We are oceans away from thinking about the perfect solution. Let us start with a realistic, tolerable one
Prime Minister Netanyahu does not want Hamas to rule Gaza. The Israeli public supports his position, the Americans support it, as do the British, the Egyptians and his political rivals. The question of Hamas rule is not a question, except for one small matter: A way must be found to get Hamas out of Gaza.
Netanyahu says: “I will not let Israel repeat the Oslo mistake.” He also says: “I will not allow … [Gaza to be ruled by] those who support terrorism, finance terrorism. Gaza will be neither Hamastan nor Fatahstan.” As we have said, there is full agreement on “No Hamastan.” As for the other part of the statement, it consists of two parts that merit a separate discussion. 1. No to those who support and finance terrorism. 2. No to “Fatahstan”.
Let’s start with the second part: Netanyahu will refuse to hand Gaza over to Fatah. OK, but no one is proposing such a thing. There is a proposal – or an aspiration – to hand Gaza over to the Palestinian Authority. Not to Fatah. And if you think there is no difference, I’d be careful with such claim. Netanyahu chooses his words with care and knows that if he says certain words now it allows a certain degree of maneuvering later.
Now let’s turn to the first part of Netanyahu’s statement: No to those who support and finance terrorism. Now we can ask: What about the Palestinian Authority? This is an important question because President Joe Biden wants the Palestinian Authority to rule Gaza. But pay attention to what Biden wrote in the Washington Post: “Gaza … [should be governed by] a revitalized Palestinian Authority.” Note an important word: “revitalized.” What does “revitalized” mean? Here is one option: It means a Palestinian Authority that does not support nor finance terrorism.
In other words: If you’re under the impression that the U.S. and Israel disagree on the future of Gaza, there is certainly a compromise at hand. Does this mean that it will be easy for Netanyahu and Biden to agree on the necessary reform of the Palestinian Authority? No. On the other hand, it might not be impossible to find a middle ground.
A compromise is necessary for two reasons.
First, because the inflated talk about Netanyahu’s unique ability to resist American demands is improper. The Americans are not Israel’s enemies, and although there have been cases in the past where idiotic or irresponsible measures were imposed on Israel by the U.S., this doesn’t mean that all American ideas ought to be rejected out of hand. Sometimes Israel must stand firm and oppose faulty suggestions, sometimes it had better listen and cooperate. Netanyahu himself did this several times. He signed the Hebron agreement, he froze settlements. Netanyahu maneuvered as the landscape of proposals, demands and circumstances changed. Keeping strong ties with the Biden administration is an important objective, and under certain terms it could be more important than the exact title of the new ruler of Gaza.
A second thing that must be considered is that Israel must say yes to something. Netanyahu keeps saying what he doesn’t want. No to Hamastan, no to Fatahstan, no to supporters of terrorism. But what does he want? Many players, Israeli and international, have weighed in on the issue of “the day after” in recent days. One example: MK Danny Danon of Likud. His vision is to initiate in Gaza a process somewhat similar to “the denazification of Germany and the deradicalization of Japan” after World War II. But his proposal remains somewhat vague on who is going to implement such a plan.
Last week, a collection of articles was published in The New York Times, including various proposals for the day after in Gaza. Ten proposals, some fantastic, some merely unrealistic. Former PM Ehud Olmert proposed a NATO force. Good luck with that. Jerome Segal proposed to rapidly establish a state in Gaza, for a three-year trial. I wondered if that was a joke, but apparently it wasn’t. May Pundak and Dahlia Scheindlin proposed a Jewish-Palestinian confederation. Maybe the news about the events of Oct. 7th haven’t yet reached them. Diana Buttu proposed the establishment of a Palestinian port and airport. Because now it is finally clear that no Palestinian would use such infrastructure to smuggle explosives and rockets.
So, all these proposals are nonstarters. But Netanyahu is the PM of Israel, not an occasional columnist in a newspaper that seems to lack editors with common sense. Netanyahu should answer the question of what yes means, if not publicly, at least behind closed doors. He has to tell the IDF what to do, he has to show the allies a plan. Is Netanyahu’s plan is for Israel to take care of garbage removal in Gaza, provide clean water and electricity, pave roads, build houses? Does he intend to do all this at the expense of Israeli taxpayers? Clearly, no Arab country is going to bear the cost of reconstruction if Israel refuses to let anyone rule Gaza other than the IDF.
Here is something that Netanyahu is not ready to say, and most other Israeli leaders will also have difficulty saying, for fear of the voters’ ire: Israel has no convincing alternative to the Palestinian Authority. Israel does not have a plan that is much different than what has been going on for many years, with varying degrees of success, in Judea and Samaria. In other words: control by the PA, and freedom of action for the IDF. Is this a perfect solution? Far from it. But we are oceans away from thinking about the perfect solution. Let us start with a realistic, tolerable one.
Something I wrote in Hebrew
In quiet Ramallah the PA has control and the IDF rarely visits. In restless Nablus, the PA barely has control, and the IDF is a frequent, if unwelcome, visitor. This is an arrangement born of necessity. The circumstances that brought about the idea of “managing the conflict.”
You might say: But post Oct. 7th we can no longer stick to this old idea.
And I’ll ask: What’s the alternative?
You might say: Wasn’t this the lesson of Oct. 7?
And I’ll say: Maybe. Or maybe that wasn’t the lesson. Maybe it was that the conflict still must be managed – just better.
A week’s numbers
What comes after Israel’s next election? Supporters of most parties prefer a national unity government.
A reader’s response:
Rivka Levy asks: “Do Israelis care about growing antisemitism in America?”
My response: They do now more than in the past, as it adds to their own sense of isolation and fight for survival.
Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli an international politics