Thursday, February 22, 2024
Messaging from Israel’s leadership is worrying
Earlier this week, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that his country would maintain overall security responsibility for the Gaza Strip even after the end of the current war. Several experts and commentators have pointed out that Mr Netanyahu’s plans for a post-Hamas future would effectively represent an occupation of Gaza, although he has since said that is not Israel’s intention. Amid the devastating bombing of the besieged coastal enclave, this messaging from Israel’s leadership is worrying. For Israel to give itself security control over Gaza would be wrong, illegal, devastating for Israelis and Palestinians, and dangerous for the entire region. The occupied West Bank, which is notionally governed by the Palestinian Authority but where Israel maintains security, serves as a precedent in this context. A similar approach in Gaza would bring the apartheid-like policies of the West Bank — where Israelis and Palestinians live under different sets of laws — to the Strip. That morally unacceptable occupation would also violate international law, as is the case with the West Bank.
Yet, even if Israel chooses to ignore advocates of peace and international law experts, it must consider its own long-term national security interests. It would do well to listen to its closest allies, the United States of America and European nations, that are trying to steer it away from any dreams of occupying Gaza. The experience of the West Bank has convinced Palestinians that such a mechanism only entrenches discrimination. That has given rise to a new generation of armed resistance groups in the West Bank that have battled Israeli soldiers repeatedly in recent months. Even if Israel defeats Hamas in Gaza after a long, bloody war, new armed groups will come up, under Israeli jackboots, as they have in the West Bank. Unlike the Palestinian Authority, which Israel has consistently worked to undermine, these new groups will be more radicalized and harder to negotiate with. An effective occupation of Gaza would not only derail prospective or recent normalization efforts between Israel and Arab nations; it would also make even Egypt and Jordan rethinks their peace treaties with Israel. Moreover, it would make it difficult for groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon to stay out of the war.
The way forward is difficult. An immediate ceasefire, not just pauses in war, is necessary to halt the immense humanitarian suffering of the people of Gaza. Hamas must release Israeli hostages in return and commit to recognizing Israel’s right to exist and its security as part of an internationally-mediated agreement. As a part of that deal, Israel must not just withdraw from Gaza but dismantle West Bank settlements. The United Nations must explore the possibility of an international force to manage the security of Gaza temporarily. Eventually, both Israel and Palestine need leaderships truly committed to the two-state solution where Palestinians have security control over their nation. That remains the best guarantee of peace for both Israel and Palestine.
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