Israel wants to remain in control of the Gaza Strip, even after the war. This is evident from an interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But will that stop the violence? ‘As long as there is occupation, there will be resistance’
“Israel will retain full responsibility for the security of Gaza indefinitely,” Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview with ABC News on Monday. The Israeli Prime Minister shed light on what he believes will be the outcome of the conflict.
To prevent something like the Hamas massacres from a month ago from happening again, Netanyahu wants to take full control of Gaza. Because everyone has seen what happens when Israel does not have that “security responsibility,” according to Netanyahu.
In this way, the Israeli Prime Minister shows his cards about what the long-term strategy of his government is. There was already clarity about the short term. Israel wants to completely destroy Hamas with a large-scale military operation in Gaza.
To know what Israeli control over Gaza would look like in the future, it is best to look to the past, says Middle East expert Brigitte Herremans (UGent). The Israeli army occupied Gaza militarily from 1967 (after the Six-Day War) to 2005. “Gaza will probably be split into three parts again and the army will place checkpoints everywhere,” says Herremans.
But even then that occupation turned out to be unsustainable. Israel withdrew its army and dismantled about twenty settlements. When Hamas seized power in Gaza in 2007, Israel switched to a different strategy. It wanted to bring Hamas to its knees with a blockade. But that never worked either. “The blockade has mainly affected the civilian population,” says Herremans.
Whether an Israeli occupation can ensure that Palestinians no longer want to take up arms is also highly doubtful. “You can kill all Hamas fighters, but that does not defeat their ideas,” says Middle East expert Paul Aarts (University of Amsterdam). “As long as there is occupation, there will be resistance to that occupation.”
Meanwhile, other avenues are being floated about who should govern Gaza after the war. The United States rather sees a role for the Palestinian Authority, which is led by President Mahmoud Abbas. At least that was the message from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who met Abbas in Ramallah last weekend.
Blinken previously said in the US Senate that he believed that option would be the most logical. But he did say that the Palestinian Authority first had to be “revitalized” and “efficient”. Now that body is considered incompetent and corrupt by many Palestinians. “President Abbas has already exceeded his term so many times that no one takes him seriously anymore,” says Aarts. “Because he provides services to the occupying forces in the West Bank, he is also seen as a subcontractor of Israel.”
An organization that has become so discredited can hardly take over the administration of Gaza again. Blinken also seems to realize this and suggested in the US Senate that other countries could do it if necessary, with the help of international organizations. But in the end, the American Secretary of State remained quite vague about it.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, also ex-chief of staff of the Israeli army, is on a similar track. In an interview with Politico he says that an Arab peacekeeping force could facilitate the return of the Palestinian Authority. “It could stay there for three to six months so that the Palestinian Authority can take over everything again,” it said.
But in that interview he also raised the objections. During a previous war with Hamas, in 2008 and 2009, as defense minister, he once proposed to the Egyptian president that he take control of Gaza together with other Arab states. But he immediately shot down the idea. Abbas also told him that he did not want to return to Gaza ‘backed by Israeli bayonets’. “There is little appetite among Arab countries to participate in such a peace force,” says Aarts. “This plan seems like one big illusion to me.”
Then there is also another scenario that is doing the rounds. This became clear last week through leaked documents, including from the Israeli Ministry of Intelligence. That sees the control of Gaza by the Palestinian Authority, or by Arab countries, as two possible scenarios. The third consists of the relocation of the Palestinian population from Gaza to Egypt. According to Herremans, this also fits in with the vision that some Israeli politicians have for other areas.
“The far-right parties in Netanyahu’s government also want to annex as much territory as possible in the West Bank and deport parts of the population,” says Herremans. “There we are now seeing a huge increase in violence by settlers. Since Israel’s founding, it has always wanted to take over as much land as possible. And wars were often used to achieve that objective.”