Strong opposition to Netanyahu’s plan to control Gaza after war

By Wafaa Shurafa and Bassem Mroue | Associated Press

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — A long-awaited postwar plan by Israel’s prime minister shows that his government seeks open-ended control over security and civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip. That was swiftly rejected Friday by Palestinian leaders and runs counter to Washington’s vision for the war-ravaged enclave.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented the two-page document to his security Cabinet late Thursday for approval.

Deep disagreements over Gaza’s future have led to increasingly public friction between Israel and the United States, its closest ally. The Biden administration seeks eventual Palestinian governance in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank as a precursor to Palestinian statehood, an outcome vehemently opposed by Netanyahu and his right-wing government. Netanyahu’s plan envisions hand-picked Palestinians in Gaza administering the territory.

Separately, cease-fire efforts appeared to gain traction, with mediators to present a new proposal at an expected high-level meeting this weekend in Paris. The U.S., Egypt and Qatar have been struggling for weeks to find a formula that could halt Israel’s devastating offensive in Gaza, but now face an unofficial deadline as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan approaches.

In Gaza, Israeli airstrikes in the center and south of the territory killed at least 68 Palestinians, including children and women, overnight and into Friday, health officials and an Associated Press journalist said. Another 24 bodies remained trapped under the rubble.

Fidaa Ashour, whose sister was killed in a strike early Friday in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, said “the world does not feel what we are enduring.” At a hospital in the central town of Deir al-Balah, relatives wept over bodies laid out in burial shrouds in the courtyard, and a man cradled a dead infant.

The overall Palestinian death toll since the start of the war rose to more than 29,500, with close to 70,000 people wounded, Gaza health officials said. The death toll amounts to close to 1.3% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million.

NETANYAHU’S VISION FOR GAZA

Netanyahu’s plan, while lacking specifics, marks the first time he has presented a formal postwar vision. It reiterates that Israel is determined to crush Hamas, the militant group that overran the Gaza Strip in 2007.

Polls have indicated that a majority of Palestinians don’t support Hamas, but the group has deep roots in Palestinian society. Critics, including some in Israel, say the goal of eliminating Hamas is unattainable.

Netanyahu’s plan calls for freedom of action for Israel’s military across a demilitarized Gaza after the war to thwart any security threat. It says Israel would establish a buffer zone inside Gaza, which is likely to provoke U.S. objections.

The plan also envisions Gaza being governed by local officials who it says would “not be identified with countries or entities that support terrorism and will not receive payment from them.”

It’s not clear if any Palestinians would agree to such sub-contractor roles. Over the past decades, Israel has repeatedly tried and failed to set up hand-picked local Palestinian governing bodies.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers pockets of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on Friday denounced Netanyahu’s plan as “colonialist and racist,” saying it would amount to Israeli reoccupation of Gaza. Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005, but maintained control of access to the territory.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had not seen details of the plan. But he said any plan should be consistent with basic principles the U.S. had set out for Gaza’s future, “including that it cannot be a platform for terrorism, there should be no Israeli re-occupation of Gaza, the size of Gaza’s territory should not be reduced.”

The Biden administration wants to see a reformed Palestinian Authority govern both Gaza and the West Bank as a step toward Palestinian statehood. It has sought to chip away at Netanyahu’s resistance by holding out the prospect of the normalization of ties between Israel and Arab powerhouse Saudi Arabia, which demands a Palestinian state as a precondition.

THE WAR DRAGS ON

U.S., Israeli, Qatari and Egyptian officials are expected to meet in Paris this weekend to discuss cease-fire efforts. A senior Egyptian official said Egypt and Qatar would bring an understanding reached with Hamas leaders that calls for a six-week cease-fire and the release of elderly and sick hostages in return for a yet-to-be specified number of Palestinian prisoners in Israel. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the press. During the cease-fire, details would be worked out on a further stage.

Hamas has demanded a complete halt to Israel’s offensive and a withdrawal of its troops from Gaza in return for the release of all its remaining hostages, as well as the release of Palestinians held by Israel, including top militants. Netanyahu has rejected those demands.

Israel declared war on Hamas on Oct. 7, after the militants stormed into southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 hostages. More than 100 hostages were freed in a weeklong cease-fire in late November.

Since the start of the war, 29,514 Palestinians were killed in Israel’s offensive and close to 70,000 were wounded, the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Friday. Two-thirds of those killed have been women and children, said the ministry, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count.

Israel says it has killed at least 10,000 Hamas fighters, without providing evidence for its count. It holds Hamas responsible for civilian casualties because the group operates and fights from within civilian areas. The United States has repeatedly urged Israel to do more to avoid harm to civilians, but the daily number of deaths reported in Gaza appears to be relatively constant.

The Israeli offensive has inflicted immense suffering in Gaza. About 80% of the population have been displaced, infectious diseases run rampant and hundreds of thousands of people are facing hunger.

In the West Bank, two Palestinians killed in an Israeli drone strike on their car were buried Friday in the Jenin refugee camp. The two bodies were wrapped in flags of the militant group Islamic Jihad and carried on stretchers during the funeral procession.

Israel says one of those killed was previously involved in shooting attacks on Israeli settlements and army posts, and was about to carry out another attack when he was killed in the drone strike late Thursday.

Mroue reported from Beirut.

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Author: The Associated Press

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