American pressure on Israel is mounting to reduce the intensity of Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Over the last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Vice President Kamala Harris have urged Israel to take greater measures to minimize civilian casualties. This call comes at a critical juncture as the IDF intensifies its push into the southern part of the Gaza Strip, eyeing the toppling of Hamas and its leadership.
In the face of mounting pressure, Israel’s war cabinet and military commanders are acutely aware of the inevitable—an American call for an end to the conflict and the establishment of a mechanism for the day after the war. The challenge is that in Israel there is still a lack of clarity on what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government wants for Gaza. It has only been articulating what it does not want.
Netanyahu has outlined two key conditions for concluding the war: first, Israel must retain security control over Gaza, and second, the Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, must not replace Hamas as the ruling entity in Gaza.
On the surface, Netanyahu’s arguments hold merit. The barbaric attacks by Hamas on Oct. 7 underscore the lesson that Israel cannot outsource its security. Withdrawal from territory without a reliable entity to ensure security is too risky a gamble. Instead, for the foreseeable future, Israel will need to continue to operate in the Gaza Strip against Hamas attempts to rebuild its terrorist infrastructure with the same freedom with which it operates in the West Bank.
In addition, the PA still has laws on its books that pay salaries to Palestinians who kill Jews, and its education system continues to incite violence. All of this would need to change before anyone can seriously assume that the PA is the solution.
Israel faces three imperfect options.
The first would be for Israel to control the Gaza Strip, not just for security but also civilian life. The Americans have made the Israeli occupation of Gaza a red line in their support and, anyhow, in Israel there is little appetite for a renewed permanent presence there except in some of the more radical right-wing religious circles.
The second option is for Israel to maintain control of the Gaza Strip and wait for the establishment of a multinational force that will fill the vacuum once it leaves. This would be something along the lines of the United Nations peacekeeping force that operates in southern Lebanon and was supposed to have prevented Hezbollah from deploying its forces in the area near the Israeli border but failed.
This time, Israel is hoping to see an Emirati-Saudi initiative led by the Americans that moves into Gaza, establishes some sort of civilian leadership to oversee the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip while working with Israel to prevent the rearmament and rehabilitation of Hamas.
The problem with this option is that it doesn’t match up with reality. While the Emiratis and Saudis will likely be willing to contribute significant funds toward the reconstruction of Gaza, they will not want to be responsible for the more than 2 million Palestinians who live there.
The fact is that not a single Arab government has offered Gazans to relocate to their countries temporarily until the war is over. That being the case, why would they be willing to take the reins over the entire enclave?
The third option, advocated by the U.S., involves the redeployment of the PA in Gaza post-conflict. This aligns with the Biden administration’s commitment to a two-state solution, despite Israel’s skepticism regarding an immediate resolution to the longstanding conflict with the Palestinians.
While this option relieves Israel of direct civilian responsibilities, it risks bolstering Abbas’s global standing as the leader of both territories claimed by the Palestinians—the West Bank and Gaza. Netanyahu, a vocal opponent of a Palestinian state, is unlikely to endorse this scenario.
Putting aside the political component, for Israel this option has some appeal. The advantage is that Israel does not need to oversee civilian life—managing sewage, garbage collection, the education system and tax collection. All of that can be done by the civilian PA.
It could also be something like the situation in the West Bank where the PA controls Palestinian civilian life but Israel goes into Palestinian areas as needed—mostly based on precise intelligence—to apprehend terrorist suspects and stop attacks when they are still in their initial stages. This could be a model for the Gaza Strip in the future.
For this option to materialize though, Abbas must commit to substantial reforms—revoking laws that reward terrorists and ceasing incitement in the education system. Corruption and ineffective leadership within PA institutions must also be addressed.
Israel faces challenging options. While retaining security control is a clear Israeli imperative, the question of civilian governance remains an unanswered concern as this war rages on.