Israel seeking a ‘governing alternative’ to Hamas in Gaza

Amira Al-Jojo holds her son Yousef Al-Jojo, 10 months old, who suffers from malnutrition, at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, where he is undergoing treatment, in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on Saturday, June 1, 2024. (AP Photo/ Jehad Alshrafi)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel is looking into an alternative local governing body for Gaza, the defense minister said Sunday, proposing a future beyond Hamas but giving no idea who those challengers might be.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s comments came at a time of new uncertainty in the eight-month war. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under growing pressure from many Israelis to accept a new cease-fire deal proposed by U.S. President Joe Biden, while far-right allies threaten to collapse his government if he does.

Gallant, part of Israel’s three-member War Cabinet who recently urged the government to have a detailed postwar plan for Gaza, said in a briefing that “we seek a governing alternative to Hamas. The framework for this includes isolating areas, removing Hamas operatives in these areas and bringing in other forces that will enable the formation of a governing alternative.”

That will achieve Israel’s goals of removing Hamas’ military and governing authority in Gaza and returning home the remaining hostages taken in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that sparked the war, Gallant said. He stressed that “we will not accept the rule of Hamas at any stage in any process aimed at ending the war.”

In response to questions, an Israeli defense official told The Associated Press that Gallant hopes to enable isolated, Hamas-free areas in Gaza to become “hubs of local government” and identify forces that can enable a longer-term formation of a government.

Israel is looking for “local non-hostile actors,” the official said, adding that Gallant believes that “Palestinians should be governing Palestinians.” Israel would facilitate surges of aid to the areas, and the local forces would be responsible for distributing it to strengthen their authority.

But that approach is challenging and has failed before, one expert said.

“I haven’t heard of any local players that are brave enough to present themselves as an alternative to Hamas,” said Michael Milshtein, an Israeli analyst of Palestinian affairs at Tel Aviv University and a former military intelligence officer.

Milshtein said Gallant’s “wishful thinking” would amount to a suicidal mission for any local leader. Hamas has threatened anyone cooperating with Israel’s government.

“Although Hamas suffered severe damage over the past eight months, their impact on the public is still very strong,” he said.

Milshtein noted that Israel has tried this approach in the past. In the 1970s and ’80s, Israel tried to establish “village leagues,” empowering local Palestinian leaders.

“They were considered in the eyes of Palestinians as collaborators, and it ended in a very tragic manner,” he said. Unless Israel maintains a constant presence in Gaza, any “alternative forces” they try to install will be too fragile, he added.

Netanyahu has said Israel will maintain security control over Gaza but delegate civilian administration to local Palestinians unaffiliated with Hamas or the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the occupied West Bank. He has ruled out a path to Palestinian statehood.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today