Israel signals future role in Gaza as fighting enters second month
By Victoria Kim and Matthew Rosenberg
As the Israeli military campaign against Hamas entered its second month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered the clearest indication to date about what Israel has planned for the war’s aftermath, warning that Israel will need to oversee the security of the Gaza Strip once the fighting is over.
His plan, if enacted, would appear to stop short of a full reoccupation of Gaza — a move that the United States and others have warned against. He provided few details about the postwar plan and said the security situation would be “for an indefinite period,” in an interview with ABC News that aired Monday.
Netanyahu did not say who he thought should govern the enclave after Hamas, which now governs it, is gone. But asked specifically, Netanyahu responded only that he thought Israel would “have the overall security responsibility” over the territory indefinitely.
“We’ve seen what happens when we don’t have it,” the prime minister told ABC’s David Muir. “When we don’t have that security responsibility, what we have is the eruption of Hamas terror on a scale we couldn’t imagine.”
Israel has said its aim is to destroy Hamas and eliminate the possibility of it repeating an attack like the one Oct. 7 in southern Israel.
There appeared to be broad political support for Netanyahu’s stance in Israel. Yair Lapid, the centrist opposition leader, said he agreed with the prime minister, speaking in an interview Tuesday on Kan, Israel’s public radio. But he, too, cautioned against taking over Gaza’s government.
“We don’t want to finance schools for the children of Gaza and their hospitals,” he said. “It’s in Israel’s interest to return the Palestinian Authority.” The Western-backed Palestinian Authority exercises partial control over parts of the occupied West Bank and was forced out of Gaza by Hamas in 2007 in a violent struggle, after Hamas won elections the previous year.
“But,” he added, “the prime minister is right. The security control has to be ours.”
There have already been indications that if Hamas is defeated, the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, could have a part in governing Gaza.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made it clear that the Palestinian Authority should play a central role in the enclave’s future, according to a senior State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Abbas, who has for years had a contentious relationship with Hamas, has not publicly condemned the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, as he tries to strike a balance with Palestinians, who have struggled under an Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and with whom he is largely unpopular.
President Joe Biden has warned that it would be “a big mistake” for Israel to reoccupy Gaza, which it withdrew from in 2005, and U.S. officials have said Israel has been “very clear” that it does not want to do so.
Netanyahu did not elaborate in the ABC interview on what “overall security responsibility” over Gaza would entail but said, “Those who don’t want to continue the way of Hamas” should be in charge.
Military analysts have said Israel faces a tough choice between reoccupying Gaza and withdrawing, warning that the mass displacement and civilian suffering caused by Israel’s airstrikes and ground invasion could risk the emergence of another militant organization promoting violent resistance to Israel.
Blinken told reporters in Tel Aviv, Israel, last week that the United States was in talks with Israel and other regional leaders on what comes “the day after,” and that two things were clear: Hamas cannot remain in power, and Israel has no desire to reoccupy Gaza.