Netanyahu Presents Blueprint for Postwar Gaza, With Free Rein for Israeli Military

Washington has been pushing its own postwar plan for Gaza, built around giving a governing role to the Palestinian Authority. (Photo: Reuters)
Washington has been pushing its own postwar plan for Gaza, built around giving a governing role to the Palestinian Authority. (Photo: Reuters)

Summary

The Israeli Prime Minister outlined a plan for the postwar strip that calls for installing local Palestinian officials, maintaining a buffer zone along its border and controlling access via Egypt.

TEL AVIV—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined a blueprint for postwar Gaza that calls for it to be administered by local Palestinian officials free of links to militant groups and that would allow Israel to conduct security operations in the strip indefinitely.

Most of the ideas have been publicly discussed by Netanyahu and other Israeli officials before and, though few new details were provided, the blueprint appears at odds in significant ways with both U.S. plans and those of Arab governments in the region. It was presented for the first time to Israel’s security cabinet Thursday night.

Taken together, Netanyahu’s ideas describe a demilitarized Gaza that would face a continued heavy Israeli security presence even after combat operations end, with a buffer zone off limits to Palestinians along Gaza’s perimeter and Israeli control of the Egypt-Gaza border that would seek to seal off the strip in the south.

The plan underscores the wide gap between Netanyahu’s government and the Biden administration, which has backed Israel’s war goals in Gaza but warned repeatedly against making changes in its territorial boundaries. Its lack of specificity also leaves open the possibility that Netanyahu will move closer to Washington on key issues once Israel achieves its initial goals of defeating Hamas and bringing home an estimated 130 hostages.

“Israel will maintain operational freedom of action in the entire Gaza strip, without a time limit, for the purpose of preventing the renewal of terrorism and thwarting threats from Gaza," the document says, adding that Israel intends to continue the war until Hamas and other militant groups are defeated in Gaza.

Netanyahu has said that Israel has no interest in occupying Gaza once the combat phase of the war is over, but he is under political pressure from far-right members of his government, some of whom have called for ejecting Palestinian residents from the strip and for re-establishing Israeli settlements there.

Netanyahu’s office, which released the plan, said it had not been adopted by the Israeli cabinet but would serve as the basis for further discussions. Palestinian officials and Arab governments say that a lasting cease-fire and withdrawal of Israeli troops in Gaza is necessary before they will agree to seriously discuss postwar arrangements.

The plan doesn’t mention a role for the Palestinian Authority, which currently governs the West Bank, saying “civil administration and responsibility for public order in the Gaza Strip will be based as much as possible on local officials" and “will not be identified with countries or entities that support terrorism."

That appears to refer to Hamas, the U.S.-designated terror group that ran Gaza and whose deadly attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7 sparked the war. It received financial backing from Qatar and weapons and other assistance from Iran. Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, ejecting the Palestinian Authority.

The blueprint says reconstruction of the shattered strip will be possible only after the defeat of Hamas and “a comprehensive deradicalization program" involving assistance from Arab countries, which have so far shown little interest in helping Israel in Gaza.

The Biden administration has been pushing its own postwar plan, built around giving a governing role in Gaza to the Palestinian Authority once it agrees to bring in new leadership, retrain security forces and address corruption. Netanyahu has publicly rejected turning over Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, though he has left open the possibility he could accept its revamped version.

In the Biden administration’s thinking, a return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza would lay the groundwork for more sweeping long-term changes in the region. Key features of Washington’s proposals include a revived process to create a Palestinian state, security guarantees for Israel and the normalization of Saudi-Israeli relations.

U.S. officials are hopeful the prize of Saudi recognition of Israel will help move Netanyahu closer to their own postwar blueprint.

Netanyahu’s plan puts off any possible negotiations on a “settlement" with the Palestinians as a “long term" issue, warning against “unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state," an apparent reference to fears that the U.S. might take such a step.

Among the most controversial aspects of the plan will likely be its call for a “southern closure" of the Egypt-Gaza border, a step it says is necessary to halt smuggling through underground tunnels and the aboveground border crossing.

The closure, it says, would be carried out “as much as possible" with the assistance of the U.S. and Egypt, neither of whom have publicly backed closing the border.

The blueprint also calls for closing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the organization that for decades has provided schooling, healthcare and other assistance to Palestinian refugees in Gaza. It notes Israel’s findings that 12 Unrwa staffers were involved in the Oct. 7 attack and says Israel will work to replace the agency with “responsible international aid organizations." The agency fired the employees and said it was investigating the allegations.

Write to David S. Cloud at david.cloud@wsj.com

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