With the Israel-Hamas war now in its 61st day, with tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers and reservists in combat, and with a high-risk ground incursion in Khan Yunis now underway, it is difficult for Israeli decision-makers to think about Gaza’s “day after.”
To a certain degree, this is understandable. Let’s first get through this day, let’s first win the war, focus on bringing the hostages home and toppling Hamas, and then talk about what comes next. Understandable? Yes. Diplomatically wise? Less so.
In this fight against a terrorist organization that says clearly it wants to destroy Israel and murder all Jews and whose actions on October 7 demonstrated that it means what it says, Israel has enjoyed unprecedented support – diplomatically, militarily, and morally – from the United States.
What is the endgame?
However, the US increasingly wants to know what endgame in Gaza it is supporting. While it has clearly signed on to Israel’s aim of crushing Hamas militarily, it wants to know what Israel is planning once that is done.
And here, Israel and the US are at odds.
The US knows what it wants. Vice President Kamala Harris articulated that clearly on Saturday.
“We want to see a unified Gaza and West Bank under the Palestinian Authority,” she said at the COP 28 climate conference in Dubai. “The Palestinian Authority security forces must be strengthened to eventually assume security responsibilities in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority must be revitalized, driven by the will of the Palestinian people, which will allow them to benefit from the rule of law and a transparent responsible government. Eventually, this revitalized Palestinian Authority must have the capacity to govern Gaza as well as the West Bank.”
In other words, the American vision for the day after is a “revitalized” PA in control. However, the US is taking the easy way out with this policy.
Why does it want the Palestinian Authority inside Gaza? Because that is what it knows. The US continues to have a romanticized image of the PA as a body that wants to live in peace alongside Israel and whose security forces wish to fight terror fiercely.
Perhaps because of all the US has invested in the PA over the years, perhaps because it sees no viable alternative, Washington continues to look at this body and see what it wants to see, not what is actually there.
And what is actually there is a corrupt body that cannot control the West Bank, that has allowed Hamas to gain significant inroads there, that lost Gaza once before, that educates its children to hate Israel, and that pays terrorists a stipend for killing Jews.
This is not an entity to whom Israel will hand control of Gaza after the war, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made that clear. At a Saturday night press conference, he said that Israel is unwilling to overlook “all the bad things that come from the PA.”
“It doesn’t fight terrorism, it funds terror; it doesn’t educate toward peace, it educates toward Israel’s disappearance,” he said. “That is not the entity that needs to take control of Gaza.”
Netanyahu is correct. The problem, however, is that it is not enough for Netanyahu to say what cannot be in Gaza after the war – no Hamas, no Palestinian Authority – he must articulate a vision of what can be. What comes next?
This is crucial because articulating a vision will help sustain US support as American officials will then be able to say that Israel is not only trying to destroy Hamas but that it also has a plan for what is to emerge from the wreckage.
Netanyahu has said that after the war, Gaza will have to be demilitarized and that the IDF will retain overall security control in much the same manner as it enjoys overall security control in the West Bank. He has not provided any details, however, of who, exactly, will police Gaza, who will administer it, and who will rebuild it.
Israel should take the initiative and present a vision and a detailed plan. It is never enough to say what you are against; it is equally important to say what you are for. This is especially true if Israel wants to maintain strong US support going forward.