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Politics : View from the Center and Left Middle East Annex

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To: Sam who wrote (1236)6/12/2024 12:20:38 PM
From: Sam   of 1386
The paradox ahead for Gaza: A postwar where war goes on
Even if major fighting ends, Israel will remain committed to demilitarizing Hamas.
By David Ignatius
June 11, 2024 at 6:13 p.m. EDT

When I ask a senior Israeli official to describe what “the day after” will look like in Gaza, assuming a cease-fire can be reached, he gives an honest but chilling answer: “It’s going to be long and bloody.”

That’s the stark reality facing U.S. mediators as they seek a truce with new support from the U.N. Security Council. Even if Hamas agrees and major fighting ends, Israel will remain committed to demilitarizing the terrorist group. No future Israeli government is likely to accept less. And Hamas will surely resist.

When we talk about a postwar Gaza, what does that mean? To me, it means that the international community, led by the United States, must create a security framework to reduce violence and civilian casualties as this awful conflict begins to unwind. The Biden administration is moving in that direction, with support from Israeli military leadership, if not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken continued his intermittent shuttle diplomacy this week when he traveled to Israel and the region. He reminded Netanyahu that “total victory” can be a mirage, recalling that the United States learned the hard way in Iraq and Afghanistan that it could win every battle but lose the war — because it lacked a realistic political strategy.

Blinken’s hope is that Hamas’s leaders will accept the U.S. plan for a cease-fire and release of hostages and begin what would be a long — and undoubtedly bumpy — pathway to a permanent peace. The group sent a “response” on Tuesday seeking clarification, but administration officials wouldn’t comment on what that might mean. Humanitarian aid and reconstruction could begin immediately if Hamas says yes. But Blinken has been talking with Israelis and Arabs about a path toward de-escalation, regardless of what Hamas decides.

The good news is that most Israeli leaders agree that it’s time to think about a transition in Gaza. Israel wants a “downshift” there, as one U.S. official put it, in part so that it can focus more on the growing threat from Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Israel has a plan for the day after that officials tell me was endorsed by the war cabinet (including Netanyahu) before opposition leader Benny Gantz resigned this past weekend. This plan was proposed by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who remains in the government. It goes by the shorthand name “humanitarian bubbles.”

The idea is that Israel would start a unilateral transition in an area in northern Gaza that’s largely clear of Hamas fighters. After establishing a firm perimeter there, the Israelis would withdraw and leave governance and local security to a loose council drawn from prominent local families, merchants, trade unions and other notables.

To provide muscle to keep Hamas out and maintain order, this governing group would rely on vetted local Palestinians supported by an international force, including some experienced Arab troops from countries such as Egypt. For good measure, the “bubble” might also employ Western security contractors like … well, they wouldn’t be from Blackwater, but that’s the idea.

U.S. officials tell me they are skeptical of this plan, and I share those doubts. It’s something between a “gated community” in an imaginary suburb far from Gaza and the “strategic hamlet” concept that proved so unsuccessful in Vietnam. What’s more, it wouldn’t be connected to the Palestinian Authority, which in addition to being the legitimate governing group remains Hamas’s most potent Palestinian foe.

Israeli officials counter that the bubble would be a pilot that might gradually draw support from other Palestinians who desperately need work and security. The goal, these officials say, would be to weaken Hamas while creating an alternative political space where humanitarian aid could be delivered safely and reconstruction could begin. Meanwhile, outside the bubble, the battle to eliminate Hamas would continue.

Some of Israel’s most experienced officials argue for the bubble approach because, they say, most Gaza Palestinians don’t believe Hamas has lost power. To break that psychology, they argue, Israel had to halt Hamas smuggling by seizing the Rafah corridor last month. Similarly, it must continue trying to eliminate Hamas’s leadership and stick decisively to the goal of demilitarization.

Turning to the Palestinian Authority doesn’t make sense, these officials contend, because it has only a few thousand reliable members in Gaza, and its leaders are old, tired and disliked by the public. There is no “revitalization” of the PA yet, only “makeup,” says one official.

What is the Biden administration’s alternative vision of the path forward? It begins with the reality that Israel can’t go it alone. To wind down the war, with or without a cease-fire, it needs support from the international community. The Security Council has backed the U.S. plan for a phased truce; next, it can support a framework for actual transition — which would provide legitimacy for a transitional governing authority and an international security force to work with local Palestinians.

We’re not yet at the day after, and even when we get there, it won’t be a bloodless process. But maybe this is “the day between,” and Biden and his team deserve credit for staying the course, dodging brickbats from left and right, in trying to halt this terrible war.

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