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Will handle Gaza for 'indefinite period', says Netanyahu. Will it go West Bank way?

7 months ago 111

Is Israel planning to occupy Gaza?

That is what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly hinted at in an interview with ABC News – his first interview with US media since the outbreak of the war – on Tuesday.

Netanyahu told the outlet Israel would have to play a role in Gaza for an “indefinite period.”

Netanyahu made his comments in the backdrop of the Israeli military saying it has surrounded Gaza City and is preparing for ground battles.

But what did Netanyahu say? What has happened in the West Bank? And how have experts reacted to it?

Let’s take a closer look:

What did Netanyahu say?

Asked about whom should administer Gaza once the fighting ends, Netanyahu told ABC News,

“Those who don’t want to continue the way of Hamas. It certainly is not – I think Israel will, for an indefinite period will have the overall security responsibility because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t have it. When we don’t have that security responsibility, what we have is the eruption of Hamas terror on a scale that we couldn’t imagine.”

Netanyahu also rejected any calls for cease-fire without the release of the over 200 hostages taken by Hamas.

“Well, there’ll be no cease-fire, general cease-fire, in Gaza without the release of our hostages,” Netanyahu said. “As far as tactical little pauses, an hour here, an hour there. We’ve had them before, I suppose, will check the circumstances in order to enable goods, humanitarian goods to come in, or our hostages, individual hostages to leave. But I don’t think there’s going to be a general cease-fire.”

US president Joe Biden had raised the need for humanitarian pauses directly with Netanyahu on a call earlier Monday, but no agreement was reached, the White House said.

Asked about whether the operation endangers the lives of hostages, Netanyahu was quoted as saying by Times of Israel, “We’re taking that into consideration.”

“Until we started the ground action, there was no pressure on them to release hostages. What we saw was the minute we started the ground action, there is pressure,” Netanyahu claimed.

Asked about taking responsibility for failing to prevent the 7 October attack, Netanyahu replied “of course” but added that that is “going to be resolved after the war.”

“I’ve said that they’re going to be very tough questions that are going to be asked, and I’m going to be among the first to answer them. We’re not going to evade that. The responsibility of government is to protect people, and clearly that responsibility wasn’t met,” Netanyahu said.

What about the West Bank?

First, let’s take a brief look at the West Bank itself.

The West Bank is a parcel of land east of Israel that borders Jerusalem.

Lying on the West Bank of the River Jordan – thus the name – it is around 93 kilometres from the Gaza Strip.

Mourners carry the body of Naem Farran, one of three Palestinians killed in an Israeli raid, during his funeral in the Askar refugee camp near the occupied West Bank city of Nablus, on 29 October, 2023. AFP

Israel captured the West Bank during the 1967 war when it fought and fended off Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

Israel during the Six-Day war also took control of the as well as the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and Golan heights.

Since the 1970s, Israel has continued to build settlements – considered illegal by the United Nations and much of the international community – across the West Bank particularly in strategically-vital areas.

The West Bank is currently home to millions of Palestinians – who view it as their spiritual home and as the natural capital of a Palestinian state.

The Palestinian Authority administers semiautonomous areas of the West Bank.

It is also where 500,000 Israelis who hold the West Bank in reverence as the location of ancient Jewish state and which has several sites holy to the Jews – to which they were previously denied access – like the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron have settled.

As per Al Jazeera, Israelis relocate to settlements on the West Bank for a variety of reasons.

These can vary from the spiritual to the mundane like a cheaper lifestyle and government subsidies.

Ultraorthodox Jews comprise a third of all settlers.

The outlet quoted a majority of Israeli Jews in the West Bank as saying that the settlements make the country more secure.

“The argument is that settlements act as a buffer for Israel’s national security as they restrict the movement of Palestinians and undermine the viability of a Palestinian state,” the piece stated.

While the settlements have continued to come up over successive governments over the years, the policy has gotten a boost under the Netanyahu regime – the most right-wing in Israeli history – which has made it a top priority.

The Palestinians naturally oppose the practice of moving settlers onto what is widely considered their land and see it as the Israeli state being unwilling to make peace.

The left-wing in Israel also says that these settlements undermine the two-state solution and the chances of peace, as per Al Jazeera.

Meanwhile, the West Bank is rife with violence.

As per The New York Times, violence against Palestinians on the West Bank by Israeli settlers had already been escalating above average levels in recent years.

Since the 7 October attacks by Hamas, at least 140 Palestinians in the West Bank have been killed – many of them by the Israeli forces or in attacks by settlers who are backed by local authorities.

What happens to Gaza?

While Netanyahu has vowed to ‘destroy Hamas’ in the Gaza Strip, the question remains – what after Israel has gained complete control of the strip?

Experts say this remains an open question.

Former Israeli NSA Orna Mizrahi told NPR, “If you want to replace Hamas, who is going to come afterwards? What is going to be ‘the day after?’ This is the big question.”

“I’m not sure that the Palestinian Authority will want to come after Israel,” Mizrahi, from Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, added.

The Palestinian authority has not been a factor in the Gaza Strip since 2007, when Hamas seized control after winning in elections there a year earlier.

“We learned the hard way in Lebanon,” Yaakov Amidror, a former general and Israel NSA, told NPR. “We cannot be the kingmakers. You cannot come from outside and determine who will be the Palestinian government. They have to make decisions. They have to make the choice.”

The Israeli government’s leaked plan for Gaza has offered some hints into its thinking.

The plan, which called for initially expelling Palestinians to Egypt’s northern Sinai, listed two options after the fighting ends – handing over control to the Palestinian Authority, which previously ran Gaza, or propping up a local regime.

However, the two options were discarded mainly due to them not deterring further attacks.

The document also called the reinstatement of the Palestinian Authority, which was ejected from Gaza after a weeklong 2007 war that put Hamas in power, “an unprecedented victory of the Palestinian national movement, a victory that will claim the lives of thousands of Israeli civilians and soldiers, and does not safeguard Israel’s security.”

The document made no mention of what would happen to Gaza once its population is cleared out.

Abbas has said that the Palestinian Authority would only assume power in Gaza as part of a “comprehensive political solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to the Palestinians’ official WAFA news agency.

Abbas himself is unpopular among Palestinians.

He also condemned Israel’s bombardment of Gaza as a “genocidal war.”

“I will not return (to Gaza) on top of an Israeli tank,” Abbas was quoted as saying by NPR.

Will Netanyahu pursue the same policy of settlers in Gaza as he has with the West Bank?

Only time will tell.

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