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By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.

There are four newly emerging situations and three other specifically targeted situations that Israel aims to stabilize on the ground before announcing the cessation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip (GS).

The inquiry into conditions preceding the war’s conclusion may not have garnered as much attention as post-war considerations, which revolve around future governance of GS and efforts to seek alternatives to both Hamas rule and resistance forces. While there may be overlaps between pre- and post-war arrangements, obtaining a clear understanding of Israel’s actions on the eve of cessation is imperative to preempt any attempts to impose post-war scenarios.

Four New Situations:

After over six months of war, Israel has failed to achieve its stated primary objectives in GS, such as eliminating Hamas, securing the release of its captives and ensuring the security of the Gaza envelope. While eventual de-escalation seems inevitable, the descent will likely be gradual, with attempts to retain strategic positions based on the evolving balance of power and various political, military and economic considerations. These maneuvers may serve as negotiation leverage to impose its vision for the GS future.

The evolving “facts” imposed by Israel on the ground can be outlined as follows:

First: Separating northern GS from its center and south, controlling its entrances, and constructing a separation road that has been practically completed; this road, which starts in the east of the Strip near the al-Muntar crossing, near the Gaza Industrial Zone, and runs west toward the seashore near the former Gaza port, is called Route 749, or the Trans-Gaza Road.

Second: The deliberate obstruction of displaced individuals’ return to their homes in northern GS. This obstruction serves either the agenda of displacement or as a leverage tactic against Hamas and the resistance movement.

Third: The establishment of a security zone within GS, approximately one kilometer wide, situated to the north and east.

Fourth: Collaboration with the United States to construct a pier at the Gaza port, aimed at overseeing imports, aid entry and future reconstruction, intending to directly manage civilian necessities, dismantle the Hamas regime, and appoint proxies to fulfill these duties, while also enabling Palestinian displacement through this port.

The previous four points have been implemented or are on their way to being implemented on the ground.

Three Objectives:

In the days ahead, Israel is poised to race against time to achieve three objectives:

First: Seeking control over the Rafah crossing and the Philadelphia axis between Egypt and GS to further constrict the siege on the Strip from all directions.

Second: Deploying extraordinary efforts to assassinate Hamas leaders in GS and dismantle as much of the military infrastructure of al-Qassam Brigades and resistance forces as possible.

Third: Establishing an alternative local governance system, potentially comprised of clan leaders or individuals affiliated with the Ramallah Palestinian Authority (PA), to administer occupied areas according to Israel’s objectives and standards, aiming to pave the way for filling the void left by the anticipated fall of Hamas after the war’s conclusion.

These objectives remain distant goals, as the military campaign on Rafah faces significant challenges and global opposition, even from Israel’s Western allies, with high chances of failure. The inability to penetrate the Hamas political and military hierarchy over the past six months casts doubts on the prospects for success. Efforts to establish an alternative leadership structure, particularly in northern Gaza, have faltered, as clan leaders have rebuffed cooperation with the Israeli forces, even in humanitarian endeavors like aid distribution. Similarly, the PA attempts to establish a police force in GS have also met with failure.

Playing the Cards in the Negotiations:

If the war has reached its “borrowed time” phase, where Israel’s basic objectives are unattainable and its feasibility and justifications have diminished, coupled with mounting pressure to end hostilities, the war has become an untenable burden for Israel. Eventually, it will be compelled to retreat and reassess its strategy (as previously discussed in previous article). In this scenario, the Israeli army is likely to employ temporary or tactical retreats as the war nears its end. It will leverage the established “facts” on the ground as negotiation tools, aiming to secure what Israel perceives as the minimum acceptable outcome. This strategy can be distilled into three key points:

First: Pursuing a favorable prisoner and captive swap agreement, with attempts to tie it to a ceasefire rather than the war’s conclusion. However, ultimately yielding to the resistance’s demand for war cessation if unable to secure their “release.”

Second: Ensuring that GS does not pose a threat to Israel in the future.

Third: Preventing Hamas or the resistance forces from governing GS post-war. Instead, this responsibility would be transferred to a “revitalized PA,” modified to meet Israeli standards, potentially preceded by a transitional phase involving Arab or multinational forces. While the PA has taken steps to align itself with Israeli-US standards, such as the resignation of the Shtayyeh government and the formation of the Mohammad Mustafa government, along with its regional and international engagements and efforts to revitalize its security and administrative structures in GS, it still faces significant challenges. These challenges stem from the strength and popularity of the resistance, contrasting with the perceived weakness of the PA and its leaders.

Managing the Showdown Between the Resistance and the Occupation

Conversely, the strong performance of the resistance, its significant impact on the ground, its establishment of a robust command and control system throughout GS, including the northern regions, along with the swift assumption of control by its civilian organizations in areas vacated by the Israeli forces, proficiently managing civilian affairs, and the unwavering trust of the public in its capabilities, collectively grant the resistance significant advantages as the war nears its end.

Overall, the resistance’s persistence will be pivotal in undermining and thwarting the “facts” the Israeli army endeavors to establish on the ground. Additionally, the widespread popular support for the resistance will serve as a decisive force in thwarting any scenarios Israel seeks to impose on GS.

Therefore, the resistance must remain steadfast in its demands, acknowledging that the war is now on “borrowed time” and is facing its own crises. The GS substantial sacrifices must culminate in the cessation of aggression, a complete and unconditional withdrawal of Israeli forces, the retention of the resistance’s weaponry, the repatriation of displaced persons and the unrestricted opening of crossings for all necessities and reconstruction efforts. It is imperative to emphasize that the GS future is an internal Palestinian matter, to be determined by the Palestinian people and their active forces on the ground, in accordance with the fundamentals and paramount interests of the Palestinian people.

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 17/4/2024

The opinions expressed in all the publications and studies are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of al-Zaytouna Centre.

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