Israel’s five impossible options for post-war Gaza
Though Israel’s leadership is focused on winning a war and ensuring that Hamas isn’t able to threaten Israel again, it’s important to start considering what Israel’s options will be in Gaza after the war is won.
Already, both President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have been raising this issue in their talks with the Israeli war cabinet, and the last thing Israel wants is to win the war in Gaza but “lose the peace”. What are Israel’s options after the war is successfully concluded?
- Re-occupy Gaza
This isn’t an option being seriously considered by anyone senior in the Israeli leadership but is simply being discussed for completeness. Israel cannot re-occupy Gaza for multiple reasons. First, having troops stationed permanently in Gaza would be a logistical nightmare. It would mean they would be permanently exposed, and casualties would be constant. Second, it would set back Israel’s burgeoning relations with the Gulf states and probably end the chances of normalisation with Saudi Arabia. Finally, if Israel were to occupy Gaza, it would be responsible for the territory. It would have to supply services – although it already does supply electricity – and govern the territory, which would be hugely expensive. Israel’s economy, already struggling badly from the effects of the war and having to fund reconstruction and probably stimulus of many small businesses after the war ends, would battle to cope with the extra expense of governing Gaza.
- Leave Gaza to its own devices
This is the other extreme – Israel simply withdraws again after the war is concluded, without any structured solution. This also isn’t a serious option. It’s generally the case that the Middle East abhors a power vacuum, and if Israel were to topple the current leadership in Gaza and simply leave, it could be sure that a worse and more dangerous actor would take over Gaza. A good example here is what happened with the United States (US) in Iraq. Having overthrown the Iraqi government, the US eventually got tired of the costs incurred in money and lives, and simply withdrew the bulk of its forces. Before long, Iraq’s second biggest city, Mosul, was taken over by ISIS (Islamic State). Israel cannot allow something similar to happen in Gaza, and needs to ensure that stable leadership is put in place after it withdraws.
- Allow a United Nations (UN) force to run Gaza
This also isn’t a viable option. First, the UN force has proven to be totally unsuccessful in policing and securing the Lebanese border with Israel. Second, not many UN countries would be happy to send their troops into the area. Finally, it would take too long to create a UN force to do the job even if the will was there. A case in point is how long it has taken the UN to send a force to Haiti, which is a far less divisive issue at the UN than Gaza. After a year of debating, the UN has finally agreed to send a force to Haiti, which appears to be further delayed by local opposition in some of the countries, like Kenya, that are providing the bulk of the force.
- Let a regional force rule Gaza
This is unlikely to happen. No country in the region, even those who have diplomatic relations with Israel, will want to go into a war zone, with a hostile population, and do Israel’s police work for it. None of the countries in the region want to be responsible for Gaza, and for them even to consider it, there would have to be some credible and stable administration in place first for them to support.
- Bring in the Palestinian Authority (PA)
This, although not ideal, appears to be the only viable solution. It unfortunately also comes with a host of problems. First, the PA have said many times it won’t be brought in to rule Gaza “on the back of an Israeli tank”. It would leave it with no legitimacy at all in the eyes of the local population. Second, it’s not clear that it’s capable of running Gaza, even if it wanted to. The PA is widely seen as corrupt, incompetent, and sclerotic, and is barely able to run the major cities in the West Bank, an area which is far more advanced and better off than Gaza will be after the war. In fact, without the support of the Israeli army, it’s likely that the whole PA administration in the West Bank would have collapsed already. Running Gaza after the war is over won’t be an easy task for anyone, and the PA is unlikely to want to or be up to the task of doing so.
This isn’t a problem with a simple solution, which is one of the main reasons why successive Israeli governments have been so reluctant to go into Gaza and remove Hamas as the ruling force in the past, no matter what the provocations were. This time is obviously different, and Israel has been left with no choice, but it will still need to have some viable plan for post-war administration of Gaza.
It will have to make option five work, as there’s simply no other credible alternative, but this will entail some deal and concessions to the PA. It will also have to work hard to try bring in some regional Arab force and money to support a PA administration once it’s in place. If enough funding can be brought in to support the rebuilding of Gaza and a regional force deployed to assist in maintaining security, it could smooth the way forward, but no-one should be under any illusions that this is going to be an easy task.
- Harry Joffe is a Johannesburg tax and trust attorney.