Israel is resolved to remove Hamas and its terrorist infrastructure from the Gaza Strip permanently, and for much of the world, its determination raises one question more than any other: What comes next in Gaza? For those who disapprove of Israel’s actions in the war or those who either passively or actively support the role of Hamas as the Strip’s governing authority, the lack of answers provides a pretext not only to demand a permanent cease-fire but to suggest (often quietly and with a furrowed brow indicating supposed realpolitik wisdom) that the path Israel seems to be making for itself is a dead end from which it needs to be saved.
For the Arab world, the vacuum creates a jockeying for power and influence, albeit behind the scenes to avoid accountability for anything that goes wrong.
For the Biden administration, this has invited fantasies of a renewed path to an ever-elusive two-state solution—a Palestinian Authority governing a unified West Bank and Gaza, and supposedly representing the views of all Palestinians in negotiations with Israel. Big ideas for Gaza’s future are being cooked up behind closed doors in Washington. Task forces and blue-ribbon commissions are sure to follow. But allowing the Washington establishment to paint a foreign policy on a blank canvas, mapping the relations between Israel and the Arabs surrounding it, is a risky proposition that will, as it always has in the past, fail.
If Washington and Jerusalem share an end-state objective of a Gaza that can never again pose a terror threat to Israel, and the president himself has said repeatedly that we do share this objective, the question about the future needs to be reframed. Instead of asking what comes next, leaders in both capitals should be asking: What cannot come next? Answering that question is the only way to establish the parameters for a viable path forward that precludes the known ingredients for policy failure.
Let us lay out some of those parameters.
First, Gaza has no future with Hamas or other terrorist groups involved. Perhaps obvious to some but not to all, Hamas and other terrorist organizations cannot be part of Gaza’s future. Demands for a cease-fire in Gaza before Hamas is dismantled would guarantee that the territory remains a base of terror operations indefinitely. Relenting to international pressure or Hamas psychological-warfare tactics to extend the cease-fire to a permanent condition would doom the future of Gaza (and Israel).
Unimaginative naysayers and Hamas apologists alike will try to persuade us there is no military solution to Hamas, only a political one. That is a lie that Israel’s military can expose if given the opportunity to finish the job.
Failing to halt Israel’s military objectives, Hamas supporters in the West and those who oppose Israel’s self-assertions more generally will grow more desperate. They will move beyond urging Congress and the White House to “condition” aid to Israel as a method of halting the Jewish state’s campaign to destroy Hamas and prevent another October 7 massacre, which is the line taken up by Senators Bernie Sanders and Chris Murphy and members of the “squad” in the House of Representative. Adding conditions to American security assistance to Israel—a fellow democracy that upholds the rule of law and is now fighting for its survival—should not be deemed a “worthwhile thought,” as President Biden claimed over the Thanksgiving weekend. Rather, it is a proposal aimed at delegitimizing Israel’s right to defend itself that would lead, logically, to the eventual annihilation of the Jewish state.
Pro-Israel Democrats in Congress have already publicly rejected the idea. And with a Republican-controlled House, there’s no path for Hamas to achieve this objective in Washington legislatively. President Biden might have the executive power to withhold critical military support from Israel when Jerusalem calls for resupply, but with a recent NBC News survey showing independent voters favoring military assistance to Israel, and Democrats evenly split, Biden would pay a steep political price for doing so. (Republicans overwhelmingly favor Israel.)
Assuming Israel stays the course (with U.S. backing), Hamas will lose control of Gaza in the weeks and months ahead. Its tunnels will be destroyed, its leadership eliminated. But Jerusalem and Washington will still need to prevent its supporters from finding a path back to power through Western-supported mechanisms.
Those who pushed Israel in 2006 into accepting Palestinian elections that included Hamas should not repeat their mistakes. We should expect attempts by Hamas’s ideological supporters to sponsor a new group with a new name to regain a foothold in Gaza’s governance and ultimately participate in any future Palestinian election—the vehicle Hamas first used to gain control 17 years ago.
Anyone who claims to champion the cause of Palestinian freedom and independence should focus on establishing the rule of law and protecting basic rights within Palestinian territories before proposing elections. And any future elections should prohibit political parties that refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist, let alone those that advocate its destruction.
Second, Israel cannot repeat the mistake of unilaterally abandoning security control of Gaza. No single policy decision looms larger over the events of October 7 than the decision of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2005 to “disengage” militarily from Gaza. The Palestinian Authority’s security services proved incapable of holding the territory, and Hamas used the vacuum left by Israel to take the Strip by force. Israel gave up security control believing it would get peace in return. Instead, it got more than 10,000 rockets and a metastasized Hamas threat on its border over the subsequent 15 years, leading to the massacre of October 7. As part of its current operations in Gaza, Israel is reestablishing key corridors of security control that would allow the Israel Defense Forces to rapidly respond to terror threats as they emerge in future months and years in real time—not just for the defense of Israel but for the defense of whatever civilian government will follow Hamas’s destruction.
Detractors of Israel will falsely label this a reoccupation of Gaza, giving Hamas supporters rallying in the streets and on college campuses something new to condemn. Let them do so (though challenge them at every turn when they do). Such radicals cannot dictate the future of Israel’s security and the stability of a post-Hamas Gaza Strip. Israel’s long-term security control over Gaza—alongside Palestinian civilian control—is the only viable path that safeguards the end-state objective of preventing Gaza from reemerging as a staging ground for terrorism.
What that ultimately looks like will be guided by Israeli security assessments. There may be a no-man’s-land buffer zone between Israel’s border with Gaza and the nearest population center. There may never again be a border crossing between Israel and Gaza, which will put the onus on Egypt to integrate Gaza economically with the Arab world and provide utilities and services. It will likely be decades before Israel will again serve as a source of jobs—and intelligence information leading to kidnappings and slaughters—for residents of the Gaza Strip.
New border-security measures will be required along the Mediterranean coast and, most important, along the Egyptian border. Iran cannot be permitted to succeed in smuggling weapons—and perhaps operatives—into Gaza via Egypt or the sea. That will require strict conditions on aid to Egypt, which will put unprecedented pressure on Cairo to work with Israel to keep its Gaza border secure.
Whatever the arrangements, Washington policymakers should remember that putting pressure on Israel to withdraw its military from Gaza would guarantee a repeat of history—ultimately condemning the people of Gaza to more years of suffering under renewed terrorist rule.
Third, no country that ever sponsored or provided safe harbor to Hamas can be allowed any role in Gaza’s future. Primarily, that rules out any Qatari or Turkish involvement in a post-Hamas Gaza. Doha and Ankara are ideological allies of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Their decades-long financial, political, and media support for the Islamist radicalization of Gaza should be met with international sanctions and condemnations, not invitations to donor summits and diplomatic roundtables.
Qatar, in particular, has a long history of support for radical Islamists in the Middle East. Doha played host to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in the 1990s. The Qatari interior minister even helped KSM escape U.S. arrest prior to 9/11. U.S. officials in 2014 identified Qatar as a “permissive jurisdiction” for financing ISIS and the al-Nusra Front, then a Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda.
When Hamas came to power in Gaza, it was Qatar that led the charge to defy an international embargo aimed at breaking the terror group’s control. When Hamas needed a new home for its Damascus-based leaders at the height of the Syrian civil war, it was Qatar offering to pay Arab countries such as Jordan to host Hamas. And it was Qatar that ultimately volunteered for the job, albeit with the tacit approval of the Obama administration.
For more than a decade, Qatar pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into Hamas on the promise that it would moderate the group and separate its leaders from Iran. That was a scam run on naive officials in Washington and Jerusalem. While Israel was lulled into a false sense of security, Hamas used the money to build the terror tunnel network we see today. The blood of 5,000 Israelis dead and wounded, including American citizens, is on Qatar as much as Iran.
The emir of Qatar knows all of this. And so, within minutes of October 7, to salvage its image and save its relationship with Washington, Doha reportedly called the White House offering to broker hostage negotiations with Hamas. This was the ultimate case of an arsonist pretending to help extinguish the fire he had started. And as Qatar has repeatedly stated throughout the past week, its objective is simple: the end of Israeli military operations and the survival of its ally, Hamas.
There will be a time of reckoning for Qatar soon. Congress should strip the country of its Major Non-NATO Ally status, move the U.S. airbase outside Doha to a new location, shut down Qatar’s pro-Hamas Al Jazeera operation in the West, and threaten sanctions if Qatar doesn’t terminate all material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act should also be amended to allow victims of Qatar-sponsored Hamas terrorism to sue for damages. Similar measures should be considered for Turkey, too. Washington should focus on shutting down Hamas offices in both countries and demanding the extradition of Hamas leaders within their borders.
As for Gaza’s future, Congress should condition all future U.S. foreign assistance on the White House’s precluding Hamas state sponsors from every aspect of post-Hamas reconstruction. Not a dime of Qatari or Turkish money should ever be allowed into Palestinian territories again. No political parties or politicians financially backed by Qatar or Turkey should be included in any governing coalition.
Fourth, no political party or governing authority that pledges to destroy Israel, promotes terrorism against Israel, or pushes economic warfare against Israel can be part of a post-Hamas Gaza. Most reasonable people in Washington are probably nodding their heads in agreement reading that last statement. But they’d be shocked to learn that this principle excludes the Palestinian Authority (PA) from any role in Gaza.
The PA pays people to carry out terror attacks against Israelis—a government policy commonly known to policymakers as “Pay for Slay.” The PA actively promotes the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign around the globe, pursuing political and economic warfare against Israel to delegitimize the existence of the Jewish state.
PA textbooks and television teach Palestinian children to hate and kill Jews—an indoctrination of violent anti-Semitism that the world saw manifested on October 7. The PA has yet to condemn the Hamas massacre. Indeed, its television celebrated in the hours that followed while the government more recently has spread conspiracy theories that Israel carried out the attacks.
A recent survey of Palestinian opinion claimed 83 percent of West Bank residents supported the October 7 massacre. That’s evident from the videos of Palestinians cheering in the streets and holding Hamas flags when Israel released more than 150 terrorists into the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem as part of the hostage-release negotiation. Palestinians in the West Bank also summarily executed two people accused of collaborating with Israel against Hamas. Their bodies hung from electrical towers as the local population cheered.
With a virulent anti-Semite at the helm of the PA—Mahmoud Abbas, who literally holds a doctorate in Holocaust denial—there is no hope for peace between Israel and Palestinians living in the West Bank, let alone with a PA-controlled Gaza Strip. Making matters worse, Abbas is 88 with no apparent successor, and Iranian-backed terror cells now operate throughout PA territory with impunity, prompting almost daily IDF military operations to arrest militants and seize weapons.
Put simply, the Oslo-era experiment of the PA, which was created in the negotiations that led to the return of Yasser Arafat from exile to Ramallah, has proven a complete and utter failure in delivering peace with Israel within the territories it governs today. Absent fundamental reforms to address its litany of ills, the PA should not be allowed to spread this failure to Gaza, too.
Fifth, international organizations that promote anti-Semitism or incitement against Israel, that are complicit in Hamas war crimes, and that fail to submit their staff and contractors to U.S. counterterrorism vetting cannot be trusted to help build a better future for Gaza. One UN agency bears the greatest responsibility for enabling and subsidizing Hamas, while indoctrinating a generation of Palestinians to commit a massacre of Jews like the one on October 7: the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The people of Gaza are not refugees—four generations of them have literally been born there—and treating them like refugees both lowers their standard of living and supports a political narrative that Palestinians will one day push the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea. Since the UN views Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and a host of other U.S.-designated terrorist organizations as political groups, UNRWA does not prohibit what Washington would deem terror affiliations among its employees, contractors, and beneficiaries. The schools where Palestinian kids are taught to hate and kill Jews are UNRWA-run schools. Hamas established its terror tunnel network right under UNRWA facilities.
UNRWA provides Palestinians a vision of despair and endless conflict with Israel—a vision that fundamentally undermines any hope for peace and prosperity in Gaza. If ever there was a moment to try a new approach for the delivery of humanitarian aid in the Palestinian territories, this is that moment. The people of Gaza might not be refugees, but they are most certainly internally displaced persons (IDPs), and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the most qualified and respected international agency to care for IDPs and plan for their future. Congress should insist that UNHCR take the lead in Gaza alongside the U.S. and anti-Hamas Arab partners working to build self-sufficiency instead of dependency on international welfare. If this test case of eliminating UNRWA in Gaza shows demonstrable economic results for Palestinians, it will serve as a model for how to address the same problems UNRWA has created in the West Bank.
UNRWA, of course, like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), proved complicit in Hamas using hospitals as terror bases, which is a war crime. In a terror tunnel under the Shasti hospital, Israeli troops found evidence that hostages had been held there—with a baby bottle left on top of a box bearing the WHO logo. Video evidence pulled from Shifa hospital shows hostages brought through the hospital on October 7—a prominent base of operations not just for Hamas but for the ICRC, too. One released hostage, an 84-year-old Israeli woman, came back to freedom with a body temperature at 82.4 degrees because the ICRC refused to provide her with any medical care once she was remanded into the organization’s custody. The world cannot turn a blind eye to these agencies’ complicity in crimes against humanity. Congress provides hundreds of millions of dollars per year to both the WHO and the ICRC. That funding should be put on hold pending U.S. and Israeli-led investigations that yield leadership changes and systemic reforms.
These are five starting points for clear parameters on what should not come next in Gaza. Hamas should not be present in any form. Israel should not withdraw its forces. Qatar and Turkey should not be involved. The PA should not be in charge. UNRWA and other Hamas-enabling agencies should not play a role.
Instead of using a blank canvas, policymakers should be forced to paint inside these lines to enable the best possible outcome in Gaza.
Photo: AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg
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