Amir Avivi

A new, local strategy for governing Gaza

Empowering clans to run life in the Strip will require a re-education process, ousting UNRWA, and regional and US cooperation
Palestinians react as they gather to collect aid food in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip, on February 26, 2024. (AFP)
Palestinians react as they gather to collect aid food in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip, on February 26, 2024. (AFP)

In August 2022, I published an essay in the Wall Street Journal lamenting the obvious lack of Israeli strategy regarding the festering terror arsenal inside Gaza. As a former deputy Division Commander of that very area a few years ago, I have been trying to impress the gravity of the possible threat from Gaza upon Israeli and US leaders for years, without success, until the watershed moments of October 7th.

Sadly, even after Israel suffered the worst attack in its history from Hamas-controlled Gaza, it does not appear to have a strategy in place to translate the hard-fought achievements of the battlefield into strategic objectives that may guarantee quiet and stability for the next generations. Instead, Israel seems to be led by the nose by international dictates and old paradigms on how to shape the future of its southern border.

It is no secret that Israel never excelled at strategic planning, and the wretched mess in Gaza is perhaps the worst proof of our collective failure. During the last decade, Hammas has been busy ferrying Iranian weapons into Gaza via the tunnels from Egypt into Rafah while duping Israel into believing it had in fact transformed into a pragmatic governing entity. As the IDF is making strong progress and has already effectively dismantled Hamas’s military capabilities in northern Gaza and is currently focusing on destroying what’s left of Hamas in the south, the time is ripe to envision the immediate and mid-term goals Israel must pursue:

I believe it’s now time for us to explore new and more locally suited ways of governance for Gaza since the last externally imposed elections in Gaza held in 2006 paved the way for 17 years of oppressive Hamas rule. The inhabitants of the Gaza Strip will have to undergo a thorough detoxification process, after having been subjected to decades of virulent antisemitism. This process will have to be overseen by Israel and regional powers and must incentivize Gazans with future prospects of dignity and prosperity.

Israel must retain full operational freedom of action for the years to come to continue to ensure that neither Hamas nor any other enemy entity will use Gaza as a launchpad for attacking Israeli communities, including control over the Rafah area and the border with Egypt. As long as Israel retains such capabilities, it will also need to facilitate local governance over Gaza by the largest local clans of the cities in the Strip. At this stage and under this current leadership, the Palestinian Authority cannot govern and will only exacerbate an already tender humanitarian situation, and therefore the traditional clan-based structure should provide Gazan civilians with their daily needs.

If any substantial change is to be achieved, and if we wish to end the generational suffering in Gaza, the international community must devise and implement a plan to gradually replace UNWRA, as a first and vital step towards Palestinian self-sustainability and prosperity. So far Israeli authorities have balked at assuming the responsibilities under international law that such actions would have, but the continued revelations regarding UNRWA’s support of Hamas activities leave little room for denial.

Clearly, Israel cannot do this by itself. Egypt must shoulder its responsibility for having looked the other way and allowed all the weapons through the Rafah tunnels. The “day after” will also provide regional powers like Saudi Arabia and the Emirates an opportunity to push back Iranian proxies at fractional cost or risk, while also bolstering their international diplomatic credentials. The EU will be able to provide humanitarian aid and support the rebuilding efforts in an attempt to prevent a wave of Palestinian refugees (actual refugees, not the UNRWA kind) from needing to reach Europe. But none of the above will materialize without two crucial conditions. For starters, a clearly defined and reasonable Israeli strategy that harmonizes core Israeli interests and international expectations, drawing the framework for a better future for Israelis and Gazans. And second, American leadership to guide the above-mentioned parties towards defined goals.

I remain optimistic that both components will materialize soon, despite neither having arrived quite yet, and I am confident that within a generation we will see the fruits of these efforts.

About the Author
Brigadier-General Amir Avivi (Res.), is the founder and CEO of the Israel Defense and Security Forum, an NGO comprised of over 16,000 members who served in various Israeli security organizations, including dozens of reserve duty generals. The IDSF focuses on national security, education and the strengthening of Zionist values in Israel.