What happens to Gaza when the current fighting ends?
The Israeli Government is reluctant to discuss this, remaining focussed on its goals of removing Hamas from power and freeing the hostages. It has no interest in re-occupying Gaza. I know why: I lived in Israel during many of the years that Israel occupied the territory and even served there briefly as an army reservist. As a kibbutz member and activist on the Israeli left and peace movement, I was delighted when Israel withdrew its forces and its settlements from Gaza. It was the right decision.
Egypt, which had occupied the Gaza Strip until the June 1967 Six Day War, seems unwilling to re-occupy the country for understandable reasons. President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi came to power by toppling the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood and is grappling with Islamist insurgents in Sinai. The thought of occupying a hostile Gaza is probably not very appealing.
The Palestinian Authority lost control of Gaza when Hamas seized power in June 2007 and it seems to have few supporters there now. Even if the government of Mahmoud Abbas were able to take control of the territory, they would likely be seen as proxies for Israel. In any event, no one expects the corrupt gerontocracy currently ruling parts of the West Bank to have the vision, energy or competence to replace the Hamas regime.
As a result, most people struggle to imagine post-Hamas solutions for the territory. But few have noted that there is an option that has not yet been considered — one that’s nearly 80 years old. And it might actually work.
It is called the “International Trusteeship System” and it is part of the United Nations Charter, which was adopted in 1945. This system was set up to take over the League of Nations mandates as well as other territories that seemed unable to govern themselves. It was administered by the Trusteeship Council and it turned out to be one of the UN’s unalloyed successes. All of the territories administered under the system either achieved independence or united with neighbouring states. The last one of these, Palau, became independent in 1994.
But the Trusteeship Council, which has its own elegant, Danish-designed chambers in the UN headquarters in New York, did not disappear. A decision to close the Council down would have required a change to the UN Charter. Instead of closing it down, the Council was put into a kind of induced coma. It has a couple of officers — Nathalie Broadhurst Estival of France and James Kariuki of the United Kingdom — and its current members are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
I think the U.S. government should propose to the Council that Gaza be made into a trust territory and that a UN member state be designated as the administering authority.
Which country is best suited to act as the administering authority? I think a good case could be made for Turkey. The last country to claim ownership of Gaza was the Ottoman Empire, which lost control during the First World War in 1917. Turkey today, almost alone in the world, is seen as both a friend of Gaza and Israel, despite a rocky relationship with the latter in recent years. Turkey has ambitions to be a regional power, and to be seen as a force for stability. A trusteeship over Gaza seems a perfect fit.
The Palestinian Authority might claim that it has a legal right to Gaza, and in the end, the process would probably lead to Gaza’s incorporation into the “State of Palestine” as part of a final peace deal with Israel. But before that happens, Gaza needs time to quiet down, become a safe place, rebuild and prepare for eventual self-determination.
The UN Trusteeship System was designed precisely for that purpose.
Though it does not convene regularly, a meeting of the UN Trusteeship Council is scheduled to take next month. One wonders what they usually discuss at these meetings. Perhaps this year, someone might propose they talk about Gaza.