Netanyahu’s Gaza plan is a flawed blueprint, but at least it’s a start: Marc Champion

In this insightful piece, Marc Champion exposes the inadequacy of Benjamin Netanyahu’s post-war plan for Gaza. Described as a mere compilation of long-standing, often conflicting positions, Champion raises questions about its feasibility. While immediate focus should be on a ceasefire for humanitarian reasons, Netanyahu’s demands, including the elimination of Hamas and a prolonged Israeli military presence, clash with international and Palestinian perspectives. Moody’s recent downgrade of Israel’s rating underscores the economic repercussions and emphasises the need for a more comprehensive, workable postwar plan.

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By Marc Champion

Benjamin Netanyahu’s one-page plan for the day after the war in Gaza isn’t a plan at all. Rather, it’s a list of the Israeli prime minister’s long-held and often contradictory positions on the Gaza conflict — committed to writing to keep his government together, the Israeli population quiescent, and Washington at bay. The more interesting question is what to do with it.

For the moment, the answer is probably nothing. Securing even a temporary ceasefire that enables the release of more hostages and creates space to get food, water and medicine to non-combatants in Gaza is more important, and those talks now look to be back from the dead. The immediate diplomatic focus should be on making that happen.

Netanyahu’s memo, however, makes clear the limitations of what such a cessation of hostilities can likely achieve. The document appears to remain committed to, for example, continuing the war until Hamas has been eliminated, which would require restarting the fight sooner rather than later. It also calls for an indefinite Israeli security presence within Gaza and the West Bank; the establishment of a buffer zone within Gaza’s de facto borders; Israeli control of the border with Egypt; the dismantling of the United Nations’ aid infrastructure known as UNRWA; the territory’s administration by local civil servants untainted by links to the Hamas government; as well as Arab involvement in Gaza’s de-radicalization and reconstruction.

Some of these demands clash with others. Some preclude the formation of a Palestinian state. And some could leave Israel isolated internationally as it rarely has been before, with even the US refusing to support Israel’s actions.

Building a buffer zone, for example, implies the continued, systematic destruction of homes in those areas, the permanent displacement of former residents and the effective reduction of Gaza’s territory. The Biden administration has indicated these are lines it won’t cross.

Eliminating Hamas and controlling the border with Egypt would require moving Israeli tanks into the southern city of Rafah, the last refuge for Palestinians who have fled the devastations of war further north. Egypt and the US are against this, at least until civilians can be moved to safety. Meanwhile, dismantling both UNRWA and the Hamas-run administration would bring chaos because there is no one else to take over. Military occupation would also preclude movement toward the creation of a Palestinian state, when Saudi Arabia and others have made clear that their help is wholly contingent on Israel’s commitment to building one. 

For these reasons, Netanyahu’s one-pager could be seen as a landmine put in the way of US-led talks on a day-after plan, by undermining the key tradeoff it would make: the promise of a Palestinian state in exchange for Arab involvement, cash, and normalization with Israel. But better to treat it as the starting point of what will be a very difficult negotiation.

According to Avi Melamed, a former Israeli intelligence official, while not of much value as a plan, the document sets out guidelines that match what a majority of Israelis think. Looked at from that point of view, Netanyahu’s list is also interesting for the demands it didn’t make, such as the calls from ultra-right members of his government to settle Jews in Gaza. Nor did he explicitly rule out any role in Gaza for the Palestinian Authority, even if some clauses could be interpreted as doing so. It’s precisely this vagueness that makes the memo’s use possible. 

Take the commitment to a long-term Israeli military presence in Gaza. It would mean occupation, but it’s also an acknowledgement by Netanyahu that whenever the main operations against Hamas end, the organization won’t in fact disappear. If Israeli forces completely withdrew, Gaza would be left a security vacuum, as it was before Oct. 7, with Hamas free to regroup, rearm and regain control. If there is any area of consensus within Israel, it’s that this cannot be allowed to happen. Melamed thinks a second purpose for keeping a military presence in Gaza is precisely for the government to strengthen its hand for future negotiations. 

As they stand, Netanyahu’s guidelines remain too distant from the realities of Palestinian and Arab positions after the war or of the wider international community. Should he refuse to compromise, he may find Israeli opinion shift under his feet. The costs of this war will only accumulate. More sons and daughters of more Israelis will return home in body bags. More Palestinians will be radicalized as more of their friends and relatives are killed. There will be more damage to the Israeli economy, more investment foregone, and an ever-present risk that the conflict draws in other regional players.

Few people read ratings agency downgrades, but the reasoning Moody’s gave earlier this month for reducing Israel’s foreign and local currency rating, to A2 from A1, will be widely felt in the real economy. The main driver, according to Moody’s, was risks caused by the war, given there’s â€śno agreement on a longer-term plan that would fully restore and eventually strengthen security for Israel.” 

The document Netanyahu has at last put forward is not that plan, but it’s a start. And if this prime minister won’t engage in talks to develop a mechanism for postwar Gaza that can work, his successors will have to.

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