newsU.S.-Israel Relations

Israel and the US split over the ‘day after’

The United States believes that the Palestinian Authority and a multinational coalition must help rule Gaza, while right-wing Israeli ministers and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are vocally opposed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Jerusalem, Dec. 14, 2023. Photo by Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Jerusalem, Dec. 14, 2023. Photo by Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.

In recent weeks, the United States has been holding discussions with several Arab countries regarding the formation of a multinational force that will operate in the Gaza Strip once the current war is over.

“The talks haven’t reached the point of what exactly is ‘the war is over,'” an official with knowledge of the discussions told JNS, “because we have so many issues to solve.”

A source knowledgeable about the Arab countries’ demands told JNS: “First, there needs to be some kind of Israeli statement regarding the two-state solution. Second, there needs to be a U.S. move towards a Palestinian state. Third, the force must be a U.S.-led force, meaning some kind of U.S. personnel on the ground.”

Pentagon press secretary Patrick Ryder told JNS a few weeks ago that there will be no American boots on the ground in Gaza. The United States will not even protect the pier built by the U.S. military to facilitate humanitarian aid to the Strip. This is a major obstacle to Washington’s desire for a multinational force.

However, this is only one of many obstacles. Officials told JNS that, in recent days, U.S. pressure on Israel to present a “day after” plan has increased. U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is set to visit Saudi Arabia and Israel to discuss the issue.

Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Amos Yadlin, founder and president of MIND Israel and the IDF’s former director of intelligence, told JNS that a “day after” plan is essential to establishing a reliable source of humanitarian aid “that will distribute the food and then Hamas loses influence.”

“More than that, it is important for the day after the victory over Hamas. Otherwise, Hamas returns,” he asserted. “If Hamas is weakened enough, as was the case after the maneuver in the northern Gaza Strip and Gaza City, then there is definitely an option for an alternative government. A regime that is neither Hamastan nor Fatahstan but a reformed Palestinian Authority with the mentoring of an Arab coalition definitely should be an option.”

“Today, Hamas has become stronger again and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is not ready for any future plan that has a Palestinian element,” he said. The result, he added, is that the option of an alternative government “is more distant.”

‘Both options are bad’

This is the view stated earlier this week at a press conference by Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Gallant set off a political firestorm by saying, “We must eliminate the governmental capabilities of Hamas, and the way to do this is military activity and the establishment of a governmental entity.”

“In the absence of such action, two options will remain,” he said. “Hamas rule or Israeli military rule in the Gaza Strip. Both options are bad.”

Gallant criticized Netanyahu for refusing to even discuss a “day after” scenario. Netanyahu, he said, must announce that Israel will not rule Gaza, even “if it will have political implications.”

This is a reference to right-wing coalition members Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who oppose Palestinian rule over Gaza in any form. Smotrich and Ben-Gvir have the power to topple Netanyahu’s government over the issue.

In a Nov. 11, 2023 Fox News interview, Netanyahu stated that there would be no Israeli civilian rule in Gaza. Recently, however, he has refused to say this.

Gallant’s statement echoed statements made by IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, who said that a decision on who will rule Gaza “is crucial to the victory over Hamas.” Moreover, Gallant was backed by war cabinet member Benny Gantz.

But other coalition members fiercely criticized Gallant, with some calling for his resignation. In an interview with JNS, Minister for the Development of the Periphery Yitzhak Wasserlauf said, “A defense minister who does not lead a clear path to victory, of deciding to clean the nests of terror, cannot lead the people of Israel in our most critical and existential campaign.”

Wasserlauf said that Gallant “claims that there is no difference if the control is in the hands of Israel or in the hands of Hamas and says both are bad options—it’s absurd.”

“Gallant’s call in his speech to declare that Israel will not control Gaza is irresponsible,” he asserted. “Unfortunately, it has been proven that every place the IDF left after entering and clearing the place of terrorists, the Hamas terrorists returned to the place and fired missiles from there. … Therefore, our presence in Gaza is critical in terms of security. Because if we are not there, Hamas will be there.”

“It has nothing to do with the right or the left,” Wasserlauf said, “but with the facts that are happening on the ground.”

Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz
Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz speaks at the annual ceremony for soldiers whose burial places are unknown, at the National Hall of Remembrance on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, March 10, 2022. Photo by Alex Kolomoisky/POOL.

For his part, Netanyahu said, “I am not prepared to exchange Hamastan for Fatahstan. The first thing I did after Oct. 7 was order the army to destroy Hamas. … The first condition for the ‘day after’ is to eliminate Hamas—with no excuses.” He further hinted that Gallant and the military brass are not doing enough to defeat Hamas.

Netanyahu has the support of many coalition members. During a cabinet meeting this week, minister after minister said that steps must be taken against the P.A.

“We need to act against the P.A. like we act against terror,” said Justice Minister Yariv Levin. Smotrich stated, “The damage the Palestinian Authority causes is bigger than its advantages.” Netanyahu noted that “80% of the Palestinian public supports the Oct. 7 massacre.”

The gap between the Israeli and the American stances on the “day after” is getting wider. The U.S. believes the P.A. is part of the solution, while the Israeli government—and a large part of the Israeli public—believes it is part of the problem. The debate is sure to increase existing tensions between Washington and Jerusalem.

Amichai Stein is the diplomatic correspondent for Kan 11, IPBC.

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