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Netanyahu presents Israel’s first official post-Gaza war plan

Proposal runs counter to Washington’s vision for the war-ravaged strip – as ceasfire talks continue

Henriette Chacar
Friday 23 February 2024 21:29 GMT
Benjamin Netanyahu wants to retain security arrangements for the Gaza Strip
Benjamin Netanyahu wants to retain security arrangements for the Gaza Strip (AP)

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has presented his first official “day after” plan for the Gaza Strip once the war ends, saying Israel will keep security control over Palestinian areas and make reconstruction dependent on demilitarisation.

The plan, which brings together a range of well-established Israeli positions, underlines Mr Netanyahu’s resistance to the creation of a Palestinian state which he sees as a security threat, without explicitly ruling one out at some future stage.

It was swiftly dismissed by Palestinian officials as doomed to failure, while it also runs counter to Washington’s vision for the war-ravaged strip.

The document, distributed to security cabinet members as a discussion paper rather than a set programme, proposes Israel would maintain security control over all land west of Jordan, including the occupied West Bank and Gaza – territories where the Palestinians hope to establish an independent state.

The plan comes amid intensifying international calls to end the fighting that has destroyed large swathes of Gaza and to revive efforts to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

US president Joe Biden, Israel’s main ally, has said that only a two-state solution has a chance of bringing long-term peace and has been engaged in intense diplomatic efforts to build support among regional and other states.

It came as a senior minister in Israel’s cabinet announced plans to build more than 3,300 new homes in settlements in the occupied West Bank in response to a fatal Palestinian shooting attack. Israel’s finance minister, far-right firebrand Bezalel Smotrich, announced the new settlement plans late on Thursday, after three Palestinian gunmen opened fire on cars near the Maale Adumim settlement, killing one Israeli and wounding five.

“The serious attack on Maale Adumim must have a determined security response but also a settlement response,” Mr Smotrich wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Our enemies know that any harm to us will lead to more construction and more development and more of our hold all over the country.”

The decision is bound to further frustrate Washington. US secretary of state Antony Blinken said an expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank was inconsistent with international law, signalling a return to long-standing US policy on the issue, which had been reversed by the previous administration of Donald Trump.

In the long-term goals listed in his plan, Mr Netanyahu rejects the “unilateral recognition” of a Palestinian state. He says a settlement with the Palestinians will only be achieved through direct negotiations between the two sides – without naming who the Palestinian party would be.

In Gaza, it proposes replacing Hamas administrative control with local representatives “who are not affiliated with terrorist countries or groups and are not financially supported by them”, setting demilitarisation and deradicalisation as goals to be achieved in the medium term.

“The prime minister’s document of principles reflects broad public consensus over the goals of the war and for replacing Hamas rule in Gaza with a civilian alternative,” a statement by the prime minister’s office said.

The plan does not elaborate on when that intermediary stage would begin or how long it would last. But it conditions the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip, much of which has been laid to waste by Israel’s offensive, on its complete demilitarisation.

On Friday, as the plans became public, efforts to achieve a pause in the fighting to allow the return of some of the more than 100 hostages still held by Hamas continued ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan which begins in March.

Israeli ministers have said that unless a deal is reached by 10 March, Israel will launch its long-awaited operation against the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have sought shelter under increasing dire humanitarian conditions.

Zaha Hassan, a human rights attorney and fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said if implemented, the Netanyahu plan would leave Palestinians in Gaza in a state of complete dependency, with no hope of achieving their national aspirations.

“This is obviously not the plan the Biden administration has been discussing with Arab governments,” she said.

The spokesperson for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said Mr Netanyahu’s proposal was doomed to fail, as were any Israeli plans to change the geographic and demographic realities in Gaza.

“If the world is genuinely interested in having security and stability in the region, it must end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and recognise an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital,” he said.

To secure control of Gaza, Mr Netanyahu proposes Israel have a presence on the Gaza-Egypt border in the south of the enclave and cooperates with Egypt and the United States in that area to prevent smuggling attempts, including at the Rafah crossing.

The plan calls for shutting down the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, which Israel has repeatedly accused of providing cover to Hamas, and replacing it with other international aid groups.

The war was triggered by a Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on 7 October, in which 1,100 people were killed and 253 taken hostage, according to Israeli counts.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel has responded with an air and ground assault on blockaded Gaza that has killed more than 29,400 people, mostly women and children according to Palestinian health authorities. The offensive has displaced most of the territory's population and caused widespread hunger and disease.


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