Pressure grows for Netanyahu to make postwar plans for Gaza


WHITE HOUSE: International and domestic pressure is mounting on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to establish a strategic endgame for the Israel-Hamas war that would tie Israeli military gains to a political solution for the Palestinian enclave.

In his harshest public rebuke yet to Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant gave televised remarks Wednesday, urging the prime minister to make “tough decisions” on postwar Gaza at whatever political cost. Gallant warned Israelis that inaction will erode war gains and put the nation’s long-term security at stake.

Gallant criticized Netanyahu for his lack of postwar plans to replace Hamas rule.

“Since October, I have been raising this issue consistently in the Cabinet and have received no response,” he said.

Gallant’s comments echoed earlier remarks by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who told reporters Monday that Israel had yet to “connect their military operations” to a political plan on who will govern the Palestinian territory once fighting ends.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated the message Wednesday, saying Israel needs a “clear and concrete plan” for the future of Gaza to avoid a power vacuum that could become filled by chaos.

Gallant ruled out any form of Israeli governance of postwar Gaza, saying that the territory should be led by “Palestinian entities” with international support, a position that has been long supported by the Biden administration.

The administration would not confirm it coordinated Gallant’s statements with those of its top officials.

“I’m not going to speak to timing. I’m not going to give an analysis on it,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in response to VOA’s question during her briefing on Thursday.

“We’ve made our point,” she added, underscoring ongoing conversations with the Israeli government.

A senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters said the administration shares Gallant’s concern that Israel has not developed any plans for holding and governing territory that the Israel Defense Forces have cleared, thereby allowing Hamas to regenerate in those areas.

“Our objective is to see Hamas defeated,” the official said in a statement sent to VOA.

Netanyahu focuses on destroying Hamas

Netanyahu maintains that postwar planning is impossible without first destroying Hamas.

While his government and Washington agree that Hamas cannot continue to run Gaza, they differ on who should be in charge after the war that began with the militant group’s October 7 cross-border attack on Israel.

“We do not support and will not support an Israeli occupation,” Blinken reiterated Wednesday.

Gallant’s statement reflects comments by other current and former Israeli officials and frustration of a war-weary Israeli public, said Mairav Zonszein, a senior analyst on Israel-Palestine at the International Crisis Group.

“It’s not surprising. It’s not new,” she told VOA. “But I think it’s reaching an inflection point for certain people in the government, because the hostage deal and cease-fire is at an impasse because decisions are not being made about how much longer this war is going to go.”

Netanyahu told reporters Thursday he is planning to summon his defense minister for “a conversation” following Gallant’s public criticism.

Chances of cease-fire faint

Meanwhile, prospects for a cease-fire deal appear dim since talks in Cairo broke down earlier this month.

“Any efforts or agreement must secure a permanent cease-fire, a comprehensive pullout from all of the Gaza Strip, a real prisoner swap deal, the return of the displaced, reconstruction and lifting the blockade,” Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said Wednesday.

Israel has so far refused to provide any commitment to end its military campaign in Gaza. So fundamentally, the strategic endgames of the warring parties are “almost as far as possible from each other,” said Nimrod Goren, senior fellow for Israeli affairs at the Middle East Institute.

The mediators — the United States, Egypt and Qatar — don’t see any way forward at the moment, Goren told VOA, even as reaching a cease-fire deal “becomes more urgent, not only because of Gaza, but because of Lebanon.”

Cross-border bombardments between Israel and Hezbollah, another Iran-backed group, have escalated since Israel’s campaign in Gaza, displacing tens of thousands of people along Israel’s border with Lebanon.

While a comprehensive and permanent truce may be out of reach at this point, there is yet hope to accomplish the first phase of the cease-fire deal that is currently structured under three phases, Goren said.

Put simply, that means a six-week pause in fighting, a swap of hostages held by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners detained in Israeli jails, and an increase in humanitarian aid flowing into Gaza.

However, a longer-term cease-fire has not appeared viable since negotiations began.

“There’s just been mutually exclusive demands,” Zonszein said. “Hamas wants an end to the war and full withdrawal of [Israeli] troops, and Israel’s not willing to do that.”

Israel also wants Hamas completely dismantled and its leaders killed, while Haniyeh declared Wednesday that he would reject any proposal that excludes the group’s role in postwar Gaza.

US still seeks 2-state solution

As bleak as immediate prospects may appear, the Biden administration is keeping its eye on the long-term political horizon: the two-state solution — the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Sullivan is traveling to Saudi Arabia this weekend to further talks on securing a major agreement that would see Riyadh establishing diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv, a key element to achieving the two-state solution.

Normalization with the leading Sunni kingdom would likely lead to diplomatic recognition of Israel from other Arab countries and Muslim-majority countries in other parts of the world.

At the same time, Sullivan is set to urge Israel to refrain from an all-out ground invasion of Rafah, where more than a million displaced Palestinians are sheltering. Washington believes a wider operation in Rafah would threaten a normalization deal with the Saudis.

“Israel’s long-term security depends on being integrated into the region and enjoying normal relations with the Arab states, including Saudi Arabia,” Sullivan said Monday.

He said he will be meeting with Israeli officials “in a matter of days” and signaled that the U.S. expects Israel will not move into Rafah until then.

Last week, the IDF launched what it calls a “targeted operation” in eastern Rafah, even as the Biden administration announced it is pausing the shipment of 3,500 massive-sized bombs for fear that Israel might use it in the densely populated city.__VOA News