Israeli officials weigh power-sharing with Arab states in post-war Gaza

For months, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has avoided an in-depth public discussion about Gaza's post-war future. Seeking to appease both his far-right allies, who seek to rebuild Israeli settlements in Gaza, and Israel's foreign partners, who want Gaza to return to Palestinian rule, Netanyahu stopped short of any specific statements.

Behind the scenes, however, senior officials in his office are considering an expansive plan for post-war Gaza, in which Israel would offer to share oversight of the territory with an alliance of Arab countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates United Arabs. as has the United States, according to three Israeli officials and five people who discussed the plan with members of the Israeli government.

Under that proposal, Israel would do so in exchange for normalizing relations between itself and Saudi Arabia, according to the people who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Far-right members of Netanyahu's coalition are almost certain to reject such an idea, and the same goes for the Arab countries mentioned as possible participants. But it is the clearest sign yet that officials at the highest levels of the Israeli government are thinking about Gaza's postwar future, despite saying little about it in public, and it could be a starting point for future negotiations.

The revelation comes amid intense international efforts to convince Israel and Hamas to agree to a ceasefire that could eventually become a permanent truce, and follows growing pressure on Israel to plan for what comes next. Israel's reluctance to decide how to govern Gaza has created a power vacuum across much of the territory, leading to lawlessness and worsening the dire humanitarian situation.

Arab officials and analysts have called the power-sharing plan unworkable because it does not create an explicit path to a Palestinian state, which the Emirati and Saudi Arabian governments have said is a prerequisite for their involvement in post-war planning. But others have welcomed the proposal with caution because it suggests at least more flexibility among Israeli leaders than their public statements suggest.

Under the proposal, the Arab-Israeli alliance, in collaboration with the United States, would appoint Gaza leaders to redevelop the devastated territory, overhaul its education system and maintain order. Under the proposal, after seven to 10 years, the alliance would allow Gazans to vote on whether to be absorbed into a united Palestinian administration that would govern both Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Meanwhile, the plan suggests, the Israeli army could continue to operate inside Gaza.

The proposal does not explicitly say whether such a combined administration would constitute a sovereign Palestinian state, or whether it would include the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank. Publicly, Prime Minister Netanyahu has rejected the idea of ​​full Palestinian sovereignty and has all but ruled out Palestinian Authority involvement.

The Israeli prime minister's office declined to comment.

The proposal lacks detail and has not been formally adopted by the Israeli government, which has publicly presented only a vaguer vision under which Israel would maintain greater control over post-war Gaza.

Emirati and Saudi officials and analysts said the new proposal would not guarantee the involvement of Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, especially because it would not guarantee Palestinian sovereignty and would allow the continuation of Israeli military operations all over the world. inside Gaza. The Saudi government has said it will not normalize ties with Israel unless Israeli leaders take irrevocable steps toward establishing a Palestinian state.

“The details need to be defined more explicitly so that it is 'irreversible,'” said Ali Shihabi, a Saudi commentator considered close to the Saudi royal court. “The problem is that Israelis have a habit of hiding behind ambiguous terms, so I think the Saudi government would seek such clarity.”

Still, the proposal is the most detailed plan for postwar Gaza that Israeli officials have discussed, and parts of it are in line with ideas articulated by Arab leaders both publicly and privately.

Thomas R. Nides, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel who was consulted on the plan, said the proposal is significant because it reveals internal Israeli thinking.

“This shows that despite the Israeli government's public attitude, behind the scenes Israeli officials are thinking seriously about what post-war Gaza would look like,” Nides said. “Obviously the devil is in the details, which may not be enough to convince Arab partners like the UAE to commit to the plan. And nothing can happen until the hostages are released and the ceasefire begins.”

The disclosure of the plan comes amid renewed efforts to seal a truce between Israel and Hamas.

A group of businessmen, most of them Israeli, some of them close to Netanyahu, hatched the plan in November. According to one of the government officials, the proposal was first formally proposed to Israeli officials in Netanyahu's office in December.

Two officials said the plan is still being studied at the highest levels of the Israeli government, although it cannot be implemented until Hamas is defeated and the remaining hostages in Gaza are released.

Hamas maintains full control of parts of southern Gaza despite a devastating Israeli military campaign that has killed more than 34,000 people, according to local officials; brought parts of the territory to the brink of famine; and left much of Gaza in ruins.

The businessmen, who asked to remain anonymous so as not to jeopardize their ability to promote the idea, said they had briefed officials from several Arab and Western governments, including the United States, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, on the plan. and United Arab Emirates. .

It was also shown to Tony Blair, the former British prime minister who heads an institute that advises the Saudi government on modernization projects. A Palestinian businessman, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his relatives from retaliation in Gaza, was also involved in promoting the idea to American officials.

When asked about the plan, the UAE Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the Emirati government “will not participate in any reconstruction efforts in Gaza until there is agreement on a roadmap for a political solution to the conflict, that includes a transparent and timely approach that is binding on all parties and that leads to the realization of the two-state solution, with an independent Palestinian state.”

A Saudi official, speaking on condition of anonymity to comply with government protocol, rejected the proposal because it did not create a “credible and irreversible path” to Palestinian statehood or ensure Palestinian Authority involvement. The official also denied that Saudi authorities had previously been informed of the plan.

An Egyptian government spokesman declined to comment.

The businessmen's aim is to gain international support for the idea to convince Netanyahu that it would be worth embarking on the difficult task of gaining domestic support.

Netanyahu's governing coalition could collapse if it were to formally support a plan that does not definitively rule out the creation of a Palestinian state. Far-right members of his coalition strongly oppose Palestinian sovereignty and want to re-establish Israeli settlements in Gaza. They have threatened to topple the government if Netanyahu ends the war in Gaza without ousting Hamas.

Polls show that a majority of Israelis also oppose the creation of a Palestinian state, which many say would reward Hamas for leading the terrorist attacks that killed around 1,200 people on October 7, during the cross-border raid on Israel that began the war.

Fearful of both toppling his government and losing support in a subsequent election campaign, Netanyahu has repeatedly expressed his opposition to a Palestinian state in recent months, pledging to maintain Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza.

But analysts and some of his allies believe he would be willing to leave open the theoretical possibility of Palestinian sovereignty if it allowed him to seal a historic normalization deal with Saudi Arabia.

Forging diplomatic ties with the most influential Arab state would allow Netanyahu to restore part of his political legacy, which has been tarnished because the Hamas-led raid on Israel, the deadliest attack in Israeli history, occurred on his watch.

“He wants this legacy,” said Nadav Shtrauchler, an Israeli political analyst and former prime ministerial strategist.

“On the other hand, he doesn't believe in the two-state solution. Two, he can't present it to his audience,” Shtrauchler added.

Adam Rasgon contributed reporting from Jerusalem, e Julian E. Barnes from Washington.

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