ARGUMENT: HAMAS (RE)-FILLS GAZA VACUUM Hamas Is Returning to Northern Gaza Because Israel Has No Plan for the “Day After”

Published 19 February 2024

Israel’s lack of coherence with regard to the future administrative governing of the Gaza Strip, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to articulate a “day after” vision for Gaza – he is worried that the far-right elements in his coalition would bolt if he allowed the Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza – have resulted in Hamas’s assuming, again, the role of governing Gaza. Rob Geist Pinfold writes that in the absence of any clear political vision for capitalizing on its military successes, Israel is allowing Hamas, which is the only party that is willing and able to provide these essential services, to assume many of its pre-7 October responsibilities.

In a stormy cabinet debate after the Six Day War, Israel’s prime minister, Levi Eshkol, rejected hardline demands to apply direct civil rule over the newly captured West Bank, declaring: “I don’t want more land and I don’t want more Arabs.” Rob Geist Pinfold writes in War on the Rocks that this terse assertion presaged decades of Israeli policy. In its subsequent long history of occupation, Israel has almost always avoided directly practicing civilian governance over local Arab populations. This laissez faire approach surprised a visiting intellectual, Milton Friedman, who during a 1969 tour of the West Bank noted that: “Israeli civilian administrators were few and far between. Governmental functions were being carried out by the pre-war Jordanian civil servants.”

Pinfold continues:

In 2024, as Israel’s war planners seek to prolong their ground invasion of Gaza, this long-established doctrine of laissez faire occupation faces a new challenge:: Hamas bureaucrats, militants, and police re-asserting their authority in areas that Israel ostensibly controls. From the sprawling ruins of Beit Hanoun on the Israel-Gaza border to the outskirts of Gaza City’s Al Shifa hospital further inside the coastal enclave, Hamas’ uniformed police are operating openly once more. Beyond restoring some semblance of public order on the streets, Hamas’ substantial and established bureaucracy has ordered its employees return to work and has re-started social welfare programs aimed at providing for Gazans’ everyday needs.

Instead, it represents the latest symptom of Israel’s lack of a coherent post-war plan for the territory. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has repeatedly refused to articulate a “day after” vision for Gaza, arguing that it would distract from the primary goal of destroying Hamas.