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The Israel-Hamas War: Operation Iron Sword
The Day After

(October 7, 2023 - Present)
By Mitchell Bard

Looking to the Future
Reforming the PA
The Gallant Plan
Creating A Path To Statehood
Hamas Killing the PA
Gantz Gives Ultimatum

Looking to the Future

The Biden administration increasingly focused on what would happen to Gaza after the war ended. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is insisting on pursuing the two-state solution to offer the Palestinians hope of achieving a political victory following Hamas’s defeat. State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said, “There is no returning to the October 6 status quo” and “our viewpoint is that Palestinians must be at the forefront of these decisions and Gaza is Palestinian land, and it will remain Palestinian land.”

The Israeli government, which opposed the idea of a Palestinian state before the war, gave no indication it was going to change its position. In the short term, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “I think Israel will for an indefinite period have security responsibility” for Gaza. He ruled out any international force and insisted Gaza must be demilitarized.

Israel told American officials to stop talking publicly about the two-state solution. National Unity Party chairperson Benny Gantz, President Isaac Herzog, and opposition leader Yair Lapid have also conveyed their discomfort with the Biden administration’s repetition that it supports the establishment of a Palestinian state. “What I want to urge is against just saying ‘two-state solution.’ Why? Because there is an emotional chapter here that must be dealt with. My nation is bereaving. My nation is in trauma,” Herzog said.

Minister Gideon Sa’ar explained the most likely short-term scenario:

There will be security strips of one kilometer, or whatever is defined, to which it is forbidden to approach. Maybe we will put mines there; I’m not going to decide now. But our kibbutzs and our towns near the border need security the day after they return at the end of the operation. We will give them the confidence to return there. And they will.

The army also moved to take over the “Philadelphi Corridor,” a strip of land less than 9 miles (14 km) wide separating Gaza from Egypt. Israel had controlled the area for some time but handed responsibility over to Egypt. Hamas then began to tunnel under it to bring weapons and supplies into Gaza. At one point, Egypt flooded the tunnels to prevent smuggling, but on October 16, 2023, NPR filed a report noting that the original tunnels used to smuggle cigarettes and other goods were expanded to be part of the “metro.”

Taking the area will give Israel control over the Rafah crossing, which is the only connection between Gaza and the Arab world and the principal route for travelers. Egypt has rejected Israel’s request to give up the area, which its soldiers are responsible for patrolling according to a security protocol signed with Israel. Alternatively, Israel has requested that sensors be installed along the corridor to alert Israel in case Hamas attempts to rebuild its tunnel and smuggling network after the war. Egypt said it would consider the option but rejected another Israeli proposal to send surveillance drones in response to alerts.

The administration opposes Israel’s reoccupation of Gaza and has suggested that the Palestinian Authority take over responsibility for the Strip. Israelis, however, do not believe the hugely unpopular PA is capable of controlling the area, given its inability to manage the West Bank effectively and its failure in Gaza when it was the authority there.

Israel must also worry about Hamas terrorists in the West Bank. Simultaneously with the Gaza offensive, the IDF staged raids to kill and arrest Hamas members on its eastern border. MEMRI translated a message from the West Bank branch of Hamas’s student organization calling on Palestinians there to imitate the October 7 attack, and the group posted operational instructions for carrying out terrorist attacks.

Israel will have its own rebuilding effort after the war. In addition to the communities in the south that were overrun with terrorists, the country will have to recover from the tremendous economic cost of the war and the reservists who had to leave their jobs. In early November, the Bank of Israel said the absence of workers cost the economy about $600 million per week.

Reforming the PA

Despite the corruption, incitement, and violence emanating from the PA, the Biden administration was pressuring Israel to accept a “revamped and revitalized” PA to take control of Gaza after the war ended. Netanyahu pointedly rejected the idea. “After the great sacrifice of our civilians and our soldiers, I will not allow the entry into Gaza of those who educate for terrorism, support terrorism, and finance terrorism,” He added, “I will not allow Israel to repeat the mistake of Oslo.”

Israeli analysts, including former ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, suggested Netanyahu was trying to ensure his political survival. Netanyahu is “saying Oslo was a worse catastrophe for Israel than Oct. 7, and I am the best guarantor you have that [such an agreement] won’t happen again.”

“At the moment, Bibi is just playing to the gallery, and the gallery is his political base,” said journalist Ehud Yaari. “I don’t think we’re at a point where Bibi feels he is obliged to make a decision.”

It is possible Netanyahu will not be prime minister when a decision on who rules Gaza needs to be made, as he might resign or be forced from office. Other cabinet officials might see “little to be gained from defying the White House,” said Yaari.

The Biden administration was also angered by comments by ministers Smotrich and Ben-Gvir calling for Gazans to be encouraged to immigrate to other countries. “If in Gaza there will be 100,000 or 200,000 Arabs and not 2 million, the entire conversation on ‘the day after’ will look different,” Smotrich said. Ben-Gvir also suggested that Jews return to settle in Gaza.

The State Department spokesman responded, “This rhetoric is inflammatory and irresponsible. We have been told repeatedly and consistently by the Government of Israel, including by the Prime Minister, that such statements do not reflect the policy of the Israeli government. They should stop immediately.”

Subsequently, Netanyahu stated unequivocally: “Israel has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population.” He added, “Our goal is to rid Gaza of Hamas terrorists and free our hostages. Once this is achieved, Gaza can be demilitarized and deradicalized, thereby creating a possibility for a better future for Israel and Palestinians alike.”

The same two ministers have clashed with the IDF Chief of Staff and Defense Minister.

The Gallant Plan

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant presented a four-pronged plan for the future of Gaza on January 4, 2024. He made clear that Israel would retain control of the borders and the right to take military action, if necessary, inside Gaza. Civil governance would remain the responsibility of the Palestinians. “Gaza residents are Palestinian, therefore, Palestinian bodies will be in charge, with the condition that there will be no hostile actions or threats against the State of Israel,” Gallant said.

The four elements of his plan, as reported by the Times of Israel, are:

First, Israel will coordinate and plan an oversight role in civil governance and be responsible for inspecting incoming goods.
Second, a multinational task force, led by the US in partnership with European and moderate Arab nations, will take responsibility for running civil affairs and the economic rehabilitation of the Strip.
Third, Egypt, which is noted as a “major actor” in the plan, will take responsibility for the main civilian border crossing into the Gaza Strip in coordination with Israel.
Fourth, existing Palestinian administrative mechanisms will be maintained, provided that the relevant officials are not affiliated with Hamas. Local authorities that currently deal with sewage, electricity, water, and humanitarian aid distribution will continue to operate in collaboration with the multinational task force.

These steps would be taken over time and left a number of issues unresolved, such as who would be responsible for law and order in Gaza.

Gallant also said that Palestinians would not be allowed to return to their homes in northern Gaza until all the hostages were released.

According to the TOI, Gallant wants UNRWA to gradually be replaced with another agency to provide services to refugees. Shortly after, UN Watch reported that a Telegram group of 3,000 UNRWA teachers was filled with posts praising the 10/7 massacre and photos of dead and captured Israelis.

“This is the motherlode of UNRWA teachers’ incitement to Jihadi terrorism,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch.

While the U.S. agreed with Israel about UNRWA and suspended funding, the administration was again angered when 12 Israeli ministers attended a conference on January 28, 2024, calling for rebuilding settlements in Gaza. Gallant subsequently told U.S. officials that the military would not allow any illegal outposts or settlements to be built in Gaza.

The two countries were also at odds over Israel’s stated intention of creating a buffer zone on the Gaza side of the security fence on the southern border. Blinken made clear the U.S. opposed any reduction in the size of the territory in Gaza. 

Creating A Path To Statehood

After several weeks of not speaking, Biden called Netanyahu on January 19, 2024, to try to convince him to agree to create a path for the establishment of a Palestinian state after the war. Blinken had earlier come back from Saudi Arabia insisting that this was the only way the kingdom would agree to normalize relations with Israel. Netanyahu publicly rebuffed both. “My insistence is what has prevented — over the years — the establishment of a Palestinian state that would have constituted an existential danger to Israel,” he said two days later. “As long as I am prime minister, I will continue to strongly insist on this.” The day before, he had said he would insist on “full Israeli security control of the entire area west of the Jordan River — and that is irreconcilable with a Palestinian state.”

Biden tried to minimize the disagreement by saying, “There are a number of types of two-state solutions....There’s a number of countries that are members of the UN that are still — don’t have their own militaries. Number of states that have limitations.” He added, “And so I think there’s ways in which this could work.”

Competing Visions for the Future

The Palestinian Authority Vision

The State Department Vision

The State Department was reportedly working with its allies to create a timeline to recognize a Palestinian state similar to that demanded by the Palestinians and repeatedly rejected by Israel: withdrawal of many, if not all, Israeli communities in the West Bank; a Palestinian capital in eastern Jerusalem; the reconstruction of Gaza; and security and governance arrangements for a combined West Bank and Gaza. Normalization of relations with Saudi Arabia is meant to be an incentive for Israel to accept the deal.

In response to the reports, Netanyahu said:

Israel rejects international diktats....My position can be summed up in two sentences: 1. Israel rejects out-of-hand international diktats about a final-status solution with the Palestinians. Such an agreement will only be achieved through direct negotiations between the sides, with no preconditions. 2. Israel will continue to oppose unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. Such recognition in the aftermath of the October 7 attacks would be a huge prize for terror, the like of which we have never seen, and would prevent any future peace agreement.

The entire PA government, including Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, submitted its resignation at the end of February to show the United States that it was willing to make changes. Despite an overwhelming majority of Gazans calling for him to resign, Abbas did not. His four-year term continued into its 19th year.

Israeli officials expressed little faith that the PA would change and pointed out it had ruled Gaza unsuccessfully before being overthrown by Hamas. Netanyahu insisted that a buffer zone be created near the border and that Israeli troops have freedom of action in Gaza as they do in the West Bank. He said, “I will not allow the State of Israel to repeat the critical mistake of Oslo, which brought to the heart of our land—and to Gaza—the most extreme elements in the entire Arab world, who are committed to the destruction of the State of Israel and who teach that goal to their children.”

Some analysts, including Israelis, did not believe there was an alternative to the PA but insisted that the PA would have to do more than make cosmetic changes. Maurice Hirsch and Yossi Kuperwasser, for example, said the PA would have to condemn the October 7 massacre, end the pay-for-slay policy, recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people, cease all incitement to murder and glorification of terror, immediately halt all PA attacks on Israel in international forums, and actively fight terror.

PA officials were also talking about including Hamas in the reformed government, a non-starter for Israel. They also were wary of taking control of Gaza and being seen as tools of the Israelis.

A problem for Israel is that its desire to see leaders of clans in Gaza assume authority is nearly impossible so long as Hamas exists. Any Palestinian who agrees to an Israeli plan will be treated as a collaborator. Even before the war ended, for example, a clan leader was executed after Hamas heard he had been contacted to assist in the distribution of aid.

Hamas Killing the PA

Not waiting for Israel to decide on a policy for the day after the war ends, the Palestinian Authority is maneuvering to gain control but is running into violent opposition from Hamas. The PA’s General Intelligence Service (GIS), headed by Maj. Gen. Majed Faraj is trying to establish a security presence reportedly in coordination with Israel, Egypt, and other Arab countries. Several GIS members whom Hamas accused of entering Gaza disguised as aid workers were arrested, and at least two were reportedly shot.

Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and Palestinian National Initiative oppose the formation of a new government “without national consensus” or an Arab peacekeeping force. 

Meanwhile, leaders in Israel clashed over the future of Gaza as Gallant spoke out publicly that it was imperative to plan ahead if the military operation was to succeed. He said that he would not agree to Israel governing Gaza after the war. “The end of the military campaign must come together with political action. The ‘day after Hamas’ will only be achieved with Palestinian entities taking control of Gaza, accompanied by international actors, establishing a governing alternative to Hamas’s rule, Gallant declared. “Indecision is, in essence, a decision. This leads to a dangerous course, which promotes the idea of Israeli military and civilian governance in Gaza,” he warned. “This is a negative and dangerous option for the State of Israel — strategically, militarily, and from a security standpoint.”

His position was aligned with the U.S. but clashed with Netanyahu, who declared that no discussion of the day after could occur before Hamas was defeated. Netanyahu insisted he was “not prepared to switch from Hamastan to Fatahstan.”

Gantz Gives Ultimatum

In another example of the internal dissension over the future, Gantz, a member of the war cabinet, went public with his dissent over the conduct of the war, arguing that the IDF should have gone into Rafah months earlier and that he would leave the government on June 8 if a plan for the day after was not adopted. He implied the prime minister was acting out of selfish political reasons rather than the national interest and that “A small minority has taken over the bridge of the Israeli ship and it is steering it towards the rocks.”

Acknowledging there are “no magic solutions,” he outlined six strategic goals of national importance:

1. To bring the hostages home.

2. To dismantle the rule of Hamas, to demilitarize the Gaza Strip, and to ensure Israeli security control.

3. Alongside Israeli security control, to form a US-European-Arab-Palestinian administration that will run civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip and lay a foundation for a future alternative that Is not Hamas and not Abbas (Palestinian Authority chairperson Mahmoud Abbas).

4. To return the resident of the north to their homes by September 1 and rehabilitate the Western Negev.

5. To advance normalization with Saudi Arabia as part of a general move to create an alliance with the free world and with the Arab world against Iran.

6. To adopt a plan for service that will lead to all Israelis serving the country and contributing to the supreme national effort.

Gantz’s position, like Gallant’s, was more in line with the U.S. position and, as with Gallant, Netanyahu immediately rejected the outline. Netanyahu said Gantz’s conditions would amount to “defeat for Israel, abandoning most of the hostages, leaving Hamas intact and establishing a Palestinian state.”

In a subsequent interview, Netanyahu ruled out Israeli resettlement in Gaza. Netanyahu called for “sustained demilitarisation of Gaza,” “a civilian administration that is run by Gazans who are neither Hamas nor committed to our destruction,” and “a reconstruction of Gaza, if possible, done by the moderate Arab states and the international community.”

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