What is Gaza's political future after the war?

The future of the Palestinian enclave looks bleak unless an agreement emerges from the ashes

Protesters, including families of hostages, protest in Jerusalem against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, November 7, 2023. Getty
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Hamas has fought several wars with Israel and re-emerged as a more deadly force after each one.

Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Bloodshed in 2006-07 between Hamas and the Fatah faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation resulted in Hamas taking over Gaza.

In the latest war, Israel has been going after Hamas, a militant group supported by Iran, with a new level of ferocity.

The result could alter the long-standing equilibrium, reviving attempts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or deepening the setbacks, observers said.

As pressure increases on Israel to curb its operation, a diminished Hamas on a reduced Gaza real estate constitutes a likely postwar scenario, Muriel Asseburg, a prominent German scholar, told The National.

“Hamas will probably end up with a decimated military capability, but with its cadres and at least part of its fighters, and its base in Palestinian society, [intact],” said Ms Asseburg, a senior fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.

Ms Asseburg has co-written a paper with Rene Wildangel, a lecturer at the International Hellenic University in Greece, on postwar scenarios and how outside powers could shape the days that follow.

Among them is a return to a direct military Israeli presence in Gaza, leaving Israeli troops exposed to a possible insurgency, or a new Palestinian dispossession, similar to 1948 and 1967.

Two-state solution 'ideal but difficult'

Another scenario is international administration, with UN peacekeepers being deployed in Gaza, which Ms Asseburg said is unlikely, given the divisions at the Security Council.

Arab countries have advocated another outcome: the revival of comprehensive Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

While on a visit to Brussels on Monday, Jordan’s King Abdullah II called for work to start on a “postwar stage … on the basis of the two-state solution.”

Ms Asseburg said this scenario would be “the most ideal, but difficult to achieve”.

She recommends a more gradual approach, enlisting help from Qatar, the Arab country with the most influence of Hamas and other Gulf powers.

It would start with “sustainable arrangements” for Gaza, followed by wider Palestinian-Israeli issues.

This would cover “security for both the Israelis and the Palestinians in Gaza”, and stopping smuggled weapon flows through Egypt to Hamas, Ms Asseburg said.

Gaza, where 2.3 million people live, is one of the most densely populated areas of the world. The area is almost surrounded by Israel, with Egypt controlling access to the enclave through the Rafah border crossing in the Sinai Peninsula, although Israeli approval is required for the entry of goods and people from Rafah.

Gaza's children share their stories and dreams

Gaza's children share their stories and dreams

Ms Asseburg said the free movement of goods and people, bolstered by Arab financing for infrastructure, would help restore normality to Gaza and reduce its near complete dependence on international humanitarian aid.

The war erupted as the Palestinian question was being downgraded to the backwater of international diplomacy, with Washington seeking to broker a deal to establish ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The last US president who attempted to solve the conflict was Donald Trump. His Middle East plan was dismissed as “rubbish” by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah party is being upstaged by Hamas.

Mr Abbas opposed Mr Trump's plan because it did not envisage Palestinian sovereignty and would have given Palestinians less territory than what was negotiated with Israel in the 1993 Oslo Accords.

However, most of Mr Abbas's Arab backers are not comfortable with Hamas being the flag-bearer for the Palestinian cause.

Mr Abbas told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday that the Palestinian Authority was prepared to take over the Gaza Strip, but only when Hamas had been entirely removed, in the framework of a political process towards a settlement, two Egyptian officials said.

One of the officials cautioned that a complete defeat of Hamas is “virtually impossible”.

He said differences in strategy between Hamas's political leadership and its military commanders could help Mr Abbas carve influence in a postwar Gaza, especially if he receives Arab financial support.

But if Mr Abbas’s allies re-establish themselves partially in Gaza, it could be “a recipe" for inter-Palestinian conflict.

The current war started after Hamas attacked southern Israel on October 7, killing about 1,400 people and abducting about 240. More than 10,300 people have been killed in the subsequent Israeli attacks on Gaza, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

John Casson, who worked as a foreign affairs adviser to former Prime Minister David Cameron, said that “comprehensive policy approaches” have to be ready from now.

“We need to create a new, credible Palestinian partner, which means a big international offer to the Palestinians for rebuilding, for reintegrating the economy,” Mr Casson said.

“If this is going to be a never again moment, if the Israelis are never again going to have to face the kind of barbaric things that happened on October 7. It also needs to be a never again moment where we say never again will we leave Palestinians under occupation.”

Updated: November 08, 2023, 1:49 PM