Gaza, The Day After: A Roundup Of Options
There are many proposals, but no obvious way forward
The punishing military response from Israel in Gaza after the horrific Hamas attack is nowhere close to wrapping up. The ceasefire struck by the warring parties predicated on the peaceful exchange of captives has already broken down with 137 of the 240 hostages still in Hamas captivity. The ones released report horrific abuse. Women—and men—were sexually abused or raped and others faced food shortages, physical violence, psychological terrorism, and a lack of medical care.
Meanwhile, Israel’s counter-offensive to “eliminate” Hamas that began in the north has now expanded to the south where Israel had encouraged 1.7 million displaced Gazans, some 40% children, to seek shelter. Their living conditions are unimaginably dire. There is no safe space for them—unlike other displaced populations who can at least count on safety when they seek refuge in another country. Gazans have nowhere to go. They are being shuttled from one unsafe zone to another, their desperation and trauma mounting, especially since Israel has cut off normal food and power supply channels and is allowing only very limited humanitarian aid to flow.
Although casualty figures are hotly disputed, even before the expansion of the offensive, Gaza’s Hamas-controlled health ministry put the death toll at 16,000—10,000 of them civilians. A study often cited by retired U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, widely considered the architect of modern counterterrorism, calculated that for every civilian killed about 10 terrorists are recruited. By that number, Israel so far has killed about 5,000 Hamas terrorists, but in the process created about 100,000 future terrorists.
For its own peace and security, it would be wise for Israel to consider the long-term consequences of a hawkish strategy that insufficiently prioritizes the safety of Gazan civilians lest it further poison the search for a permanent resolution that is morally defensible and politically workable.
But the question on everyone’s mind right now is what does the day after Israel exits from Gaza look like? Though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu initially wanted Israel to control the “overall security” of Gaza when the war is over, U.S. officials and international observers have strongly condemned those plans. “Our viewpoint is that Palestinians must be at the forefront of these decisions, and Gaza is Palestinian land and will remain Palestinian land,” a State Department spokesman insisted.
It's unclear whether Netanyahu has backed off on the reoccupation plan. Meanwhile, President Biden and other world leaders are calling for a revival of the peace process and a return to the “two-state solution,” following the 1993 Oslo Accords and the 2000 Camp David Summit, when Israelis and Palestinians came closest to something resembling a workable arrangement based on the proposition of two states for two peoples. Gilead Sher, who played a key role in the 1993 and 2000 negotiations, stressed the importance of arriving at a durable solution:
We cannot return to a pattern where every other year there is a violent confrontation between Israel and Hamas. … If America engages in what President Biden has stated he would commit to, there is a chance … for negotiations that could provide a step-by-step process to two distinct states.
But how do we get to that point from where we are right now? Any interim steps would require building trust between the two sides—by ensuring security and peace for Israel and dignity and statehood for the Palestinians. Given that they are currently engaged in a brutal conflict, this is no easy task. Yet ending the ever-escalating cycle of violence requires it.
To that end, here is a sampling of opinions from Muslim and Jewish; Israeli and non-Israeli; progressive and conservative commentators sketching some do’s and dont’s to end hostilities and restore a modicum of normalcy to Gaza and create the conditions for a more enduring solution.
Brooking Institution’s Shadi Hamid, a columnist at The Washington Post sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians, wrote on X that if he were to advise President Biden on the alternative to what Israel is currently doing, here is what he would suggest:
1. Prioritize and push for periodic ceasefires to allow humanitarian aid in.
2. Degrade and dismantle Hamas's military capabilities (although this has already happened to a significant degree).
3. In exchange for Israel halting its bombardment of Gaza and any ground invasion, Hamas agrees to release all hostages and offload governing responsibilities in Gaza onto the Palestinian Authority. A ceasefire would allow for this to be negotiated.
4. Israel, like any country, has the right to defend itself. This means accepting that it will kill or arrest senior Hamas military commanders. But this also means accepting that not everyone associated with Hamas can or should be killed or arrested. The latter would entail a bloodbath and contribute to further radicalization. Moreover, Hamas is a mass movement with tens of thousands of members and hundreds of thousands of supporters and sympathizers, so it would be simply untenable even if it were desirable.
5. After a cessation of hostilities, the U.S. should put pressure on the Israeli government to accept a Palestinian state and commit itself a peace process that would lead to the establishment of two states—but this time any "peace process" would need to be real, not the pretend one of the past 15 years.
6. Future U.S. efforts to strengthen Israel's military capabilities should be made contingent on Israel committing in good faith to pursuing this path.
When Hamid refers to the “pretend” peace process, he is echoing the widespread frustration among Palestinians and their advocates that Israel hasn’t really been serious about making peace given its blockade of Gaza and continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank that would require even more cantonization of the West Bank than in the original Oslo deal.
Writing in his Substack newsletter, Slow Boring, liberal writer Matt Yglesias outlines what Israel needs to do in the immediate- and medium-term for lasting peace.
In the immediate term, he notes, Israel should form a broad coalition with Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia to defeat Hamas and counter Iran, the terrorist outfit’s main patron. But, he notes, Israel also needs to mind its own house and ditch Netanyahu, kick far-right religious parties out of the coalition government, and form a real national unity government with moderate elements from across the political spectrum.
Moreover, Israel should make immediate provisions for displaced Gazan civilians to escape to the Sinai for safety but offer them ironclad assurances that, once Hamas has been eliminated, they will be able to return home. This is necessary to build trust and alleviate Palestinian fears that Israel is pushing them out to weaken their demographic case for statehood. In addition, Israel should indicate its seriousness for lasting peace by calling for “immediate and meaningful anti-settlement measures.”
But of course there is no point in talking about lasting peace if the day after the end of Israel’s formal offensive, Gaza descends into chaos and anarchy.
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Nathan J. Brown argues that the prospects for averting that awful scenario are extremely low. He notes that prior to Israel’s withdrawal in 2005, the Gaza strip, since 1945, had been governed by Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and then Hamas. But in a post-Hamas Gaza, most proposals, he claims, are visualizing a set of “ad hoc governance systems” to provide basic social services such as food, water, and schools. These would be run by some combination of UN agencies, NGOs, the Palestinian Authority, and Arab involvement, all of which U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has alluded to.
But to effectively provide these services, he maintains, there would need to be some overarching authority in Gaza that could provide basic governance and law and order, neither of which these entities would have any capacity individually or jointly to provide. If they even tried, it would immediately raise issues of their political legitimacy.
Yet, if there is no central government for Gaza in the foreseeable future:
law and order on the streets will likely be handled—if they are handled at all—by camp committees and self-appointed gangs. And this deterioration at the level of governance, security, public order will likely be deepened by the absence of a political horizon, diplomatic process, or future prospects: Gazans would be offered a dispiriting present and a future of statelessness and denial of dignity, national rights, and individual rights.
But there are proposals out there to fill that gap in governance and avoid a Mad Max Gaza.
The most obvious one, laid out by former Deputy Israeli National Security Adviser Chuck Freilich in Haaretz, Israel’s left-leaning newspaper, is to once again return control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority. Although Netanyahu is resisting the idea, he writes:
The way to turn this into a win for Israel, is to try to take advantage of the new situation that would be created, to facilitate a restoration of [Palestinian Authority] control in Gaza. It will not be easy. The PA will have a hard time regaining control following an Israeli military conquest and has never been the most effective governing body in the best of times.
With the help of the U.S., Egypt, and others, however, along with a concerted Israeli effort to rebuild the PA’s stature in the West Bank and a sincere commitment to diplomacy once the dust has settled, it may prove possible. The alternatives are a protracted and bloody reoccupation of Gaza, or a limited response which will achieve little more than temporarily postpone the next round. We have had enough of the limited rounds. We also have to achieve a clear win to turn back Iran’s expanding influence in the region and that of its allies.
In a very similar vein, Michael Milshtein, head of Tel Aviv University’s Palestinian Studies Forum at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, notes that despite all the problems with the Palestinian Authority, figuring out a way to have it run the Gaza Strip is among the two least bad options. The PA has a poor record and a very negative image in the West Bank that it governs. “And on top of this, in Gaza itself a whole generation has grown up that is unfamiliar personally with the PA, but has been educated to view it as a hostile element that has imposed sanctions on the Gazan public or sees the Ramallah administration as a collaborator with the 'Zionist entity,’” he points out.
The other least bad alternative, in his view, is one the U.S. is apparently discussing with Israel, which is to establish a type of civil administration or provisional government similar to one established in Iraq after the American conquest.
This administration, which would be responsible for management and order in the public sphere, will be composed of representatives of local forces—mayors, tribes, clans, and NGOs—along with ranking figures in Fatah. The recommendation is for this administration to work in close quarters with the PA and amid intense involvement by Egypt, the United States, and perhaps also such Gulf states as Saudi Arabia and the UAE—but not Qatar, which, as an ally of Hamas, was a central component of the conception that collapsed, and which demonstrated an ability to harm national interests of Israel.
Beyond handing Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, there are two other ideas that are on the table.
The first one, proposed by Georgetown international affairs professor Paul D. Miller in The Dispatch, a conservative publication, involves handing control of Gaza to the United Nations.
Miller notes that the Palestinians have a rightful claim to Gaza under the terms of the 1995 Oslo Accords and the 1947 UN partition plan. But given how corrupt and incompetent the Palestinian Authority is, it can’t be relied on to maintain public order for Palestinians—much less meet Israel’s security needs. But the UN has experience stepping in to establish an international transitional authority and bringing a semblance of order in drastic conditions of state failure. It did so in Cambodia in 1991; East Timor in 1999; and Kosovo the same year.
To be sure, he admits:
None of the U.N.’s previous interim administrations were without their problems, yet they were roughly successful. While Cambodia, Kosovo, and East Timor will continue to grapple with the aftereffects of war and privation for generations to come, today they have assumed control over their own governance…
Unlike another occupation authority—the U.S., for example, or Israel—the U.N. would be seen as relatively impartial. No one suspects the U.N. would use an interim administration as an excuse for empire. If anything, the U.N. would be overly eager to hand power to the Palestinian Authority before it was ready.
A U.N.-run interim administration in Gaza would not be empowered to negotiate final status arrangements with Israel. It would focus on immediate needs: turning the lights back on, cleaning out the rubble, getting water treatment plants online, and patrolling streets. After meeting immediate humanitarian needs, the interim administration would help reconstitute the local police, reopen schools and courts, and form local governing bodies
Critics routinely argue that nation building is unrealistic. It is difficult, of course, but the international community learned important lessons during prior missions in the 1990s, including in Bosnia, Sierra Leone, and Central America. The cost and risk of nation building must be measured against the cost and risk of the alternative. From the longer perspective of history, standing by and allowing the problems to fester for yet another generation is the least “realistic” option.
The second solution that requires neither an Israeli reoccupation nor a return of the Palestinian Authority is putting Gaza in the hands of an Arab Trusteeship Council. Among those who have discussed this plan is Bryan Schwartz, author and law professor.
He believes that this proposal has the potential to create the conditions for overall peace, stability, and prosperity not just in Israel but in the Middle East. Contrary to Miller, Schwartz does not believe that the United Nations can be trusted to “administer Gaza any more than it could maintain strategic security in Southern Lebanon or to operate UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency] in a manner that is effective for Palestinians and not hostile to Israel.”
However, an Arab trusteeship is a different matter. Schwartz asks us to consider the following:
After Hamas is evicted from power, there is an interim period, say five to seven to ten years, of governance over Gaza by an Arab Trusteeship Council. The Council members are appointed primarily by Arab states sympathetic to Israel and eager to see the people of Gaza thrive. This Council could include local Gaza representatives and a representative of the Palestinian Authority but the majority would be representative of states like Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.
The trusteeship agreement would be formal, agreed to by Israel, and unequivocally state its objectives, including demilitarizing Gaza; defining the sole purposes for which outside reconstruction and development money can be spent and requiring strict accounting; ensuring that the education system in Gaza is not contaminated by antisemitic hatred; promoting sound administration of Gaza, including providing for transparent and non-corrupt government, with significant safeguards for human rights, and conformity to the rule of law; promoting the development of a real economy for Gaza, not one fueled primarily by international subsidies.
No state could participate in the Council without having a peace agreement with Israel.
In fact, the creation of the Council and Saudi participation in it could be part of a peace deal with Saudi Arabia. The deal could involve a reconstruction package from the Saudis for Gaza, which would help secure the support of the people of Gaza for the Council arrangement as an interim measure.
Policing would be carried out by a force composed of Palestinians and members of the police forces of Trusteeship states, under the direction of the Council.
The net effect would be to remove Gaza from Iran’s influence and establish temporary control by a consortium of mostly Sunni states. The latter would be chosen from among those that are at least reasonably friendly to Israel and genuinely committed to good governance in Gaza.
The definitive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict can only be achieved in a series of steps. Compromises are even more painful if they are framed as permanent. But if practical peace, stability, and some prosperity can be achieved in the medium term in Gaza and the West Bank, an amicable and enduring resolution should be achievable with the Palestinians.
This idea of course assumes that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is so important to Arab states that they would take on the fraught—and thankless—task of running Gaza.
The commentators featured here have diverse ideas about what the day after in Gaza ought to look like. Each proposal has some pros and massive cons; indeed, it would be fair to say they have more cons than pros. But anything that would put an end to protracted—and repeated—war and open the possibility of peaceful coexistence is worth considering.
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