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Israel’s four options for ending the war

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An Israeli policeman removes an activist from the entrance to the US consulate in Jerusalem. The activists demand that the US stop giving weapons to Israel that are used in Gaza. Photo: Maya Alleruzzo / AP / NTB

Of NTB | 28.05.2024 05:33:06

War and conflicts: Nearly eight months after the brutal war began, Hamas has yet to stop fighting the Israeli soldiers who have invaded the Palestinian territory.

Nor have they stopped firing rockets at Israel – most recently at the weekend from Rafah towards Tel Aviv.

In some of the hardest-hit areas in the north of Gaza, Hamas has gradually regrouped and re-established itself, so that they can also continue to fire rockets at Israel from there – rockets that are mostly shot down by Israel’s missile defense.

Initially – after ground forces moved into the north of the Gaza Strip – Israel won some tactical victories against Hamas. But the progress early in the war has now been replaced by a protracted battle against Palestinian fighters who are constantly adapting, writes the AP news agency.

Among the Israelis, there is a feeling that the military is left with only poor options, as was the case for the United States after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Recently, two of the members of the Israeli war cabinet – Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political rival Benny Gantz – demanded that Netanyahu put in place a post-war plan for Gaza.

Both have fully supported Israel’s warfare in the Gaza Strip following the Hamas-led attack on October 7, both in terms of the massive aerial bombardment, ground offensive and border blockade, which has led to widespread food shortages and starvation.

But now the two retired generals fear a prolonged and costly re-occupation of Gaza – almost 20 years after Israeli soldiers and settlers left the Palestinian territory. At the same time, they are also against a withdrawal that would leave Hamas in control, and which could lead to a Palestinian state. They have put forward alternatives that many Israelis believe appear to be highly unrealistic. At the same time, Hamas has presented its own alternative for how the war can end – a plan that also has some support in Israel.

These are four ways that the war can end:

He has also promised that victory will be sealed in a few weeks if Israel carries out a full-scale invasion of Gaza, which they are well on their way to doing.

Amir Avivi, a retired Israeli general and former deputy head of the military’s Gaza division, says this is only the beginning. According to him, Israel must maintain control over the Gaza Strip to prevent Hamas from regrouping.

– If you don’t drain the swamp, you can’t take care of the mosquitoes, and draining the swamp means a total restructuring of the education system and having a local leadership to deal with, not a terrorist organisation. This is a generational process. It won’t happen overnight, says Avivi to the AP news agency.

The government’s far right wing, which determines whether Netanyahu retains power, supports a new and permanent occupation of Gaza, as well as the return of the settlers. They are also in favor of what they call “voluntary emigration” of a large number of Palestinians to countries that will eventually accept them.

But this is what the majority of Israelis are against. They point to the enormous costs of having thousands of soldiers stationed in an area where 2 million Palestinians now live. As the occupying power, Israel will have responsibility for both the healthcare system, the school system and other public services.

It is also unclear whether foreign donors will be willing to finance the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip while the conflict continues.

There is also no guarantee that an occupation will lead to the disappearance of Hamas. On the contrary. Experiences from both Lebanon and the West Bank also show that occupation is not the answer to making militias hostile to Israel disappear.

So far, no one has shown any interest in taking on such responsibility.

No Palestinians have openly offered to cooperate with the Israeli military. One explanation could be that Hamas has said that they want to be treated as collaborators, but it is also completely unclear who could take such a leadership role and at the same time win the Palestinians’ respect.

Attempts to reach out to Palestinian businessmen and powerful families “have ended in disaster,” according to Israeli analyst and former intelligence officer Michael Milshtein.

– Israelis who hunt for such alliances are looking for unicorns – something that does not exist, he says.

Unicorns are often used as a symbol of something pure, innocent and powerful.

Arab states have also largely rejected this option. This applies, among other things, to the United Arab Emirates, one of the few Arab countries that has formally recognized Israel and has close ties with the Jewish state.

– The Emirates refuses to be involved in any plan to cover an Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip, said Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan earlier in May.

They envision a Palestinian government to rule the Gaza Strip with help from Arab and Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia.

If Israel agrees to this plan, Saudi Arabia will normalize relations with Israel. In addition, the Americans have promised to enter into a defense pact with Saudi Arabia, as well as to help the country build a civilian nuclear program.

But both in the US and Saudi Arabia, diplomats have stressed that Israel must first present a credible plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state – something that both Netanyahu, Gallant and Gantz have distanced themselves from.

They believe this will appear as a reward to Hamas and that Israel will have to deal with a neighboring country ruled by militant groups.

On the Palestinian side, there is a clear perception that the conflict cannot end until Israel ends the occupation and an independent Palestinian state consisting of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem is established.

Hamas, which has never recognized the state of Israel, has said it would accept a two-state solution on a temporary basis. But in Hamas’ program statement it still states that the group seeks the full liberation of Palestine, i.e. also the areas that today make up Israel.

The group advocates a multi-phase peace plan, in which all hostages will eventually be released in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. The plan also involves full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, a permanent ceasefire and reconstruction.

It will almost certainly mean that Hamas retains control of the Gaza Strip, and that the group will have the opportunity to rebuild its military capacity.

Hamas will also be able to claim that they won the war – despite the enormous material destruction and tens of thousands of Palestinians killed since Hamas led the October 7 attack – in which around 1,200 people were killed.

In recent weeks, however, thousands of Israelis have gathered in the streets in an attempt to pressure the government to accept such an agreement. They believe it is the only way to get the hostages out of Gaza, and they accuse Netanyahu of blocking such a deal because it would mean the fall of his heavily right-wing government. It could again mean the end of Netanyahu’s political career and that he will be brought to court on charges of corruption.

Those who support the plan believe that it benefits Israel in several areas. It is likely that the low-intensity conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon will die out as the situation in the region becomes less tense. Thus, thousands of people on both sides of the border will be able to return to their homes.

In addition, Israel will be able to start rebuilding itself and prepare for a new war – which some believe is inevitable.

Among them is Michael Milshtein. He believes Israel should adopt Hamas’s mindset and adopt the term “hudna”.

– Hudna does not mean a peace agreement. It is a truce that you can take advantage of to become stronger and then attack and surprise the enemy, says the former intelligence officer and analyst.

Netanyahu has promised that Israel will secure a complete victory over Hamas. It involves forcing Hamas to relinquish power, disbanding the group’s military branch and ensuring that the estimated 100 hostages who are alive are allowed to return home.

Netanyahu has said Israel will retain security control over Gaza. But he wants to leave civilian rule to local Palestinians who are not affiliated with Hamas or the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA). Netanyahu has suggested that Arab countries or others could assist with governance and reconstruction.

Instead, Arab states have rallied around a US-backed proposal aimed at resolving the long-standing conflict and changing the Middle East.

Hamas itself has proposed a completely different horse-trading, one that – ironically – may be more palatable to Israel than the proposal from the US and Saudi Arabia.

(© NTB)

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