Rubber Hitting the Road

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I wanted to flag to your attention some new developments in Israel-Palestine. From the beginning of the war there’s been discussion of the “day after,” what comes after the fighting and whether that “day after” plan provides any opening to move beyond the cycle of recurrent war and death. The U.S. has been increasingly insistent on this with its Israeli counterparts. The Biden White House wants a “day after” plan first because it thinks concrete steps toward a Palestinian state is the only viable solution to the conflict but also because in an international diplomatic context it needs something tangible to show for its steadfast support for Israel’s increasingly unpopular war.

Now, however, we’re seeing the first signs that the Netanyahu government’s unwillingness to address “day after” issues is beginning to have concrete operational effects in Gaza. Israel’s Channel 13 reports that IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi has told the prime minister, Defense Minister Gallant and others that “we are facing the erosion of gains made thus far in the war because no strategy has been put together for the day after.” The IDF “may need to go back and operate in areas where we have already concluded fighting.”

The argument here is that while the IDF has inflicted massive damage on Hamas and its military infrastructure — in addition to vast civilian loss of life — Hamas is still there, battered but not destroyed. Without any new force to assert control and govern Gaza Hamas will slowly reassert itself. Indeed, Hamas already appears to be doing that.

The U.S. and most of the nearby Arab states want some version of the Palestinian Authority taking control of Gaza, though how quickly that can happen and on what basis is a fraught question.

Netanyahu has made clear that he opposes any new role for the Palestinian Authority, an entirely unsurprising position for him. Hostility toward the PA is what led him to prop up Hamas in the first place. But there’s no other plan that is viable or that any other country will support. With that set of options Netanyahu has opted not to decide on anything. The IDF’s top general is saying tbat if you don’t decide on something we’re going to have to go back into the northern part of the Gaza Strip just to get back to where we were a month ago.

The context of this is that IDF wound down “intensive” operations in the northern part of the Gaza Strip some time ago and will do the same soon in the south.

Meanwhile, writing in Haaretz, Amos Harel says that we may only be weeks away from Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot leaving the government. From Haaretz (sub req.) …

In the absence of good news from Gaza or any sign of flexibility on Hamas’ part (Sinwar apparently thinks time is on his side), it seems that Gantz and Eisenkot have only another few weeks before they reach the moment of truth – a decision on whether to quit the government to protest its lack of progress on both a hostage deal and postwar arrangements.

That could actually unite Netanyahu and his right-wing partners, for lack of any other political option. But this could also be the signal for massive protests, which many expected after the failures of October 7 but which haven’t yet materialized.

I don’t know whether or not this is just wishful thinking. Others suggest Gantz is characterologically disinclined to give Netanyahu any ultimatum. He may not want to upset the status quo in which his own poll numbers remain sky high as the erstwhile adult in the room and odds on next prime minister. Who knows? But there are signs things are coming to a head.

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