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Benjamin Netanyahu reveals Israel's first post-war plan for Gaza

Benjamin Netanyahu reveals Israel's first post-war plan for Gaza

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has presented his first official "day after" plan for the Gaza Strip once the war ends, claiming Israel will keep security control over Palestinian areas and make reconstruction dependent on demilitarisation.

The plan underlines Mr Netanyahu's resistance to the creation of a Palestinian state which he sees as a security threat, without explicitly ruling one out at some future stage.

To secure control of Gaza, Mr Netanyahu proposes Israel have a presence on the Gaza-Egypt border in the south of the enclave and cooperates with Egypt and the United States in that area to prevent smuggling attempts, including at the Rafah crossing.

The plan calls for shutting down the UN Palestinian refugees agency UNRWA, which Israel has repeatedly accused of providing cover to Hamas, and replacing it with other international aid groups.

In the long-term goals listed, Mr Netanyahu rejects the "unilateral recognition" of a Palestinian state.

He says a settlement with the Palestinians will only be achieved through direct negotiations between the two sides - without naming who the Palestinian party would be.

In Gaza, it proposes replacing Hamas administrative control with local representatives "who are not affiliated with terrorist countries or groups and are not financially supported by them", setting demilitarisation and deradicalisation as goals to be achieved in the medium term.

"The prime minister's document of principles reflects broad public consensus over the goals of the war and for replacing Hamas rule in Gaza with a civilian alternative," a statement by the Prime Minister's office said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (AP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (AP)

The plan does not elaborate on when that intermediary stage would begin or how long it would last. But it conditions the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip, much of which has been laid to waste by Israel's offensive, on its complete demilitarisation.

Spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said Mr Netanyahu's proposal was doomed to fail, as were any Israeli plans to change the geographic and demographic realities in Gaza.

"If the world is genuinely interested in having security and stability in the region, it must end Israel's occupation of Palestinian land and recognise an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital," he said.

The document, distributed to security cabinet members as a discussion paper rather than a set programme, proposes Israel would maintain security control over all land west of Jordan, including the occupied West Bank and Gaza - territories where the Palestinians hope to establish an independent state.

The plan comes amid intensifying international calls to end the fighting that has destroyed large swathes of Gaza and to revive efforts to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

US President Joe Biden, Israel's main ally, has said that only a two-state solution has a chance of bringing long-term peace and has been engaged in intense diplomatic efforts to build support among regional and other states.

After the plan was revealed, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Israel's expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank was inconsistent with international law.

This signalled a return to long-standing US policy on the issue, which had been reversed by the previous administration of Donald Trump.

On Friday, as the plans became public, efforts to achieve a pause in the fighting to allow the return of some of the 134 hostages held by Hamas continued ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan which begins in March.

Israeli ministers have said that unless a deal is reached, Israel will launch its long-awaited operation against the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have sought shelter under increasing dire humanitarian conditions.

Little progress has been made on achieving Palestinian statehood since the signing of the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s. Among the obstacles impeding it are expanding Israeli settlements in territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Most countries regard the settlements, which in many areas cut Palestinian communities off from each other, as a violation of international law. Israel claims a biblical birthright to the land and on Thursday said it would approve more than 3,000 new housing units in settlements.