Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Day after what?

There has been a lot of discussion from US leaders about the day after plan for Gaza. Obviously, the Israeli government has no plans for the day after in Gaza (the US is helping that), because they do not seem to be very interested in a day after or in a Gaza at all. Netanyahu promised that he will block attempts to install the Palestinian Authority into Gaza ("authority" over what exactly is unclear), and said that "Israel will not repeat the mistakes of Oslo" and that Gaza will not become "Hamastan or Fatahstan" in a Hebrew address posted on Twitter. It is unclear if even all of Netanyahu's appointees agree with his extremism. Israel even seems interested in expanding the war, with Biden preventing a pre-emptive strike on HizbollahIsrael striking a Hamas office in Beirut, and Israel carrying out covert operations in Turkey. By the way, the Hamas leader they killed in Beirut did most of his work for the West Bank. Regardless, it is worth accounting for what will actually be the day after in Gaza. 

The answer to what will remain of Gaza is not much. Israel has dropped 29,000 bombs on Gaza. 80% of buildings have been damaged. The level of damage is twice that of the 2014 war. According to the World Bank, as of mid-December, 800,000 people had no home to return to. 

Israel really would just prefer if the Palestinians disappeared, I think. Bezalel Smotrich:

“We need to encourage immigration from there. If there were 100,000-200,000 Arabs in the Strip and not two million, the whole conversation about the day after [the war] would be completely different,” Smotrich tells Army Radio. “They want to leave. They have been living in a ghetto for 75 years and are in need.”

I would say that this is a pretty insane take. I think Gazans would like to go home, as Gaza is literally their home. About 85% of Gazans are descendants of displaced Palestinians from the Nakba. Those Gazans probably would like to return to the homes they were displaced from 75 years. Even if these people were allowed to "leave," it is unclear if they even could leave. A Crisis Group analyst interviewed by the FT thinks that immigration to Egypt, if the border was opened, would be "by the thousands." Gazans, who are mostly poor, simply cannot afford to move. 

Compare to Israel's GDP per capita of $52K

Smotrich does actually attempt to conceal his desire to simply run over the Palestinians, though:

When asked repeatedly whether he believes that Israel must reestablish settlements inside the Gaza Strip, Smotrich says that Israel must control the area.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in Israel who doesn’t want to see Jewish settlements everywhere,” Smotrich claims.

“So you want the area resettled?” Smotrich is asked.

“I want us to solve the problem of Gaza,” the finance minister says.

(Yes, Smotrich wants Gaza resettled, and he is not alone. The Israeli Ministry of Intelligence recommends moving the whole population of Gaza to Sinai) Smotrich's neighbor, Daniella Weiss, mayor of Kedumim, where Smotrich lives, was interviewed by The New Yorker. She explained that the rightful state of Israel goes from (Euphrates) river to (Nile) river, not just from river to sea. She is slightly satisfied with Netanyahu, because they now have 800,000 settlers. She hopes for two or three million, though. She wants settlements in Gaza, settlements everywhere. She supports expanding deeper into "Judea and Samaria," and derides Netanyahu and even Smotrich as being not brave enough. She could care less that Gaza is being bombed — she thinks the Gazans should move to Egypt, Turkey, anywhere else. 

We saw some horrible images on October 7th of what happened to Israeli children, and now we see some horrible images in Gaza of what is happening to Palestinian children. When you see Palestinian children dying, what’s your emotional reaction as a human being?

I go by a very basic human law of nature. My children are prior to the children of the enemy, period. They are first. My children are first.

We are talking about children. I don’t know if the law of nature is what we need to be looking at here.

Yeah. I say my children are first.

Oh, well, great neighbors to have, I guess. Israel says it is trying to not kill civilians, but the statements of government officials do not line up with that. Daniel Hagari, Israeli military spokesman, said in October that “while balancing accuracy with the scope of damage, right now we’re focused on what causes maximum damage.” Reports from Israeli journals +972 Magazine and Local Call show the same thing. The agriculture minister called their attacks on northern Gaza "Nakba 2023." 

The "day after" is contingent on Israel reaching its goal of "destroying Hamas." Whether or not that will happen is unclear. Even Lloyd Austin, American defense secretary, pointed out that Israel should take steps to not push civilians "into the arms of the enemy," lest they "replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat." Israel is certainly not doing well on that front, with support for Hamas doubling among Palestinians.

Israel has not dismantled Hamas, and has not found the hostages despite deepening their hold into Gaza significantly. Israel also is now withdrawing some of their troops, as the major enablement of reservists has been extremely detrimental to the Israeli economy, which is expected to contract by 2% in the last quarter of 2023. The worst labor shortages are not actually in industries that depended on reservists. Tourism, construction and agriculture are the sectors facing the worst labor-force losses. The latter two depend heavily on Palestinian workers. 

The new focus of the IDF on the war is to hold Gaza and to "eliminate Hamas" and their "pockets of resistance. They claim operational control on the north, which they have surrounded. They have not eradicated the tunnel system, which Hamas uses to get around the Gaza Strip undetected. They have not found the senior leaders of Hamas in Gaza either. Analysts say their new phase of the war might last the whole entire year. 

To me, it seems like the new phase of the war will last at least a whole year, if it ever finishes. Israel doesn't seem to be very interested in actually giving Palestinians a state of any kind. The pre-October 7 status quo worked in Israel's favor. The end of the war means the end of Netanyahu's current premiership. Netanyahu hopes he can mold the war into a success for him, which is possible if he achieves the wild goal of destroying Hamas. It is yet to be seen but turning the Netanyahu boat around will be challenging, with him polling at 15% and having overseen what is widely regarded as a massive intelligence failure, October 7. What does eradicating Hamas actually mean? Emmanuel Macron asked the same thing:

“I think we have reached a moment when the Israeli authorities will have to define more clearly what their final objective is,” French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday. “The total destruction of Hamas? Does anybody think that’s possible? If it’s that, the war will last 10 years.”

Does Israel want to stay in Gaza for decades? Potentially. This is Israel's war on terror. If Israel has to stay in Gaza for 20 years like Afghanistan, Israelis say so be it. Killing Hamas' senior leadership (CSIS) is certainly an option, and one that Israel believes in. Never mind that Yahya Sinwar, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza, spent decades not leading Hamas as he was in Israeli prison. Never mind that during the second intifada, Israel repeatedly killed senior leaders of Hamas, which obviously still exists today. The CSIS article I linked gives the option of strengthening Hamas' rivals. The PA is a shell of an organization with no clear successor to Mahmoud Abbas. Another option they give is to defeat the idea of Hamas, which is a "particular blend of political Islam and Palestinian nationalism." They have been able to defeat individual groups before, like the Palestinian Liberation Front, which agreed to abandon terrorism in the 90s. But can they do the same to Hamas? The more they strike Palestine, the more people like Hamas!

The question still stands what will happen to Gaza. The war has no end in sight, and it is not like the Israelis want a particularly defined end. Israel has destroyed Gaza, and the tensions are expanding throughout the region. Countries like Saudi Arabia that were warming up to Israel have dropped talks cold, and friendly governments like Egypt are paralyzed by their own economies. Millions of Gazans are displaced and have endless humanitarian crisis ahead of them. Super right-wing parties like Smotrich's get more powerful as the war goes on. From the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

Gazans will live in the surviving buildings and makeshift structures for a while. Any rebuilding will exclude significant portions of Gaza. Commerce, manufacturing, agriculture, and other businesses will be effectively destroyed, rendering Gazans completely dependent on humanitarian aid. Once a “besieged enclave,” Gaza will be reduced to a “supercamp” of internally displaced persons.

Hamas is not just the terrorist organization that Israel is targeting. It is also the government of Gaza. They have been unable to govern poverty-stricken Gaza alone, with crucial support being provided by NGOs and various organizations of the United Nations. Will Israel round up the all the employees of Hamas? The ambulance drivers, traffic cops, judges? Will they kill them for working for Hamas? Who will govern Gaza? Arab countries don't want to. Egypt doesn't want to. Not even Israel wants to. And if Israel continues to occupy Gaza in their war on terror, there is no UN peacekeeping mission that will be interested in governing Gaza, especially given dozens of UN employees have been killed in the strip. 

The outcomes all seem bleak.