The Israeli War on Gaza: Post-War Scenarios

Omar Shaban is CIP’s inaugural Leahy Fellow for Human Rights and Security. He is also the founder of PalThink for Strategic Studies, an independent Gaza-based think tank with no political affiliation.

The attack of October 7th 2023 was a pivotal event at the local and international levels, ushering in a new era in the life of the Palestinian people and relations with  the conflict with the Israeli occupation. For the first time in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel was subjected to a surprise attack by militants belonging to armed organizations, not an organized army, who broke through the border and reached about 14 small towns in southern Israel, inflicting a number of Israeli and foreign civilian and military casualties, and kidnapped and held hostage dozens of civilians, military personnel and non-Israeli foreigners.

The Hamas-Jihadist attack came as a shocking surprise to everyone, Israel, the world, the Palestinian people, and a large part of the leadership and members of Hamas itself and Palestinian society in general, because there were no indications of the possibility of such an event taking place. A few hours after the attack, Israel launched its war on the Gaza Strip in general and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in particular. This war, which is still going on for the 205th day as of this writing, is one in which Israel used all means of killing, destruction, death, and starvation, amounting to genocide, with a case submitted to the International Criminal Court by the State of South Africa.

The Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu and the War Cabinet set goals for the war: 1), to free the hostages held in the Gaza Strip, and 2), to eliminate Hamas’ military capabilities, and undermine the regime it runs in the Gaza Strip, and 3) ensure that Gaza will not pose a future threat to Israel’s security.  These objectives, if realized, will necessarily produce radical changes in Gaza’s system of governance, and their effects will be long-lasting. Research and policy analysis centers have been studying the concepts and scenarios of the results of this war and what it will entail in the short, medium, and long term. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has referred to the battle in Gaza as the second war of independence for the State of Israel,  just as the Palestinian Nakba was the first war of independence, and the term “the day after the war on the Gaza Strip” is commonly used by Israeli politicians as a term that refers to transcending the presence of Hamas in the future of the Gaza Strip.

However, the Israeli government, represented by its leaders or the War Cabinet, was unable to present a clear vision for this future, although they expressed some features of it in the context of the military campaign, such as Israeli ministers declaring repeatedly that they do not want UNRWA, the Palestinian National Authority, or Fatah to participate in the future of Gaza. These Israeli goals partially intersected with the US vision of dealing with the war on Gaza, which was represented in the vision of US Secretary of State Blinken: First, defeating Hamas and rejecting a role for it as part of Gaza’s future, second: the US refusal to displace the population of Gaza, and third, the refusal of Israel permanently reoccupying Gaza. Talking about the day after the war became one of the most important results of the convergence of the desire to defeat Hamas. While recognizing that the answer to the question “What comes the day after the war?” carries with it divergent views: the United States wants to see a Palestinian National Authority with radical reforms in the Gaza Strip, while Israel opposes the presence of the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip and does not want to see unity within the Palestinian political system.

 

The day after the war: Possible scenarios

This paper attempts to anticipate the future by examining possible scenarios for managing the Gaza Strip after the end of the war and analyzing the possibilities and obstacles of each scenario.

Before reviewing these scenarios, it should be noted that the question of the day after the war on Gaza has become an important question to be answered by Israel after the failure of the plan to deport the residents of the Gaza Strip to Egypt. Israel tried to gain Western sympathy in the first days of the war to pass the plan to deport Gaza residents, but this plan failed because of Arab and international rejection, especially from Egypt, which firmly refused to open its territory, in addition to the resistance of the residents of Gaza and their refusal to be deported again. Netanyahu and the Israeli War Cabinet went on to destroy all forms of life in the Gaza Strip by targeting all the basic elements of life, such as water, energy, and sanitation networks, shelling hospitals, schools, churches, and mosques, in addition to turning to rubble all government offices, residential towers and hundreds of thousands of housing units as well as refusing to allow in fuel and rationing food and medical aid, in an attempt to submit life in Gaza to the power of death. Interestingly, it is the US administration that has taken the initiative to develop scenarios to manage the governance of the Gaza Strip after the war.

Blinken’s multiple visits to the region during the first months of the war came within the framework of presenting scenarios for governing the Gaza Strip after the end of the war, as the US administration identifies with Israel’s goal and continues to support by all means its war against the Palestinian people in Gaza. In his meeting with Arab foreign ministers in Jordan, the US Secretary of State put forward the idea of managing the Gaza Strip through a joint Arab force, a proposal that was rejected by the foreign ministers. This prompted him to visit President Mahmoud Abbas and present the proposal to him, which Abbas conditionally accepted the governance and management of the Gaza Strip but only within a political process that leads to a Palestinian state according to international legitimacy resolutions, which Israel certainly rejects. In light of these changes, the Israeli war on Gaza opened the door wide for all possible scenarios for managing the governance of the Gaza Strip, and some of the possible scenarios are as follows:

 

1- Hamas containment scenario

This scenario assumes that the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip will not intentionally or effectively succeed in eliminating Hamas, but the continuous Israeli pressure on Hamas using all means of war, including killing, destruction, starvation, and humiliation, will push it to make fundamental concessions that affect the foundations and principles of the movement. These concessions include recognizing Israel’s right to exist, renouncing violence, and accepting a political-negotiating approach. The movement may then have the opportunity to survive, preserve what remains of its capabilities, participate in governing the Strip, and engage in its reconstruction on new political bases. If Israel succeeds in achieving this, it will have completely domesticated the Palestinian situation.

In a recent statement by the Hamas leadership, Khalil al-Haya said:  Hamas is ready to abandon the military approach and give up weapons if a Palestinian state is approved.

Arguably, this most recent Hamas position represents a radical change from its previous positions.

Getting Hamas to abandon its military program is the strategic goal that Israel is trying to achieve in this war, and if it succeeds, it will have won. This would mean Hamas entering the path of compromise and abandoning the armed struggle, which is the same scenario the PLO had in 1982, after Israel invaded Beirut and PLO forces and its head at the time, Yasser Arafat, left the country. Israel would have succeeded in maintaining the separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank and keeping the Palestinian political divide intact, thus not having to respond to international and regional calls for the need to open a political track for the conflict that ends with a two-state solution. This scenario also guarantees Israel freedom of security and military action in the Gaza Strip, including raids, arrests, and suppression of any Palestinian resistance, without an actual military presence on the ground. This scenario has strong prospects because it is consistent with Israel’s traditional policy toward Hamas since it took control of the Strip in 2007, which is a policy of mowing the grass rather than eliminating it. There has been a change in the stated goal of the Israeli war on Gaza from eliminating Hamas and overthrowing its rule to destroying the group’s military capabilities and preventing it from repeating the October 7th attack. A report published by Al Jazeera lists the opinions of some Israeli experts that Hamas will remain in Gaza the day after the war and that any authority cannot fill the vacuum, and must participate in the civil affairs of Gazans. The realization of this scenario depends on the results of the ongoing battle on the ground, how and when it ends, and whether Hamas will be able to survive and realize some achievements that enable it to possess some power cards.

Influential parties, such as Qatar and Turkey in particular, may contribute to convincing the movement’s leadership abroad to accept this scenario, but this scenario would cause Hamas to lose the support and allegiance of the resistance forces such as Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah. This approach will greatly affect the future of Hamas, especially in front of its supporters and in its ideological stance against Israel, and may lead to a partial collapse and a split in the movement, in addition to the major rift that may occur with other resistance factions such as Islamic Jihad, and the axis of resistance (Hezbollah and Iran). This scenario will also find strong opposition from some Arab parties such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, which prefer Hamas to disappear from the scene and its integration into the Palestinian political system, as they are at odds with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

 

2- Interim international, regional and local supervision of the Gaza Strip

This scenario assumes that after the end of the war, and to fill the vacuum that may arise as a result of the collapse of the regime in the Gaza Strip, influential powers (USA, the European Union, Arab countries influential in the Palestinian case, Egypt and Jordan in particular) may be forced to form an Arab and international force with the participation of local representatives from Gaza to manage the Strip. This entity will manage the reconstruction process and supervise sectors such as education and health and may be supported by an external military force to maintain security, such as a UN peacekeeping force.

This scenario is very much on the table, as Arab countries have announced their readiness to send troops to the Gaza Strip to contribute to its security. The realization of this scenario is mainly linked to Israel’s success in achieving all of its goals and effectively eliminating Hamas and weakening it to the point where it cannot resist. The resistance factions have announced their rejection of this proposal. This scenario, even if it is on the table, requires a legitimate cover from the Arab League or the United Nations as well as acceptance by the Palestinian Authority, which may see this scenario as a transgression against it, especially in light of the legitimacy of Palestinian representation in the PLO and questions over the roles the Arab participants wish to play in the Gaza Strip, especially since they may not be eager to engage in the quagmire of the Gaza Strip in the absence of a permanent political solution. Under this scenario, the PA would not be able to extend its control from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip. Over time and as the situation evolves, its presence in the West Bank would be eliminated by moving its center to the Gaza Strip, or by replacing it entirely with another authority in the Gaza Strip. The outcome of this path could be the realization of a two-state solution by establishing a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip, which could enjoy certain aspects of sovereignty. The price for this would be to keep the status of Jerusalem and the West Bank suspended and separate from that of the Gaza Strip, while keeping hope aflame, in line with a step-by-step policy, that the fate of that area will be dealt with in the future. Of course, land annexation, Judaization, and settlement will continue until Israel ends up swallowing the entire West Bank, including Jerusalem.

 

3- The scenario of returning the authority to the Gaza Strip

This scenario requires Israel to agree to enable the Palestinian National Authority to reorganize itself in the Gaza Strip, including security control over the Strip, which may require recruiting local elements, bringing in forces from the West Bank or diaspora refugee camps, or containing the existing security forces in the Gaza Strip according to new security principles and doctrine. The PA favors this scenario, as it has already prepared itself for it after Prime Minister Mohammed Ishtia resigned and President Abbas appointed Mohammed Mustafa to form a new government, predominantly from experts and technocrats, in response to repeated calls from the European Union and the United States for the reforming of the PA. This scenario requires Palestinians to build genuine Palestinian reconciliation, form a national technocratic government that would be tasked with rebuilding the Gaza Strip under international auspices, curb Israel’s aggressive policies, establish Palestinian elections, and introduce political reforms in the structure of the political system to prevent the escalation of the conflict and unify the Palestinian decision in time of peace and war, paving the way for a political path in the future.

The Israeli government announced earlier that it would not allow a Fatahistan state in the Gaza Strip, as this scenario would force Israel to go through a comprehensive political process that would eventually lead to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. However, a change in Israel’s attitude toward the PA has become evident with secret meetings held between influential Palestinian security figures and Israel. Given these changes in Israeli attitudes, it is worth considering the price Israel will demand from the PA for allowing it to administer the Gaza Strip after the war, which will be in the context of completing Israel’s mission to eliminate pockets of resistance and prevent them from being armed.

However, if this scenario is the most likely to happen, then the survival of Hamas as an active part of the Palestinian political system depends on three factors. The first factor is the acceptance of Hamas to fully integrate into the structure of the political system, abandon dependence on the resistance axis, and abide by the PLO agreements, without requiring it to explicitly recognize the State of Israel. The second is the extent of the international community’s enthusiasm to accept the presence of Hamas in the Palestinian political system the day after the war. And the third factor is Fatah’s acceptance of Hamas in the political system after its defeat and declining strength, as undoubtedly Fatah views Hamas as a political rival that has repeatedly presented itself as an alternative.

 

4- Scenario of the return of the Israeli civil administration to the Gaza Strip

This scenario assumes that the Israeli military will remain present – permanently or temporarily – in the Gaza Strip the day after the war. This scenario is imposed in specific parts of the Gaza Strip, such as the northern area, Gaza City, and even the center of the Strip, without being applied in the southern area of the Strip, which includes the governorates of Deir al-Balah, Khan Younis and Rafah. If so, it will require re-establishing the civil administration in the same fashion the occupation forces used to run the Gaza Strip before withdrawing from it in 1994 under the Oslo Accord. Under this scenario, the occupation forces would provide services to the residents of the Gaza Strip, and the army and Shin Bet would take over the security management of the Gaza Strip. This scenario will also push the Israeli army to strengthen measures it has already put in place, such as what is known as the logistics road linking Israel and Gaza City, which has become like the border of the buffer zone between northern and southern Gaza. This road is equipped with two military posts on the Gaza shore and near Salah al-Din Street, with both posts equipped with air-conditioned rooms and sleeping quarters for soldiers similar to those in the West Bank. In addition, the establishment of the port in an area south of Gaza City indicates that the measures taken are not for the short term but may remain effective in the long term.

This scenario requires the complete elimination of Hamas’s power in the Gaza Strip, especially in Gaza City and northern Gaza. In any case, Israel has considerable experience in civilian administration of PNA areas, and so it will not start from scratch, especially with its tendency in recent years to deploy mobile apps that directly address Palestinian citizens and facilitate communication with them, such as the “Coordinator’s App.” However, the cost of this option is very high for Israel, both in human and financial capital, especially given the deteriorating living conditions of citizens in the Gaza Strip after the war, the cost of reconstruction, and its assumption of full responsibility for providing services to citizens as the occupying power and its need to manage popular resistance and Palestinian and regional rejection of occupation. This option would make Israel the occupier of all Palestinian territories, a return to the pre-Oslo era, and would mean the end of the two-state solution. This scenario was rejected by the United States and Europe, which clearly demanded that Israel not remain in the Gaza Strip and that the PNA return to it. In mid-February 2024, Blinken announced the US rejection of any “new occupation” of Gaza after the end of the war, in response to Netanyahu’s announcement of a plan for after the end of the ongoing war in the Strip.

 

5- Restoring village ties with Israeli military rule

This scenario is based on the formation of a group of Palestinian local administrations made up of family, tribal, and community figures to manage the life affairs of Palestinian citizens in their areas of influence and cooperate with the international community in the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, while the issue of security remains in the hands of the Israeli army. This would be similar to the administrative formations established by Israel in 1978 to manage the Palestinian areas in the West Bank and create an alternative leadership to the PLO that is locally acceptable. It should be noted here that since November 2023, the occupation forces have begun communicating with tribal figures to explore the prospects of managing the Gaza Strip through local collaborators working at this stage to manage the humanitarian aid file. However, the occupation forces did not achieve any breakthrough in this regard as of the time of the writing of this paper, in light of a public refusal to cooperate with the occupation. The Gaza Mukhtars Association announced their refusal to cooperate with the Israeli war government to manage the affairs of the Gaza Strip. Gaza’s tribes and families announced their rejection of the Israeli proposal through an official statement titled: “We refuse to be an alternative to any political system.” Hamas also rejected this scenario, calling Israel’s attempt to communicate with Gaza’s mukhtars and clans “a betrayal that we will not allow.” This scenario is difficult to realize for two reasons; first, Israel will not find acceptable family or local figures in the Gaza Strip with influence and tribal respect that would accept to play this role, as it is a national betrayal, in addition to the Palestinian Authority and Arab countries in the region rejecting it, not to mention that it would fuel popular resistance in the Gaza Strip against it. This scenario has been proven to fail in the past when Israel tried to form village associations in the West Bank as an alternative to the Palestinian leadership.

 

6- Egyptian management of the Gaza Strip

The Gaza Strip represents strategic depth for Egypt, which administered the Gaza Strip from 1948 until June 1967, when Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt may have to play this role to fill any vacuum that may arise as a result of Hamas’s military defeat and the fear that extremist terrorist forces will fill this vacuum, as Egypt has bitter experience in the war against terrorism in Sinai, whose borders are connected to the southern Gaza Strip. Egypt would not necessarily administer the Gaza Strip directly but could do so by expanding the influence of the Egyptian intelligence service in the Gaza Strip, as it is currently doing in eastern Libya, which is controlled by General Khalifa Haftar without an actual Egyptian administration. This means that Egypt may view the border that Israel is trying to impose in the northern Gaza Strip through what is known as Route 749 as the border of its national security area, similar to the Sirte-Jufra line, which Egypt set up in 2020 and declared it to be its area of influence and a red line for its national security.

Although this option is unattractive from the Egyptian point of view at the moment, important factors may push it to consider this scenario in one form or another. These are: (1) Egypt’s national security, (2) the desire to benefit from the gas fields in the Gaza Strip, where Egypt, represented by the Egyptian Gas Holding Company (EGAS), previously signed an agreement with the Palestinian National Authority to develop the Marin Gaza gas field, and (3) Egypt’s desire to manage the reconstruction process and benefit from contracts for large-scale infrastructure rehabilitation operations expected to be launched after the war on Gaza. On the Palestinian side in particular, Hamas may view Egypt’s management of the Gaza Strip as a way to preserve itself from completely disappearing as a result of the occupation of the Gaza Strip. However, this scenario would not be welcomed by the Palestinian Authority, which considers the Gaza Strip an essential part of the territory of the Palestinian state, giving it the exclusive right to govern the Strip.

 

A perspective on what Gazans aspire to the day after the war

In reviewing the various scenarios for the situation in the Gaza Strip the day after the end of the war, it is important to take into account what the Gazans themselves, the first and foremost stakeholders in this context, aspire and expect. After the end of the war, civilians in the Gaza Strip look for a future of peace and prosperity. The wars and escalations of the past 17 years have cast a bloody shadow on the daily lives of the population, and the people of Gaza are steadfast in their desire to end the cycle of violence and build a bright future for the next generations. The Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip are demanding an end to the war and a Palestinian leadership capable of bringing peace and stability to civilians, promoting reconstruction, and implementing development projects that restore the health system, food security, job opportunities, and freedom of travel, demands they have been making since the imposition of the blockade on the Gaza Strip in June 2007.

The humanitarian crises in the Gaza Strip are threatening the lives of hundreds of civilians, in addition to the scourge of the war, which has destroyed the economic life and future of thousands of young people. People in the Gaza Strip aspire to restore the democracy they have been deprived of since 2007 by holding parliamentary, presidential, and university council elections. On the tenth anniversary of the division in 2017, PalThink published an open letter signed by 52 NGOs calling on the Palestinian government to hold local government elections in the Gaza Strip.

This would lead to a phase of stability and development with a unified and youthful Palestinian political system, working with all available means to achieve political and development goals and build a better future for all. This was emphasized in the research paper published by MIFTAH in 2021, which included the following: civil society organizations affirm their position that local elections must be held in accordance with the requirements of the law, and believe that there is still time for the government, political forces and parties to stop the first phase and not to fragment the elections and hold them on one day and in all governorates.

Gazans also aspire to begin the process of rebuilding what was destroyed by the multiple wars, which caused a significant deterioration in all economic and social indicators.  The citizens of the Gaza Strip realize that the years of siege and multiple wars have not achieved any political goal for the Palestinian people, but rather have been a huge burden on them and an obstacle to the realization of the Palestinian national project. It is worth mentioning here that the preparations for the legislative elections that were scheduled for May 2021 witnessed the submission of 36 electoral lists to participate in the elections, 26 of which were formed by young people who are not known and are not from the traditional Palestinian political system. The residents of the Gaza Strip are part of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and since the division and the suspension of the nascent democratic process, they have not stopped demanding an end to this division and the holding of elections.

The citizens of the Gaza Strip believe that the best and only scenario for them is to be under an elected Palestinian national leadership that represents them and works to achieve their goals and aspirations.

 

Conclusion

It may be easy to start a war, but it is not easy to end it, and it is even more difficult to decide the day after. This is true of Israel’s seven-month war on the Gaza Strip. At the beginning of the war, the objectives were clear, as announced by the Israeli War Cabinet, but as time passes these objectives seem less clear and unfulfilled. Hamas has not been completely defeated, the hostages have not been freed, and the population of Gaza has not been abandoned. The ambiguity of how to end the war and decide the next day stems from the fact that most proposals are “wishful thinking” and are out of touch with reality. The October 7th offensive was indeed a pivotal event that can be said to mark a new historical era in the life of the Palestinian people, an era that is currently being termed “the day after the war on Gaza.” This term has become synonymous with the unknown future of Gaza, not only from the Palestinian perspective but also from the Israeli and regional perspectives, as positions within the Israeli government, as well as within the War Cabinet, diverged towards the future of Gaza. This means that discussing the issue of the day after the war on Gaza may take us  to think about the future of the current Israeli government, whose possible fall would represent the fall of the Israeli extreme right-wing forces and the fall of Israeli proposals to displace the population of the Gaza Strip. It may also represent the fall of normalization proposals between some Arab countries and Israel without resolving the Palestinian issue. It can be said with confidence that the war on Gaza has not only destroyed the Gaza Strip but also dispelled political ideas and extremist proposals that some in Israel and the region thought were achievable.

Therefore, we must go to the most realistic scenario, one that is most consistent with the principles of international law and legitimacy. It is a scenario that is based on ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and enabling the Palestinians to restore unity and decide on the form of the political system they want and the way to achieve it freely and without external interference. The war on the Gaza Strip, with all the killing and destruction it has caused, must provide a historic opportunity to start a new path towards a landmark settlement that ends the century-old conflict and achieves stability and peace in the Middle East.

This story originally appeared at Arab Reform Initiative on April 30, 2024.