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analysisIsrael at War

Will Israel actively encourage the migration of Gazans?

While there is no talk on forcible transfer and no official plan has been discussed—the topic is a hot potato that is dividing the government.

Palestinians fleeing from Khan Yunis to Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Dec. 5, 2023. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Palestinians fleeing from Khan Yunis to Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Dec. 5, 2023. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Mati Tuchfeld

When the ceasefire was in effect, the War Cabinet ministers made it clear time and again that this was just a temporary pause. In fact, all the government ministers said that. They made it clear not only to the citizens of Israel but also to world leaders, chiefly among them U.S. President Joe Biden.

Oct. 7 was a seminal moment when an entire nation was humiliated
and was dealt a painful blow. Even as ministers instructed the Israel
Defense Forces to cease fire, it was important for them to convey a
united front and stress that the fire would resume after the pause. This
was maintained even in closed-door security consultations in the
larger and smaller versions of the Security Cabinet.

Nevertheless, despite the united front and consistent message, it is
still possible to pick up nuances among the leaders of the war.
Inevitably, the delicate cracks in the first act will eventually become a
political clash in the final act of the play. There are already differing
opinions on how to manage the war, but there are major divisions
among the main protagonists over what the “day after” should look
like.

The issue of the post-war reality is one of the most sensitive topics
today, and discussions about it have not been taking place in any
official forum; only in internal consultations.

If there is a significant point of contention with the Biden administration
regarding Gaza, it revolves around this question.

Israel can accommodate the administration on various matters—such as providing humanitarian aid at the request of the American president and even the supply of fuel. It can also say that it is “doing its best” to heed the request not to harm the displaced population in the southern Gaza Strip when the IDF operates there.

The Palestinian Authority

However, to hand over the area to Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas is an entirely different ballgame. Ministers Benny
Gantz and Gadi Eizenkot would gladly do this, but Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant are less
enthusiastic.

They have all conveyed the message that Israel has no intention of
governing the area’s civilian affairs after the war. Gallant means it
seriously. Netanyahu doesn’t project the same certainty. He has made
it clear in his statements that the P.A., supporting terrorism, paying
salaries to terrorists, and inciting its children against Jews will not rule
Gaza.

This suggests that he will not allow Abbas’s Ramallah henchmen into
Gaza. There is no clear alternative. Hence, the IDF will continue to
control the area, both security-wise and the civilian life, at least in the
foreseeable future.

But another plan has been thrown into the mix. Most cabinet ministers
are unaware of it, including the War Cabinet ministers. It is not
discussed in these forums due to its combustible nature: It envisions
the thinning of the population to the lowest possible level.

Biden opposes it vehemently, as does the entire international
community. Gallant, the IDF chief of staff, and the top brass of the IDF
claim that is unfeasible. But Netanyahu sees it as a strategic goal.

This plan is designed to overcome U.S. resistance without clashing
with the administration; while addressing Egypt’s vehement opposition
without starting a refugee crisis or having Egyptians fire on Gazans
crossing into Sinai. It also aims to defuse the global outcry that will
emerge once Gazans begin to move voluntarily to other places.

Having refugees in war zones is a given. Millions of refugees have left
conflict zones around the world in the past decade, from Syria to
Ukraine. They have found refuge in countries that agreed to accept
them as a humanitarian gesture. So, why should Gaza be any
different?

Not forcible transfer

This is not about a forcible transfer but rather the release of the
stranglehold at the Gaza border. Although the crossings into Israel
would remain closed, there are other possibilities.

Rafah is one of them, despite Egypt being very much against it. There have been periods in which this crossing was essentially open to all, with underground passages resembling an underground freeway.

The sea is open to the Gazans as well. Israel has control over the
maritime route and it can let that route become accessible should
Gazans decide to flee to European and African countries.

But there are major gaps between the government ministers as to
whether Israel should be actively encouraging Gazans to leave. For
Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, as well as quite a few Likud
ministers, such a policy is a necessity.

Others, like Gantz, Gallant, and Eizenkot view things as nothing more
than a fantasy or even a despicable and immoral plan.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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