Does Israel’s Netanyahu have a plan for a ‘day after’ the war on Gaza?

As Israel bombs and re-bombs the tiny enclave, questions abound about when it will stop and what it will do next.

A Palestinian holds the shrouded body of a relative Israel killed in attacks on Gaza City, on May 16, 2024 [Dawoud Abo Alkas/Anadolu]
A Palestinian holds the shrouded body of a relative Israel killed in attacks on Gaza City, on May 16, 2024 [Dawoud Abo Alkas/Anadolu]

The evidence appears to show that the Israel prime minister does not.

On Thursday, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant voiced his frustration and called on Benyamin Netanyahu to “make a decision” adding that he did not feel Israel’s involvement in Gaza should be open-ended.

Why do we need ‘an Israeli plan’?

Because Israel controls every aspect of Palestinian life both in Gaza and in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which it occupies.

Every passing day, less and less of Gaza is left standing, raising increasingly pressing questions on how long the Israeli military can continue its vicious attacks. What does it plan to do once it tires of bombing and re-bombing the tiny, besieged enclave?

On Saturday, army Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi lambasted Netanyahu for the dearth of political planning for a settlement after the war ended.

“As long as there’s no diplomatic process to develop a governing body in the Strip that isn’t [the Palestinian group] Hamas, we’ll have to launch campaigns again and again … to dismantle Hamas’s infrastructure.

“It will be a Sisyphean task,” he said, a reference to mythological tyrant Sisyphus, ruler of Ephyra, who was punished by the gods to spend eternity pushing a rock up a hill only for it to roll back down.

So… does Netanyahu have a plan?

On May 3, Netanyahu published some postwar plans for Gaza online, and they were pretty dramatic.

According to the plans, Palestinians in Gaza – more than 35,000 of whom Israel has killed in this war to date – would enjoy unparalleled prosperity.

A massive investment was outlined, free ports, solar energy, electric car manufacturing and the people benefitting from newly discovered Gaza gas fields.

It would happen over three stages, from an unspecified “victory date” to 2035.

Palestinians in Gaza would run the plan, supervised by a coalition of Arab states – named in the plan and in radio interviews with Netanyahu as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan and Morocco.

Politically, after Gaza is “deradicalised” and the trauma of war “forgotten”, it would join with the occupied West Bank, currently under the nominal administration of the Palestinian Authority, and recognise Israel through the Abraham Accords.

Israel would retain the right to react to whatever it saw as “security threats” coming from Gaza.

Once successful, the scheme – the PM’s office said – could be “rolled out across Syria, Yemen and Lebanon”.

Did anyone like it?

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan lambasted Netanyahu on Sunday on X, making it clear that Netanyahu had not consulted Abu Dhabi on his plans.

Translation: The United Arab Emirates denounces statements by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, calling on the state [UAE] to participate in the civil administration of the Gaza Strip, which is under Israeli occupation. The UAE stresses that the Israeli Prime Minister does not have the legal capacity to take this step, and the state refuses to be drawn into any plan aimed at providing cover for Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip. The UAE affirms that when a Palestinian government is formed that meets the hopes and aspirations of the brotherly Palestinian people and enjoys integrity, competence and independence, the state will be fully prepared to provide all forms of support to that government.

Other countries have yet to comment. However, news reports say Egypt, Morocco and the UAE are weighing US proposals to deploy some kind of peacekeeping force to Gaza, after Washington recognises a Palestinian state.

Domestically, neither Gallant nor fellow war cabinet member Benny Gantz has been impressed with Netanyahu’s plan or his statements thus far that discussing a “day after” could not begin until “a complete defeat of Hamas”.

Their statements reflect a frustration among Israel’s political leadership and may indicate some splintering.

Is Netanyahu’s plan even realistic?

On May 2, the United Nations estimated that rebuilding Gaza would be the largest post-war reconstruction effort since the end of World War II in 1945.

According to the UN Development Programme, some 70 percent of all housing has been destroyed and, beyond the trauma experienced by the enclave’s population, would require a minimum of $40-$50bn to rebuild.

No costings for Netanyahu’s plans have been found, making it difficult to evaluate.

Not so much.

Netanyahu oversees an unruly coalition cabinet, racked with infighting and division, and they are not all pleased with their prime minister.

Some members are pushing for negotiations to guarantee the safety of the remaining captives in Gaza, while others are clamouring for the occupation and destruction of the southern city Rafah – which was the last city yet to be invaded by land – over all else, even the continuation of the government.

Is there another idea then?

On Tuesday, Netanyahu’s national security minister, far-right provocateur Itamar Ben-Gvir, attended a rally by ultranationalist groups in Sderot, near Gaza.

“To end the problem [of Gaza], so that the problem won’t come back, we need to do two things: One, return to Gaza now! Return home! Return to our holy land!

“And second, encourage … the voluntary departure of Gaza’s residents…It is ethical! It is rational! It is right! It is the truth! It is the Torah and it is the only way! And yes, it is humane,” he said.

Ben Gvir
Ben-Gvir speaks at a conference calling for the establishment of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip on January, 28, 2024 [Abir Sultan/EPA-EFE]

According to organisers, some 50,000 Israeli settlers and ultranationalists had gathered to hear Ben-Gvir and various hardliners, including some from Netanyahu’s Likud party, speak of “voluntarily migrating” Gaza’s population for it to be settled by Israelis.

In January, Ben-Gvir along with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, again with several members of the Likud party, attended the Settlement Brings Security and Victory far-right conference, also with calls for the rebuilding of illegal Israeli settlements in Gaza, withdrawn after 2005, and the “voluntary migration” of its people.

Now what?

Regardless of what “plan” Israel puts forth for a “day after” scenario, none can be discussed or considered unless its government also clarifies what it considers a “victory” that would allow the killing to stop.

Until then the war, and Palestinian suffering, risks continuing without end.

Source: Al Jazeera