Netanyahu’s Plan – A Good First Step

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On Feb. 23, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released his most detailed proposal yet for a postwar Gaza. Within hours of the plan’s release, the proposal was parsed and dissected, applauded and pilloried.

Those reactions were not surprising. Most of the terms of the Netanyahu proposal were laid out in many of his previous public statements. This formulation was essentially a collection of those statements in a single document.

Nonetheless, the proposal is important — precisely because it is a compilation of policy positions of Israel’s leadership on the tangled issues of postwar Gaza. And the proposal is a good first public step in what everyone recognizes needs to be a carefully negotiated and formulated approach to a long list of important issues relating to postwar Gaza and security assurances for Israel.

The plan appears to have been carefully written to postpone long-term decisions about Gaza’s fate and to avoid a direct confrontation with Netanyahu’s domestic supporters and foreign partners. Thus, the proposal made clear to Israel’s right-wing base that Netanyahu rejects foreign demands for Israel to leave Gaza and allow a Palestinian state to be established in Gaza and the West Bank.

At the same time, the wording was vague enough for the United States and other foreign powers who are pressing for Palestinian sovereignty to conclude that there is still room to maneuver.

The proposal envisions the creation of an Israeli-controlled buffer zone along the length of Gaza’s border with Egypt, a move that risks inflaming tensions with the Egyptian government which is already on edge with concerns about mass displacements from Gaza to Egyptian territory as Israel continues its pursuit of Hamas in southern Gaza. And the proposal calls for Israeli control over a sliver of land inside Gaza, along the Israeli border, as a buffer zone.

That part of the plan — which will result in the reduction in the size of Gaza itself — is contrary to very clear limitations regarding such postwar action strongly urged by the United States and others.

Interestingly, the plan is silent on the question of whether Israeli settlers would be allowed to establish communities in Gaza, an issue of importance to many of Netanyahu’s right-wing supporters — and another issue to be negotiated.

Perhaps most importantly, the plan lays out a broad vision for the governance of Gaza after the war, in terms that invite further negotiation and clarification. For example, the proposal calls for administrative control of the territory to be handed to “local stakeholders with managerial experience” who are “not affiliated with countries or entities that support terrorism.” The proposal does not mention the Palestinian Authority — whose involvement in postwar Gaza has been promoted by the United States — which leaves that issue open for possible discussion.

Finally, the proposal leaves open the possibility of “a permanent arrangement with the Palestinians,” but says that it “will only be achieved through direct negotiation between the parties.” Here, Netanyahu clearly rejected any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state but left open the possibility of negotiated terms for an independent Palestinian state.

We disagree with those who have been dismissive of what we see as Netanyahu’s opening move in what will be a protracted and complicated series of negotiations. And we look to stakeholders, partners and interested third parties to join in working toward a resolution that addresses Israel’s security concerns and provides independence and opportunity to the Palestinians.

 

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