Without Israeli concessions, Biden's Gaza day-after plan is a no-go

In a nutshell, no Arab state will go in if not invited by a Palestinian Authority in Gaza

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On May 31, US President Joe Biden announced an Israeli ceasefire proposal that he purported to support, and to which he urged both Israeli and Hamas leaders to sign up, in order to bring the war in Gaza to an end. It was clear that political machinations were under way, evidenced by an American president announcing an Israeli initiative, quickly followed by several Israeli politicians expressing opposition to that same initiative.

But there are many crucial questions that still need to be addressed. Mr Biden ended his announcement by talking about what the situation for Gaza would look like after the war. But what options for “day after” scenarios really exist, given the nature of the main power broker on the ground, Israel?

The paradox of Gaza, and the wider question of Palestine, is that the solution to the crisis is rather obvious and clear. Following the establishment of the State of Israel in Mandatory Palestine in 1948, and up until 1967, Gaza, a Palestinian territory, was under the administration of Egypt, while East Jerusalem and the West Bank were under the administration of Jordan.

Precisely 57 years and one week ago, Israel invaded and occupied these territories, along with the Golan Heights (which is Syrian) and the Sinai Peninsula (which is Egyptian and returned to Egyptian sovereignty as a result of the Camp David Accords). The international community – including most US administrations – has been very clear since 1967 about the inadmissibility of the acquisition of this territory by war, and the Palestinians’ right to a state has been recognised by the UN General Assembly since 1974. It follows, then, that the solution most in line with international law and consensus, is to turn over sovereignty of these Palestinian territories to a Palestinian state.

Unfortunately, there are good reasons to suggest Israel would go for either the 'no man’s land' option, or a mixture of that and a military occupation authority

But of course, the situation is not quite so simple. Israel has refused, since 1967, to end what the UN, the US, the EU, and the near entirety of the international community has termed the occupation of Gaza, let alone its occupation of East Jerusalem (which Israel annexed) and the West Bank. There is no sign that it will change this stance, and there is no indication it will be forced to do so by foreign powers. So, we return to a thornier scenario; how to end Israel’s war on Gaza?

Putting aside the issues of statehood and sovereignty for the time being, there is a need for governance in Gaza on the “day after”. Mr Biden has suggested a multinational peacekeeping force that could help with this, and which might include the involvement of Arab states.

The problem with that option, however, is that Israel has given a set of conditions that make such an option unviable. Indeed, those conditions make very few options viable.

For a multinational peacekeeping force to exist, there are a few items upon which Arab states and others in the international community would insist. Arab states, for example, have indicated they would require the invitation for their participation to be extended by a Palestinian entity – essentially, the Palestinian Authority. The absence of such an invitation would make them part of the Israeli occupation of Gaza.

Beyond the political niceties of such an issue, there is also a security imperative involved here. If any state were to enter Gaza as a peacekeeping force, they would, naturally, need to ensure they are not made into targets by any insurgency in Gaza. If Israel’s military were to continue to be present in the Gaza Strip, then an insurgency would certainly ensue, and any military forces that recognised the legitimacy of Israel’s military presence would undoubtedly be targeted also.

So, it would seem that for Mr Biden’s option to work, two things would have to happen. The PA would have to return to Gaza and invite such a force; and Israeli forces would have to depart. However, on both points, Israel has refused, insisting that the PA cannot return to Gaza, and that Israel must maintain overall security control.

And so, Mr Biden’s plan evaporates, unless Israel shifts.

Of course, there are other precedents for Gaza. The first is a pure Israeli military occupation authority, which existed from 1967 until 1994. The second is a PA-governed territory, which existed from 1994 to 2006. The third is a Hamas-governed one, which was the case from 2006 to 2023. The fourth, if one can term it as such, is an anarchic “no man’s land” – no governance and utter chaos, which has been the situation for the past nine months.

The second and third options are off the table as far as the Israelis are concerned, and they have made their red lines clear in this regard. But that leaves only two alternatives: a military occupation authority, and no governance at all. Surely neither would be in Israel’s interest?

Unfortunately, there are good reasons to suggest Israel would go for either the “no man’s land” option, or a mixture of that and a military occupation authority. For one thing, these are the only options Israel is allowing to happen; by way of default alone, they are likely.

Additionally, this Israeli government allegedly has an overriding strategic goal, revealed in December by the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, and that is the “thinning” of Gaza’s population to a minimum. Some in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s own cabinet have even asserted this publicly. A combination of anarchic non-administration with a military authority would make an exodus of Gazans from the territory more likely.

Moreover, some Israeli ministers advocate Israeli resettlement in northern Gaza. If Gaza is split into a north where Israeli settlements would thrive under the protection of an Israeli military authority, and a south where the population is encouraged to leave and no meaningful governance would be permitted, then Mr Netanyahu’s government would achieve what it appears he and his most hardline elements have been after.

None of the above, of course, is inevitable. But it is the most likely outcome, unless the calculations of Israeli leaders change. And such a change would require a real intervention, particularly from US leadership. And thus far, that is something that has not been forthcoming, to put it lightly.

Published: June 10, 2024, 2:00 PM