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Many ideas, but little agreement, over what a postwar Gaza could look like

A woman stands in her damaged house in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Friday, following Israeli bombardment amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
AFP via Getty Images
A woman stands in her damaged house in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Friday, following Israeli bombardment amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

TEL AVIV, Israel — Competing visions for what postwar governance in Gaza could look like have emerged from Israeli officials this week, renewing debate both inside and outside Israel over what many have come to call plans for "the day after."

Most of the proposals from Israel and the U.S. say that Hamas should not be allowed to govern Gaza in the future, after the militant group's devastating Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which left 1,200 dead and hundreds kidnapped.

The Hamas militant group has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007.

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But many differ on who, instead, should retain administrative control over Gaza and to what extent Israel should be present in the territory.

Moderate Israeli plan favors Palestinian control of Gaza

This week, two right-wing Israeli ministers called for the "voluntary migration" of Palestinians out of Gaza and allowing Israel to build settlements in the territory. The comments ignited international criticism, including from the U.S. State Department.

On Thursday, Israel's more moderate defense minister, Yoav Gallant, released his plan for postwar Gaza, which calls for Palestinian control.

Israel should have freedom to conduct military actions in Gaza, Gallant said. But Palestinians should control the territory, he added.

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Gallant did not offer specifics about what a Palestinian-led government would look like, beyond that it be led by "local non-hostile actors," or how it could maintain its authority.

"Israel will not govern Gaza's civilians," Gallant's plan reads. "Gaza residents are Palestinian, therefore Palestinian bodies will be in charge, with the condition that there will be no hostile actions or threats against the State of Israel."

The Biden administration had previously suggested that the Palestinian Authority, which currently governs the West Bank, be installed in Gaza. But the Palestinian Authority and especially its president, Mahmoud Abbas, are unpopular among Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has long criticized the Palestinian Authority's school curricula and policy to pay families of detainees held by Israel, has voiced opposition to the Biden plan.

Palestinians' vision for postwar Gaza

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In a poll released in December by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, about 40% of Gaza residents preferred a postwar government that involved the Palestinian Authority, slightly more than the percentage who preferred one led by Hamas. Neither option reached a majority.

"Nobody will be accepted by Palestinian society unless Palestinians feel that that person is there to represent their will and they chose them," Palestinian activist Fadi Quran told NPR in December.

Only 7% of respondents in Gaza said they hoped to see one or more Arab countries control Gaza after the war.

"If you cannot imagine Palestinian community or society or state without Hamas, then you need to give an alternative for the Palestinian people," said Majed al-Ansari, a spokesperson for Qatar's Foreign Ministry, in an interview in December with the British think tank Chatham House. "And certainly, choosing on behalf of the Palestinians who will lead them has not worked in the past and will not work now."

International criticism of far-right Israeli proposals

The new plan by Gallant came amid international outcry over comments this week from two far-right Israeli ministers, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.

The two ministers called for the "voluntary migration" of Palestinians out of Gaza and endorsed the construction of Israeli settlements in the territory.

Israeli forces "cannot withdraw from any territory — we are in the Gaza Strip," Ben-Gvir, Israel's national security minister, told reporters Monday. "Not only do I not rule out Jewish settlement there — I believe it is also an important thing."

Smotrich, the country's finance minister, made similar comments and has characterized the resettlement of Palestinians away from Gaza as a humanitarian solution.

The comments drew a rare rebuke from the U.S. State Department in a statement Tuesday from spokesperson Matthew Miller.

"This rhetoric is inflammatory and irresponsible," Miller said. "We have been told repeatedly and consistently by the Government of Israel, including by the Prime Minister, that such statements do not reflect the policy of the Israeli government. They should stop immediately."

The European Union's top foreign policy official, Josep Borrell, echoed the criticism Wednesday. "Forced displacements are strictly prohibited as a grave violation" of international humanitarian law, he wrote in a statement on the social media platform X. "Words matter."

The "day after" issues extend far beyond who administers the territory and whether Israel's military should be allowed to conduct operations there.

Who will pay for reconstruction?

A key issue is the reconstruction of Gaza. No matter who helms the effort, rebuilding the territory will be a monumental task. As many as half of all buildings in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed by Israel's bombardment, according to an analysis of satellite imagery by researchers at Oregon State University and the City University of New York.

Funds for reconstruction are widely expected to come, in part, from oil-rich Arab countries in the Gulf. Gallant proposed a multinational task force to oversee the reconstruction, led by the U.S. in partnership with European and regional allies.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in Israel this week, urged the revival of prospects of a Saudi-Israeli normalization deal that could see the Saudis involved in Gaza, he said.

"You can't have the foreign aid diverted to build tunnels, right? That model doesn't work. You've got to have someone taking over the Palestinian file that has money and will," Graham said.

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Becky Sullivan
Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.