Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that his country does not seek to occupy the Gaza Strip after its war with Hamas, following a comment earlier this week in which he suggested Israel’s military may control the Palestinian enclave for an “indefinite” period.
In an interview with Fox News, Netanyahu said Israel doesn’t seek to govern or occupy Gaza but rather “give it and us a better future… and that requires defeating Hamas.”
Netanyahu said he has no timetable in place for removing Hamas from the enclave but Israel’s goal is a Gaza Strip “demilitarized, deradicalized and rebuilt,” and it would need to find a “civilian government” to administer the territory.
While still thin on details, Netanyahu’s latest comments on the plan for a post-war Gaza come after remarks he made earlier this week raised concerns that Israel was planning to militarily occupy the enclave after the war.
Speaking to ABC News on Monday, Netanyahu said his country would “for an indefinite period have the overall security responsibility” of Gaza.
While Netanyahu did not explicitly say his forces would occupy the strip, his comments were widely perceived as such and drew warnings from Biden administration officials against such a move.
After Netanyahu’s interview, an unnamed Israeli military official told Reuters that the presence of Israeli forces in Gaza was “not unlimited or forever” but there is no plan to reoccupy Gaza or “control it for a long time.”
Netanyahu’s initial remarks faced some pushback from the White House, with National Security Council spokesman John Kirby telling CNN that President Joe Biden “still believes reoccupation of Gaza by Israeli forces is not good.” Kirby was referring to an earlier 60 Minutes interview where Biden said Israel occupying Gaza would be a “big mistake.” Speaking from Tokyo on Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was more assertive, saying “Israel cannot occupy Gaza” and the governance of the territory should be “unified with the West Bank” under the Palestinian Authority.
Blinken added: “We’re very clear on no reoccupation, just as we’re very clear on no displacement of the Palestinian population. And, as we’ve said before, we need to see and get to, in effect, unity of governance when it comes to Gaza and the West Bank, and ultimately to a Palestinian state.”
The idea of the Palestinian Authority being in charge of Gaza isn’t new. Following the 1993 Oslo Accords, the enclave was administered by the entity while Israel maintained a military presence there. In 2005, faced with a series of uprisings, the Israeli military decided to withdraw its forces from the enclave. The Palestinian Authority’s ruling party Fatah was then ousted from Gaza in 2007 by Hamas which then assumed full control of the territory. Since Hamas’ takeover, Israel has placed Gaza under a complete blockade.
What We Don’t Know
It is still unclear if Netanyahu’s government has a firm plan in place on how post-war Gaza will be governed and when its forces will leave the enclave. Former Israeli defense minister and key member of Netanyahu’s war cabinet Benny Gantz told the press earlier this week: “I do not know what it will be. But I do know what cannot be there – an active presence of Hamas with governance and military capabilities. They cannot be here.” It is also unclear if the Palestinian Authority would be on board with Blinken’s proposal as its leader. President Mahmoud Abbas remains deeply unpopular among Palestinian civilians and taking over governance of Gaza on the back of Israeli military action is unlikely to help his approval.
Israel continued to strike Gaza City while its ground troops engaged Hamas fighters inside its dense neighborhoods on Thursday. The fierce fighting has forced thousands of the city’s residents to move toward the southern half of the Gaza Strip. More than 10,500 Palestinians, including more than 4,300 children, have been killed in Gaza since the start of Israel’s bombing campaign on the territory last month, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry. Israel’s strikes follow a terror attack on Israel by Hamas that killed around 1,400 people, while more than 250 were taken hostage.
Netanyahu Open To ‘Tactical Little Pauses’ To Allow Aid And Release Of Hostages But Dismisses Talk Of Ceasefire (Forbes)