Hamas Is Returning to Northern Gaza Because Israel Has No Plan for the “Day After”

But this lack of strategic clarity ensures that, far from preventing Hamas’ return, Israel’s ongoing policies within Gaza are actively facilitating this scenario. Absent any clear political vision for capitalizing on its military successes, Israel refuses to provide everyday governance to Gaza’s civilians. It has also stopped aid organizations from entering the territory. Gaza’s war-weary and poverty-stricken civilians need welfare, public order, and a sense of normalcy now more than ever. Currently, Hamas is the only party that is willing and able to provide these essential services. It is this entirely avoidable status quo that sows the seeds for the Islamist movement’s return to power in Gaza after the fighting ends. In short: The Israeli government should recognize that providing aid and basic civilian governance in Gaza are essential components of a strategy for defeating Hamas.

But Israel’s refusal to provide civilian governance in Gaza, and its refusal, at least so far, to entertain the idea of having the moderate and pragmatic Palestinian Authority – after it has been revitalized, cleaned of corruption, and with a new and more capable leadership – provide such civilian administration, leave a yawning vacuum in the Gaza Striop.

The end result is predictable. It is Hamas — the only group with an established civil infrastructure, a long-established formal and informal charity network, and the willingness to police, provide for, and pay Gaza’s civilians — that fills this power vacuum. It is no coincidence that Hamas administrators are now re-appearing in the parts of Gaza that Israel first captured in the early stages of its ground invasion, because this is where civil governance has been absent for the longest and Gazans’ need for some form of normalcy the most acute. While most of Gaza City’s residents fled south, thousands remain in the territory — it is these families that Hamas now seeks to co-opt to guarantee its post-war existence.


Hamas’ re-emergence also casts doubt on Israel’s ability to eliminate the Islamist movement’s operational capabilities in the Gaza Strip. In early January 2024, Israeli military officials boasted that they had destroyed Hamas as a fighting force in northern Gaza. Barely one month later, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi admitted that same territory witnessed “terrorist activity nearly every day.” Israel then increased its military presence in northern Gaza, flying in the face of its desired strategy to dial down operations to prepare for a more limited yet lengthy counter-insurgency campaign.

Pinfold concludes:

As the U.S.-led coalition discovered in Iraq and Afghanistan, the term “post-conflict reconstruction” is a misnomer. This is because post-war strategic planning is rarely about just rebuilding whatever infrastructure a conflict has damaged. Instead, interveners and occupiers often take on the unenviable and significantly harder task of replacing what came before with a new system of governance. As such, they should create a local status quo that better guarantees stability and security than the pre-war balance of power that necessitated the intervention in the first place.

Israel’s declared war aims — destroying Hamas’ military infrastructure and rendering it incapable of governing a post-war Gaza — are a contemporary manifestation of these lofty goals. But by refusing to engage in Gaza’s civilian governance, while denying other non-hostile actors a role in post-conflict reconstruction, Israel is providing Hamas with the silver platter of legitimacy that it needs to survive the conflict.