World

Netanyahu seeks open-ended control over security in Gaza in new postwar plan

It was swiftly rejected by Palestinian leaders and runs counter to Washington’s vision for the war-ravaged enclave.

A Palestinian looks at the destruction after an Israeli strike on residential buildings in Rafah, Gaza Strip (Hatem Ali/AP)
A Palestinian looks at the destruction after an Israeli strike on residential buildings in Rafah, Gaza Strip A Palestinian looks at the destruction after an Israeli strike on residential buildings in Rafah, Gaza Strip (Hatem Ali/AP) (Hatem Ali/AP)

Israel seeks open-ended control over security and civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip, according to a long-awaited postwar plan by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It was swiftly rejected on Friday by Palestinian leaders and runs counter to Washington’s vision for the war-ravaged enclave.

Mr Netanyahu presented the two-page document to his security cabinet late on Thursday for approval.

Deep disagreements over Gaza’s future have led to increasingly public friction between Israel and the United States, its closest ally.

An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires a shell from southern Israel towards the Gaza Strip, in a position near the Israel-Gaza border (Leo Correa/AP)
An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires a shell from southern Israel towards the Gaza Strip, in a position near the Israel-Gaza border An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires a shell from southern Israel towards the Gaza Strip, in a position near the Israel-Gaza border (Leo Correa/AP) (Leo Correa/AP)

The Biden administration seeks eventual Palestinian governance in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank as a precursor to Palestinian statehood, an outcome vehemently opposed by Mr Netanyahu and his right-wing government.

Mr Netanyahu’s plan envisions hand-picked Palestinians in Gaza administering the territory.

Separately, ceasefire efforts appeared to gain traction, with mediators to present a new proposal at an expected high-level meeting this weekend in Paris.

The US, Egypt and Qatar have been struggling for weeks to find a formula that could halt Israel’s devastating offensive in Gaza, but now face an unofficial deadline as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan approaches.

In Gaza, Israeli air strikes in the centre and south of the territory killed at least 68 Palestinians, including children and women, overnight and into Friday, health officials and an Associated Press journalist said.

Another 24 bodies remained trapped under the rubble.

Fidaa Ashour, whose sister was killed in a strike early on Friday in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, said “the world does not feel what we are enduring”.

At a hospital in the central town of Deir al-Balah, relatives wept over bodies laid out in burial shrouds in the courtyard, and a man cradled a dead infant.

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike on residential buildings and a mosque in Rafah, Gaza Strip (Fatima Shbair/AP)
Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike on residential buildings and a mosque in Rafah, Gaza Strip Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike on residential buildings and a mosque in Rafah, Gaza Strip (Fatima Shbair/AP) (Fatima Shbair/AP)

The overall Palestinian death toll since the start of the war rose to more than 29,500, with close to 70,000 people wounded, Gaza health officials said.

The death toll amounts to close to 1.3% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million.

Mr Netanyahu’s plan, while lacking specifics, marks the first time he has presented a formal postwar vision.

It reiterates that Israel is determined to crush Hamas, the militant group that overran the Gaza Strip in 2007.

Polls have indicated that a majority of Palestinians do not support Hamas, but the group has deep roots in Palestinian society.

Critics, including some in Israel, say the goal of eliminating Hamas is unattainable.

Mr Netanyahu’s plan calls for freedom of action for Israel’s military across a demilitarised Gaza after the war to thwart any security threat.

It says Israel would establish a buffer zone inside Gaza, which is likely to provoke US objections.

The plan also envisions Gaza being governed by local officials who it says would “not be identified with countries or entities that support terrorism and will not receive payment from them”.

A Palestinian boy walks past a car destroyed in an Israeli drone strike in the West Bank Jenin refugee camp (Majdi Mohammed/AP)
A Palestinian boy walks past a car destroyed in an Israeli drone strike in the West Bank Jenin refugee camp A Palestinian boy walks past a car destroyed in an Israeli drone strike in the West Bank Jenin refugee camp (Majdi Mohammed/AP) (Majdi Mohammed/AP)

It is not clear if any Palestinians would agree to such sub-contractor roles.

Over the past decades, Israel has repeatedly tried and failed to set up hand-picked local Palestinian governing bodies.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers pockets of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on Friday denounced Mr Netanyahu’s plan as “colonialist and racist”, saying it would amount to Israeli reoccupation of Gaza.

Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005, but maintained control of access to the territory.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken said he had not seen details of the plan.

But he said any plan should be consistent with basic principles the US had set out for Gaza’s future “including that it cannot be a platform for terrorism, there should be no Israeli reoccupation of Gaza, the size of Gaza’s territory should not be reduced”.

The Biden administration wants to see a reformed Palestinian Authority govern both Gaza and the West Bank as a step towards Palestinian statehood.

Buildings destroyed by an air strike in Rafah (Hatem Ali/AP)
Buildings destroyed by an air strike in Rafah Buildings destroyed by an air strike in Rafah (Hatem Ali/AP) (Hatem Ali/AP)

It has sought to chip away at Mr Netanyahu’s resistance by holding out the prospect of the normalisation of ties between Israel and Arab powerhouse Saudi Arabia.

US, Israeli, Qatari and Egyptian officials are expected to meet in Paris this weekend to discuss ceasefire efforts.

A senior Egyptian official said Egypt and Qatar would bring an understanding reached with Hamas leaders that calls for a six-week ceasefire and the release of elderly and sick hostages in return for a yet-to-be specified number of Palestinian prisoners in Israel. During the ceasefire, details would be worked out on a further stage.

Hamas has demanded a complete halt to Israel’s offensive and a withdrawal of its troops from Gaza in return for the release of all its remaining hostages, as well as the release of Palestinians held by Israel, including top militants. Mr Netanyahu has rejected those demands.

Israel declared war on Hamas on October 7, after the militants stormed into southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 hostages. More than 100 hostages were freed in a week-long ceasefire in late November.

Since the start of the war, 29,514 Palestinians were killed in Israel’s offensive and close to 70,000 were wounded, the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said on Friday. Two thirds of those killed have been women and children, said the ministry, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count.

Israel says it has killed at least 10,000 Hamas fighters, without providing evidence for its count. It holds Hamas responsible for civilian casualties because the group operates and fights from within civilian areas.