The so-called “after Hamas” in Gaza: what to do? (19nov2023)

While the systematic destruction of homes and the occupation of the territory of Gaza by the Israeli army proceeds, among the usual few who decide the world’s geopolitical fate, someone has begun to wonder what to do in Gaza for “after Hamas” and which actors they could take control of the situation.

Meanwhile, as a geographer, I must start from the concrete conditions on the ground that can be expected when Israel decides that “Hamas has been eliminated.”

Here, the sore points begin with. Hamas cannot be eliminated physically, underground bunkers and many tunnels can be physically destroyed, and the accesses can be closed, but certainly not all. However, this is not Hamas’s essence. This entity is born and depends on people and not on the power of weapons. The ideology of Hamas, political Islam, will continue to live in leaders who are not in Gaza today, in the ideal and religious support it has in the various states of the Arab-Muslim world and above all in the substantial number of new militia volunteers made by all young Palestinian males who in these and the coming days have seen their homes destroyed, their relatives (parents, wives, brothers and sisters, children) and friends killed by Israeli bombings.

In Gaza, it can be estimated that there are around 300 thousand young Palestinian males between 18 and 30 years old, and I think it is concretely possible that 10% could want to take revenge with weapons against any Israeli Jew, even with the intolerable methods used on October 7 by the Hamas militiamen and other smaller groups who acted with their own type of local Islamic jihad.

This implies that what is delicately defined as “security control” in Gaza, that is, the ability to control people and prevent armed groups from reforming in the future, will have to be carried out by subjects opposed to political Islam who have no qualms about repressing, even by force, militiamen, and activists from that camp.

All this in the context of destruction of homes and infrastructures of all kinds–not only buildings and roads, but also power plants, water pipes, sewerage systems, electrical connections, etc.–in addition to the psychological devastation, especially in children, that the bombs and the forced exodus on foot or on carts have caused in the population of Gaza.

To bring the physical context of Gaza back to a barely passable living condition will take time, years, money, and a lot of money. Therefore, prolonged control of the territory from an administrative and political point of view combined, as already mentioned, with military control of the situation.

Whatever Netanyahu says, and as long as his political destiny is not at an end, Israel will not be able to remain in Gaza for years to militarily control and repress, as has been done since 1967 in the West Bank. Above all, he will not be able (and I believe he will not want) to administer Gaza; it would cost him too much economically and above all geopolitical terms. Currently, the thousands of deaths under the bombings, the majority of which are minors and women, and which continue to grow, are undermining the Western support he enjoys and even in the United States, whose public opinion has for decades been stable on his side no matter what he does. . In the Arab-Muslim world, even the states that signed the Abraham Accords diplomatically recognizing Israel will, I think, be forced to at least suspend them if they are not rejected completely.

Who then?

I acknowledge, regardless of my desires and ethical principles, that the global geopolitical context is not democratic, and those who decide are always leaders of rich and militarily powerful states. Never more than 10, some governments always present at the decision-making level, with the United States leading the way and others involved depending on where the crisis is located geographically.

Therefore, it seems to me that the unavoidable conditions are as follows.

1) Israel must accept (i.e., trust at least a little) that third parties are present with their own troops in Gaza.

2) the states that provide the military must be economically solid (to maintain troops for years) and ideologically opposed to the political Islam of Hamas and groups such as Islamic jihad and/or al Qaeda and similar; they must also be “credible” militarily, and credible means that they have demonstrated their military capabilities on the ground, that is, in some concrete armed conflict.

3) Many funds must arrive for years to rebuild the physical condition of civilian life.

4) The government of Gaza must be only administrative and not political for it to be accepted both by Israel and by those who send military and/or money. This means no elections for a few years, something to which the Palestinians have been accustomed for quite a while.

For points 1) (acceptance by Israel), 2) (militarily and economically sound), and 3) (fund providers), it seems to me that the only two possible states are Saudi Arabia and the Emirates United Arabs. The latter signed the Abraham Accords with Israel, and Saudis were involved in a US and Israeli strategy to convince them to sign them. Economically, they are strong and militarily cutting their teeth in the Yemeni conflict, in which they are directly involved. Both were “anti-Iran,” especially the Saudis, although thanks to China there has been a substantial diplomatic rapprochement in recent months. Above all, they are Emiratis, not democratic in the Western sense, and decidedly against the political Islam of the Muslim Brotherhood, especially in its militant aspects, such as Hamas and the like.

The military control of the situation in Gaza by the Emirates and Saudis would certainly be a guarantee that funds for the reconstruction of Gaza could arrive from a good part of the Arab-Muslim states; I also think that Qatar could continue to send funds for Gaza’s infrastructure and perhaps also Turkey which could “offer” the operational contribution of its expert companies in the construction and infrastructure sectors and have an economic benefit.

Point 4) is the most sensitive politically and also from the point of view of the context of the local and international political “theater”; that is, of the prestige, of the iconographies and of the widespread hypocrisy of the discourse, the conceptual framework of the few who decide for their own interests cloaked in noble principles. For this reason, I suggest that the future management of the Gaza should be administrative and not political. ANP is not a possible political entity; it has been demonstrated that it is neither capable nor credible.

What is needed is a government of technical experts in different specific operational sectors, from different state origins, proposed and evaluated by an international commission formally under the umbrella of the UN, but essentially supervised, in a dominant position, by the USA, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Emirates. Egypt and Jordan should be involved in some ways. The control group can be expanded to include representatives of other governments involved economically, such as Qatar, Turkey, and some European governments, if they provide funds or operational technical capabilities in the field through their companies.

Given that serious crises, and this one in Gaza certainly is, produce changes that before the crisis were either rejected or considered unacceptable or impossible, it may also be possible to address the issue of the West Bank, which has been unresolved for decades. This, however, is a concrete situation that is much more difficult to resolve politically, precisely due to the conditions on the ground; there is no destruction, but on the contrary, the growth of buildings that are the central point of the problem and contribute to limiting the possible solutions unless we think creatively and clearly separate the question of citizenship from that of the administrative management of the territory. We need to move away from the nation-state mentality, that is, from the idea that a “state” has a contiguous territory, clearly bordered and governed by the representatives of a single “nation” in an exclusive manner.

Paradoxically, the situation in Gaza, from this point of view, is much clearer and more internal to the dominant conception of the nation-state: there is a unitary territory, clearly confined and inhabited by a single “nation” from a cultural point of view. A rare case in the world is unique, with a population of two million inhabitants.

This is why I believe it can (and should) have a future separate from the West Bank; it has more inhabitants than many small states in the world, the possibility of economic self-sufficiency (it overlooks the sea, with an exploitable gas-oil field), and internal political coexistence is less problematic due to the absence of substantial and “other” cultural groups, especially Israeli citizens.

This is why I see the hypothesis that I suggest here for the post-Hamas situation in Gaza as being feasible.

Hamas would not disappear in the Arab Islamic world, but in Gaza it would have very little or no margin for action, and therefore rockets would no longer be launched, except occasionally, in small and irrelevant numbers. Of course, to carry out an attack with a bomb or targeted killings, many men are not required, but the possibility of influencing the overall dynamics in Gaza would be negligible.

The greatest difficulty I see is in the heads of those who decide. I have no faith in Netanyahu, Gallant, Israeli Defense Minister, and many ministers of the current government. I do not think that the advisors and experts used by Biden are flexible and creative enough to escape the logic of thinking about geopolitics and politics in a pyramidal and power-based manner. Paradoxically, the Saudi autocrat Mohamed bin Salman and the Council of Emirates’ emirs may be quicker in deciding and opportunistic in understanding which actions bring prestige and economic advantages. The UN is hostage to the veto right of permanent members, and I do not believe that the Security Council, the only one authorized to approve the plan that I suggest, could (and would) oppose it. If the US likes it, France, especially the UK, usually follow along, and the interests of Russia and China are not affected.

For this reason, in the current geopolitical context, which I don’t like at all, I believe that my proposal could be the most useful and “understandable,” also acceptable by the powerful people I mentioned, but also by ordinary people, above all to give time and opportunity for the destruction to be repaired and for minds to try to deaden the pain and desire for revenge to look to a more tolerable future in terms of rights and living conditions in Gaza and hopefully also in the West Bank.