What Will Happen to Gaza’s People?

Conventional wisdom has generally held that Israel’s government lacks a strategy for the Gaza Strip beyond toppling Hamas.

“Israel has no plan for Gaza after war ends, experts warn,” the BBC reported in October. In November The Washington Post observed that “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under criticism for not offering a clear plan for what happens in Gaza if Israel succeeds in its goal of deposing Hamas.” A headline in Foreign Affairs in December lamented “Israel’s Muddled Strategy in Gaza.”

But there are signs that some members of the Israeli government do indeed have a strategy, or at least a preference, for what happens next. It’s implicit in the kind of war Israel has waged, which has made Gaza largely unlivable. And a growing number of Israeli officials are saying it out loud: They don’t want to force just Hamas out of Gaza. They want many of Gaza’s people to leave, too.

The calls for population transfers started long before Gaza was reduced to the ruins that it is today. Six days after Hamas’s massacre of Israelis on Oct. 7, the Intelligence Ministry proposed permanently relocating Gazans to the Sinai region of Egypt. On Nov. 14, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said he supported “the voluntary emigration of Gaza Arabs to countries around the world.” Five days later, Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel endorsed “the voluntary resettlement of Palestinians in Gaza, for humanitarian reasons, outside of the Strip.”

The Israel Hayom newspaper reported on Nov. 30 that Mr. Netanyahu had asked Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, one of his closest confidants, to develop a plan to “thin” the population in Gaza “to a minimum” by prying open Egypt’s doors and opening up sea routes to other countries. Mr. Netanyahu also reportedly urged President Biden and the leaders of Britain and France to push Egypt to admit hundreds of thousands of Gazan refugees.

At times, Israeli officials have downplayed or denied these reports. Mr. Netanyahu’s office called the Intelligence Ministry’s transfer plan a mere “concept paper” and Israel’s embassy in Washington clarified that the intelligence minister was speaking only for herself. Other influential government ministers — like Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Benny Gantz, a Netanyahu rival and former chief of staff of the Israeli military who joined the government after Oct. 7 — oppose moving Gaza’s population outside the Strip, according to Israel Hayom. Mr. Gallant, it emerged last week, has floated a proposal that would have Palestinians unconnected to Hamas or the Palestinian Authority administering the territory, with other countries overseeing reconstruction.

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