Israeli officials consider sharing power with Arab states in post-war Gaza

For months, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has avoided detailed public discussion of Gaza’s post-war future. Netanyahu stopped short of making a concrete declaration as he sought to appease both far-right allies who want the restoration of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and Israel’s foreign partners who want Gaza’s return to Palestinian rule.

But behind the scenes, senior officials in the prime minister’s office are considering plans to expand the post-war Gaza Strip, which would see Israel share oversight of the area with an alliance of Arab states including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It means offering something. So is the United States, according to three Israeli officials and five people who have discussed the plan with Israeli officials.

Under the proposal, Israel would do so in exchange for normalizing its relations with Saudi Arabia, according to the people, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

The far-right members of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition are almost certain to reject such an idea, as will the Arab countries that have been named as potential participants. But this is the clearest sign yet that Israeli officials at the highest levels of the government are thinking about Gaza’s post-war future, even though they have said little in public, and are considering future negotiations. could be a starting point.

The disclosure comes against the backdrop of intense international efforts to get Israel and Hamas to agree to a cease-fire that could eventually become a permanent truce, and to plan what happens next. The move comes as pressure on Israel increases. Israel’s reluctance to decide how to govern the Gaza Strip has created a power vacuum in many parts of the Strip, giving rise to irregularities and exacerbating the dire humanitarian situation.

Arab officials and analysts argue that the plan is unworkable because it does not create a clear path to a Palestinian state, but the Emirati and Saudi governments insist that it is a post-war It states that this is a prerequisite for involvement in planning. But some have cautiously welcomed the proposal, at least because it suggests greater flexibility than public statements from Israeli leaders.

Under the proposal, the Arab-Israeli alliance would work with the United States to redevelop the devastated territory, overhaul the education system, and appoint a Gaza leader to maintain order. According to the proposal, after seven to 10 years, the alliance would allow Gazans to vote on whether to be absorbed into a unified Palestinian administration that would rule both Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank. According to the plan, Israeli forces may continue operations within the Gaza Strip in the meantime.

The proposal does not specify whether the unity government would constitute a sovereign Palestinian state or include the Palestinian Authority, which controls parts of the West Bank. In public, Prime Minister Netanyahu rejects the idea of ​​full Palestinian sovereignty and has largely ruled out involvement by the Palestinian Authority.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment.

The proposal lacks details and has not been formally adopted by the Israeli government. The government has publicly offered only a vaguer vision of Israel retaining greater control over post-war Gaza.

Emirati and Saudi officials and analysts say the new proposal specifically falls short of guaranteeing Palestinian sovereignty and allows Israeli military operations to continue in the Gaza Strip. He said that it does not ensure the involvement of Arab countries such as the United Arab Emirates and the United Arab Emirates. The Saudi government has said it will not normalize relations with Israel unless Israeli leaders take irreversible steps toward establishing a Palestinian state.

“Details need to be made clearer in an ‘irreversible’ way,” said Ali Shihabi, a Saudi commentator considered close to the Saudi royal family. “The problem is that Israelis have a habit of hiding behind vague terminology, so I think the Saudi government is looking for that kind of clarity.”

Still, the proposal is the most detailed plan for postwar Gaza that Israeli officials are known to have discussed, and some of its proposals are consistent with ideas expressed publicly and privately by Arab leaders.

Thomas R. Neides, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel who was consulted on the plan, said the proposal was important because it revealed internal Israeli thinking.

“This shows that despite the Israeli government’s public stance, behind the scenes Israeli authorities are seriously thinking about what Gaza will look like after the war,” Nides said. “The devil is clearly in the details, but that may not be enough to persuade Arab countries like the UAE to join the plan. And nothing will happen until the hostages are released and a ceasefire begins.” It won’t happen.”

The announcement of the plan comes amid renewed efforts to reach a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.

A group of businessmen, most of them Israeli, some close to Mr. Netanyahu, developed the plan in November. The plan was first formally proposed to Israeli officials in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office in December, one of the officials said.

Two of the officials said the plan was still under consideration at the highest levels of the Israeli government but could not be implemented until Hamas was defeated and the remaining hostages in Gaza were freed.

Hamas remains in full control of parts of southern Gaza despite a devastating Israeli military operation that has killed more than 34,000 people, local officials say. brought parts of his territory to the brink of starvation. And much of Gaza was left in ruins.

The businessmen, who requested anonymity to avoid jeopardizing their ability to promote the idea, said they had briefed officials in multiple Arab and Western governments about the plan, including the United States, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. .

The photo was also shown to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who runs an institute that advises the Saudi government on modernization projects. A Palestinian businessman who requested anonymity to protect his relatives from retaliation in Gaza has also been involved in promoting the idea to U.S. officials.

Asked about the plan, the UAE Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the Emirati government “will not participate in any reconstruction efforts in the Gaza Strip until an agreement on a roadmap towards a political solution to the conflict is reached.” This is a binding path for all parties, leading to the establishment of a two-state solution with an independent Palestinian state. ”

A Saudi official, speaking on condition of anonymity to comply with government protocol, said the proposal would not create a “credible and irreversible path” to a Palestinian state, nor would it ensure the involvement of the Palestinian Authority. , rejected this proposal. The official also denied that Saudi authorities were informed of the plan in advance.

An Egyptian government spokesperson declined to comment.

The businessmen’s aim is to win international support for the idea in order to convince Prime Minister Netanyahu that it is worth tackling the difficult task of gaining domestic support.

The coalition could collapse if Mr. Netanyahu formally supports a plan that does not definitively rule out the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state. Far-right members of his coalition strongly oppose Palestinian sovereignty and want to re-establish Israeli settlements in Gaza. They threatened to collapse the government if Prime Minister Netanyahu ended the war in Gaza without expelling Hamas.

Opinion polls show a majority of Israelis also oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state, following the October 7 cross-border raid into Israel that killed around 1,200 people and sparked the outbreak of war. Many argue that it would reward Hamas for leading the terrorist attack.

Alarmed by both the collapse of his government and subsequent loss of support in the election campaign, Netanyahu has repeatedly voiced opposition to a Palestinian state in recent months and pledged to maintain Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza.

But analysts and some believe he is prepared to leave open the conceptual possibility of Palestinian sovereignty if he can strike a landmark normalization deal with Saudi Arabia.

Establishing diplomatic relations with the most influential Arab state could help Prime Minister Netanyahu recover some of his political legacy, but the Hamas-led raid on Israel, the worst single attack in Israeli history, This was damaged because it was carried out under the Prime Minister’s supervision.

“He wants this legacy,” said Nadav Strauchler, an Israeli political analyst and former strategist to the prime minister.

“On the other hand, one, he doesn’t believe in a two-state solution. Second, he can’t sell it to the audience,” Strauchler added.

Adam Rathgon Contributing to reports from Jerusalem, Julian E. Burns From Washington.

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