthony Blinken, the US secretary of state, has said neither Israel nor Hamas should be left to run Gaza
  • The Palestinian Authority has indicated it is willing to govern if Washington commits to the two-state solution

LONDON: Speculation about Gaza’s post-conflict future has been rife in recent weeks, ranging from suggestions of a permanent Israeli takeover and the expulsion of the Palestinian population to a possible Arab-led peacekeeping force that would hand control to the Palestinian Authority.

Israel launched its military campaign to destroy Hamas in the Gaza Strip after the Palestinian militant group mounted its cross-border attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,400 and taking around 240 people hostage.

Hamas has been the de facto governing body in the Gaza Strip since 2007, when it ousted the Palestinian Authority from power. Primarily in Gaza, Hamas also maintains a presence in the West Bank, Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, and has a political office in Doha and a representation office in Tehran.




Palestinians pray near the bodies of members of the Hijazi family, killed in Israeli strikes in Rafah. (AFP)

After initial indications that Israel planned to fully occupy the Gaza Strip once Hamas had been unseated by the Israeli Defense Forces’ ongoing ground operation, the government since appears to have backtracked, likely under pressure from Washington.

Speaking to Fox News on Thursday night, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, played down the notion of an occupation, instead stressing the aim was to “demilitarize, deradicalize, and rebuild” the Gaza Strip.

His comments were a stark departure from just three days earlier when Netanyahu indicated occupation was, indeed, the aim, telling ABC News that Israel would have “overall security responsibility … for an indefinite period” in Gaza.

The apparent U-turn followed a strong rebuke from Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, over the prospect of an Israeli occupation, with the senior diplomat telling reporters after G7 talks in Japan on Wednesday that neither Israel nor Hamas could be left to run Gaza.

During his Fox News interview, Netanyahu said: “We don’t seek to govern Gaza, we don’t seek to occupy it.” Instead he said Israel would have to find a “civilian government” to manage the territory.




Israeli soldiers in the northern Gaza Strip. (Reuters)

Yossi Mekelberg, professor of international relations and associate fellow of the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Program at London’s Chatham House, believes such uncertainty reflects the manner in which the conflict has been playing out more generally.

“You have to remember that this war was not planned by Israel; it started out of surprise. So, it is not surprising there is uncertainty over what comes next,” Mekelberg told Arab News.

“There are some right wingers in Israel who want to take Gaza and build settlements. In the Middle East I would never say never about anything, but I am not certain this is the intention. Settlements are very hard to remove and Blinken was clear over what would be tolerated.”

Indeed, US red lines are not limited to the question of occupation. As members of the Knesset pushed hard on the notion of allowing settlements in the West Bank to expand into Gaza, Blinken was clear there was to be “no forcible displacement of Palestinians from Gaza, not now, not after the war.”




An overview of Beit Hanoun in Gaza Strip on October 21, 2023. (AFP/MAXAR)

Such forthright opposition to the removal of Palestinians from Gaza was welcomed by Mekelberg, but he acknowledged that the impact of these words was as indeterminate as Gaza’s fate.

“Whether or not Blinken’s comments are taken seriously in Israel or not is dependent on how much the Israeli government thinks the US really believes it or not,” he said.

“The US needs to make sure that this is its policy. Not only because it serves the US but because it serves Israel.”

Pushback from the US, for the time being at least, appears to be administration-wide. Blinken’s statement followed one issued on Tuesday by John Kirby, the White House national security spokesperson, who stressed that President Joe Biden did not believe an occupation of Gaza was the “right thing to do.”

On the potential for an occupation, Dr. Ziad Asali, founder of the non-profit American Task Force on Palestine, is circumspect. While Israel has “no benefit” in occupying Gaza, Asali believes it is still “likely to gain whatever it can in the interim.”

Asali was equally less certain over the longevity of the status quo, even after Blinken stressed on Wednesday that the current Hamas-Israel binary in Gaza could not be allowed to continue.

“Israel can barely manage the Palestinians presently under its control,” he told Arab News. “It is also now likely to face new immediate challenges that cannot be solved by military force alone. Judging by past experience, I suspect that the status quo could endure longer than people think.”

As for Israel “finding” a new civilian government, Mekelberg said it was “obvious” that there would be no place for Hamas in a post-conflict Gaza. Equally, though, he stressed the need for “parties that represent the population,” if the ultimate aim was to avoid a repeat of the Oct. 7 attacks.

“Both Gaza and the West Bank need to be governed by the same body,” he said. “Being split does not help anybody, and it perpetuates the situation. Now, we know that it will not be Hamas, as, Iran and maybe Qatar aside … no one will engage with them.

“So, what you need is a party that represents the Palestinians. Who that is remains uncertain and, in part, will depend on how the fighting is brought to a close.”




Orheen Al-Dayah, who was injured in an Israeli strike, has her wound stitched without anesthetic due to a dearth of the medication, at Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City. (Reuters)

Solutions beyond an Israeli occupation have included installing the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority. But given that Fatah was voted out by Palestinians in favor of Hamas in the 2006 legislative elections in the occupied territories, the legitimacy of Palestinian Authority’s rule remains in question. Furthermore, as Mekelberg put it bluntly, “they are not in the state to take over.”

The Palestinian Authority appears to think differently, but with an important caveat.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Hussein Al-Sheikh, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said that were Washington to commit to a “full-fledged two-state solution,” the Palestinian Authority would be willing to take on the role of governing post-war Gaza.

Al-Sheikh said this would be dependent upon the US forcing Israel to abide by such an agreement — a scenario he believes the Biden administration is “capable” of achieving.

He is not alone in sensing an opportunity to renew efforts toward the two-state solution. Ehud Barak, the former Israeli prime minister, has also thrown his support behind the need to revive this initiative.

“I think there is a need in Israel, under the heaviest, most difficult conditions, never to lose sight of the objective,” Barak told Time magazine this week.

“The right way is to look to the two-state solution, not because of justice to the Palestinians, which is not the uppermost on my priorities, but because we have a compelling imperative to disengage from the Palestinians to protect our own security, our own future, our own identity.”




Fatah's Azzam Al-Ahmad (R) and Saleh Al-Aruri (L) of Hamas signed in 2017 a reconciliation deal at the Egyptian intelligence services headquarters in Cairo. (AFP/File)

Who precisely would serve as a unifying leader capable of bridging divisions among Palestinians remains an open question, although commentators have suggested someone of the stature of Salam Fayyad, the former Palestinian Authority prime minister.

In a recent tweet, Asali suggested that Marwan Barghouti, the jailed leader of the First and Second Intifadas, would be a suitably trusted candidate for the presidency of a unified Palestinian state should Israel agree to his release as part of a hostage exchange deal.

Beyond restoring the Palestinian Authority to power in Gaza, there have also been calls for an international peacekeeping force, an idea which has received some support from the US, with Kirby telling reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday that the administration was discussing what post-conflict Gaza should look like.

“If that means some sort of international presence, then that’s something we’re talking about,” he said, adding that there were “no plans or intentions” for US forces to be involved.

Asali said there is little appetite in Washington for the US to find itself “in another Middle East mess” that will demand more of the US president (Joe Biden) than he can deliver in an election year, hinting that a regional force may be required.
“Gaza and its leaders will soon be facing a huge humanitarian problem that will need to be solved by outsiders. The providers of that help would have more influence on Gaza than anyone else,” he said.

Without being drawn into specifics, he did not rule out the possibility of initiatives for strategic decisions on the Palestinian issue or the Gaza governance imbroglio being taken by a Middle Eastern country.




A man rests atop a row of freshly dug graves in a cemetary in Rafah. (AFP)

Asali is not alone in this view. One touted contender has been Egypt, but Mekelberg says officials in Cairo “do not want to do it.” While he “hopes it will be a regional grouping,” he suspects it will need to be “international,” warning that there will be significant work to do.“The first thing that whoever comes in needs to do is stabilize security and get infrastructure to a level where they can make sure enough aid is entering to provide what humans need,” said Mekelberg.

“After that, they will need to look at building bodies, and reconstructing the necessary institutions to run a state.”


Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: UK maritime agency

Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: UK maritime agency
Updated 3 sec ago
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Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: UK maritime agency

Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: UK maritime agency
DUBAI: A missile attack targeted a vessel transiting the Gulf of Aden, causing a fire on board, a British maritime security agency said Thursday.
“A vessel was attacked by two missiles, resulting in a fire onboard,” the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said, adding that “coalition forces are responding.”
Maritime intelligence agency Ambrey identified the ship as an Palau-flagged, UK-owned general cargo ship on its website.

Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator

Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator
Updated 39 min 3 sec ago
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Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator

Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator
  • Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, British-registered and Lebanese-operated cargo ship, was damaged in Sunday’s Houthi missile strike

DUBAI: A cargo ship abandoned in the Gulf of Aden after an attack by Yemeni rebels remains afloat and could be towed to Djibouti this week, its operator said on Thursday.
Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, British-registered and Lebanese-operated cargo ship carrying combustible fertilizer, was damaged in Sunday’s missile strike claimed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Its crew was evacuated to Djibouti after one missile hit the side of the ship, causing water to enter the engine room and its stern to sag, said its operator, the Blue Fleet Group.
A second missile hit the vessel’s deck without causing major damage, Blue Fleet CEO Roy Khoury said.
Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels had claimed on Monday the attack on the ship, saying it was “at risk of potential sinking in the Gulf of Aden” after receiving “extensive damage.”
Khoury said the ship was still afloat and shared an image captured on Wednesday that showed its stern low in the water.
“She will be towed to Djibouti but the tugboat has not yet arrived,” Khoury said. “It should be there in two to three days.”
When asked about the possibility of it sinking, Khoury said there was “no risk for now but always a possibility.”
Ship-tracking site TankerTrackers.com confirmed that the Rubymar had not sunk but warned that the vessel was leaking fuel oil.
The attack on the Rubymar has inflicted the most significant damage yet to a commercial ship since the Houthis started firing on vessels in November — a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war.
The Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority said the ship’s last port of call was the United Arab Emirates and it was destined for Belarus.
Its 24 crew members included 11 Syrians, six Egyptians, three Indians and four Filipinos, the authority said in a statement on Monday.
“The vessel has on board 21,999 MT (metric tons) of fertilizer IMDG class 5.1,” the authority said on X, formerly Twitter, describing it as “very dangerous.”
The Houthi attacks have prompted some shipping companies to detour around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, which normally carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development warned late last month that the volume of commercial traffic passing through the Suez Canal had fallen more than 40 percent in the previous two months.


Casualties reported in shooting attack near Jerusalem

Casualties reported in shooting attack near Jerusalem
Updated 22 February 2024
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Casualties reported in shooting attack near Jerusalem

Casualties reported in shooting attack near Jerusalem
  • Eight people with varying degrees of injuries were evacuated from the scene by medics
  • Violence was already on the increase across the West Bank prior to the Gaza war

JERUSALEM: Three gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons on several vehicles near a Jewish settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank Thursday, wounding eight people in a “terror attack,” police said.
The incident occurred near Maale Adumim settlement, east of Jerusalem, police said, adding the attackers had arrived in a vehicle.
Violence was already on the increase across the West Bank prior to the Gaza war which began in October, but has escalated since to levels unseen in nearly two decades.
“The three terrorists... got out of their vehicle and started shooting from automatic weapons at vehicles that were standing in a traffic jam on the road toward Jerusalem,” police said in a statement.
“Two terrorists were neutralized on the spot. In the searches conducted at the scene, another terrorist was located who tried to escape and he was also neutralized.”
Eight people with varying degrees of injuries were evacuated from the scene by medics, the police said.

 

Thursday’s shooting comes after two people were shot dead on Friday at a bus stop in southern Israel near the town of Kiryat Malakhi.
The West Bank has seen frequent Palestinian attacks on Israelis and near-daily raids by the Israeli military that often turn deadly.
Israeli troops and settlers have killed at least 400 Palestinians in the West Bank since the Gaza war began, according to the Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah.
Israel captured the West Bank — including east Jerusalem, which it later annexed — in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.
Around 475,000 Jewish settlers currently live in the occupied West Bank, their settlements considered illegal by the United Nations and most of the international community.
The Palestinian population of the West Bank numbers about 2.9 million.
The Palestinians claim the territory as the heartland of their future independent state, but on Wednesday Israel’s parliament overwhelmingly backed a proposal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposing any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.
The war in Gaza erupted after Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7, resulting in the deaths of around 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
At least 29,313 people, mostly women and children, have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory military offensive on Gaza, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.


Turkiye calls for Gaza ceasefire, two-state solution at G20 meeting

Turkiye calls for Gaza ceasefire, two-state solution at G20 meeting
Updated 22 February 2024
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Turkiye calls for Gaza ceasefire, two-state solution at G20 meeting

Turkiye calls for Gaza ceasefire, two-state solution at G20 meeting
  • Turkiye has harshly criticized Israel for its attacks on Gaza and backed measures to have it tried for genocide at the World Court

ANKARA: Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan called on the international community to take a more active role toward an urgent ceasefire in Gaza and a two-state solution to the conflict during talks at the G20 meeting in Brazil, a Turkish diplomatic source said.
Turkiye, which has harshly criticized Israel for its attacks on Gaza and backed measures to have it tried for genocide at the World Court, has repeatedly called for a ceasefire.
Unlike its Western allies and some Gulf nations, NATO member Turkiye does not view Hamas, the Palestinian militant group which runs Gaza and on Oct. 7 carried out an attack inside Israel that prompted the Israeli campaign, as a terrorist organization.
Fidan told a G20 foreign ministers meeting in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday that the “savagery” in Gaza must be stopped, and discussed steps to achieve an urgent ceasefire and get more aid into the enclave during talks with counterparts from the United States, Germany, and Egypt, the source said.
“Steps that can be taken to achieve a full ceasefire as soon as possible were discussed,” during talks between Fidan and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the source said, adding Fidan also discussed “concrete steps” to stop the fighting with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.
“The fact that a decision on a ceasefire did not come out of the UN Security Council once again, has shown that reform is a must,” Fidan told a session at the G20 meeting, according to one of his aides, referring to a third US veto on a ceasefire call at the 15-member body.
Ankara says the UN Security Council must be reformed to be more inclusive and representative of the world.
“The stance shown by Brazilian President Lula (Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva) is admirable,” the aide cited Fidan as saying, in reference to comments by Lula in which he likened the war in Gaza to the Nazi genocide during World War Two and which caused a diplomatic spat.


Israel strikes Gaza’s Rafah as truce talks under way

Israel strikes Gaza’s Rafah as truce talks under way
Updated 22 February 2024
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Israel strikes Gaza’s Rafah as truce talks under way

Israel strikes Gaza’s Rafah as truce talks under way
  • Global powers trying to navigate a way to end the Israel-Hamas war have so far come up short
  • International concern has in recent weeks centered on Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Israel launched air strikes Thursday on southern Gaza’s Rafah after threatening to send troops into the city, where around 1.4 million Palestinians have sought shelter from around the territory.
Global powers trying to navigate a way to end the Israel-Hamas war have so far come up short, but a US envoy was expected in Israel on Thursday to try to secure a truce deal.
International concern has spiraled over the high civilian death toll and dire humanitarian crisis in the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack against Israel.
More than four months of relentless fighting and air strikes have flattened much of the Hamas-run coastal territory, pushing its population of around 2.4 million to the brink of famine, according to the UN.
International concern has in recent weeks centered on Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, where more than 1.4 million people forced to flee their homes elsewhere in the territory are now living in crowded shelters and makeshift tents.
The last city untouched by Israeli ground troops, Rafah also serves as the main entry point via neighboring Egypt for desperately needed relief supplies.
Israel has warned it will expand its ground operations into Rafah if Hamas does not free the remaining hostages held in Gaza by next month’s start of the Muslim holy month Ramadan.
The war started when Hamas launched its attack on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
Hamas militants also took about 250 hostages — 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 29,313 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest count by the Hamas-run health ministry in the territory.
War cabinet member Benny Gantz said Israel’s operation in Rafah would begin “after the evacuation of the population,” although his government has not offered any details on where civilians would be evacuated to.
In the early hours of Thursday, AFP reporters heard multiple air strikes on Rafah, particularly in the Al-Shaboura neighborhood.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said early Thursday that 99 people had been killed around Gaza during the night, most of them women, children and elderly people.
Abdel Rahman Mohamed Jumaa said he lost his family in recent strikes on Rafah.
“I found my wife lying in the street,” he said. “Then I saw a man carrying a girl and I ran toward him and.... picked her up, realizing she was really my daughter.”
He was holding a small shrouded corpse in his arms.
Brett McGurk, the White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, was expected to arrive in Israel Thursday — his second stop in the region after Egypt as part of US efforts to advance a hostage deal and broker a truce.
Hamas’s chief Ismail Haniyeh was in Cairo for talks as well, according to the group.
Israel’s Gantz said there were efforts to “promote a new plan for the return of the hostages.”
“We are seeing the first signs that indicate the possibility of progress in this direction.”
Matthew Miller, US State Department spokesman, said Washington was hoping for an “agreement that secures a temporary ceasefire where we can get the hostages out and get humanitarian assistance,” but declined to give details on ongoing negotiations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted the army will keep fighting until it has destroyed Hamas and freed the remaining hostages.
Israel’s parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly backed a proposal by Netanyahu to oppose any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.
The vote came days after the Washington Post reported that US President Joe Biden’s administration and a small group of Arab nations were working out a comprehensive plan for long-term peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
It included a firm timeline for the establishment of a Palestinian state, the report said.
Separately, a report by an Israeli group that fights sexual violence said Hamas’s October 7 attack also involved systematic sexual assaults on civilians, based on witness testimonies, public and classified information, and interviews.
The report came the same week UN rights experts called for an independent probe into alleged Israeli abuses against Palestinian women and girls — which Israel rejected as “despicable and unfounded claims.”
Israeli officials have repeatedly alleged the militants committed violent sexual assaults during the attack — something Hamas has denied.
Combat and chaos have stalled sporadic aid deliveries for civilians in Gaza, while in Khan Yunis — a city just north of Rafah — medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said an Israeli tank had fired on a house sheltering their employees and families.
Two relatives of MSF staff were killed and six others injured, it said, condemning the strike in the “strongest possible terms.”
When contacted by AFP about the incident, the Israeli army said its forces had “fired at a building that was identified as a building where terror activity is occurring,” adding that it “regrets” harm to civilians.
In the same town, the Palestinian Red Crescent said another hospital was also hit by “artillery shelling.”
Israel has repeatedly said Hamas militants use civilian infrastructure including hospitals as operational bases — claims that Hamas has denied.