Netanyahu’s first post-war plan seeks security cover in Gaza — in blow to US diplomacy

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as the US Secretary of State addresses the media inside The Kirya, which houses Israel’s Defense Ministry, after their meeting in Tel Aviv on October 12, 2023. Blinken arrived in solidarity after the Hamas surprise attack over the weekend in Israel, an AFP correspondent traveling with him said. He is expected to visit Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as Washington closes ranks with its ally which has launched a withering air campaign against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

Jacquelyn Martin | Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled his first official plan for the post-war future of the Gaza Strip, calling for Israel’s continued military presence in the enclave and for maintaining a buffer zone — a move against the wishes of close Washington allies.

In a sparse document released overnight and translated by NBC News, Netanyahu outlined previously stated immediate goals of demilitarizing and eliminating Hamas rule, as well as rescuing Israeli hostages held by the Palestinian militant group since the Oct. 7 terror attacks. .

In between, Israel wants to “maintain its operational freedom of action throughout the Gaza Strip, without time limit,” as well as maintain a protective security barrier inside the besieged territory.

“The security perimeter established in the Gaza Strip on the border with Israel will remain as long as there is a security need for it,” the document states.

The US, a staunch supporter of Israel’s right to self-defense and a supplier of weapons throughout the conflict, has previously rejected the possibility of both reoccupying the Gaza Strip and reducing its territory.

“The size of Gaza must not be reduced. This remains our position and will remain our position. So if any proposed buffer zone were inside Gaza, that would be a violation of that principle and something that we … that we oppose,” said US State Department spokesman Matt Miller. he said in December.

Israel is also calling for a “southern lock” on the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt – the only stretch of land not controlled by Israel – to prevent “terrorist actors” from rearming among the Palestinians, while the Strip is demilitarized fully “except as may be necessary to maintain political order.”

Without making any mention of the Palestinian Authority – which was expelled after Hamas took power in 2007 – Netanyahu’s proposal calls for the administration of the Gaza Strip by locals who “do not identify with states or organizations that support terrorism,” as well as on Israeli interference in political matters, including education and religion in the predominantly Sunni Muslim territory. Any reconstruction work can only begin indefinitely after those “de-radicalization” and demilitarization goals have been achieved, the document notes.

Netanyahu is also calling for the closure of the UN Relief and Works Agency after accusing some of its members of involvement in the October 7 terror attack. The United Nations is investigating claims against the agency, which facilitates the distribution of food and resources to the Gaza Strip and whose schools serve as refugee shelters. After many donor countries suspended their funding following the accusations, UNRWA faces the possibility of shutting down its operations by early March, an agency spokesperson told CNBC.

It is unclear whether the document, sparse on details, has been submitted to Netanyahu’s war cabinet for a vote. The proposal appeals both to the prime minister’s far-right domestic support base and demonstrates the conflict between it and his government. Netanyahu has previously said there are no plans to reoccupy the Gaza Strip or deport Palestinian civilians or to reoccupy the Gaza Strip, while some far-right members of his government, notably Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, have called for the expulsion of this population, according to Reuters.

The document also risks deepening a rift with Washington, which has supported Israel even as the nation faced scrutiny at the International Court of Justice over genocide charges brought by South Africa.

The White House has long envisioned a two-state solution to the Israel-Hamas conflict, which has killed 1,200 in Israel and more than 29,000 in the Gaza Strip since Oct. 7, according to Israeli officials and figures. Hamas reported by Reuters. -Manages the Gaza Ministry of Health. This outcome would create an independent Israeli and Palestinian state, likely led by the Palestinian Authority, as well as security guarantees for Israel. Washington has also persistently sought to normalize relations between Israel and Middle Eastern countries, pushing earlier this year for a reconciliation with regional ally and heavyweight Saudi Arabia.

The US State Department did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

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