Where to after the dust settles in Gaza

Hamas took hostages to create dilemmas for Israel and widen the war, but post-war planning has to happen now.

Written by

Mike Kelly and Anthony Bergin

In agreeing to ceasefires Israel has been put in a terrible dilemma. It must weigh one clearly stated war objective of freeing hostages against the other key objective of the permanent elimination of the Hamas terror and war making capability in Gaza.  But if ceasefires are used to preserve Hamas in place in Gaza, then the road to a unified Palestinian government and reinvigorating the peace process will be forfeited.

On that score, there’s now more behind the scenes discussion about the “day after”. That’s a shorthand phrase used to focus governments and military planners on the strategic war aims and outcomes sought from a conflict.

 In the case of Israel, it has defined its short-term objectives as the elimination of the war fighting ability of Hamas in Gaza and the recovery of hostages. Foreign Minister Penny Wong has focused on three intermediate objectives that the Australian government is advocating: Hamas to be dismantled, the establishment of a unified Palestinian Authority government, and that settler outposts in the West Bank be dismantled. 

But how might we achieve these goals and what are the end state objectives beyond these? What positive policy should guide Australia’s contribution to diplomacy on Middle East peace?

It’s clear that the Israel Defence Forces will continue its operations in Gaza until all Hamas fighters are killed or captured, the underground infrastructure is destroyed, the threat of future rocket launches is eliminated, and it’s no-longer possible to mount terrorist assaults on Israel from Gaza. 

There’ll be a period during which the IDF will also need to render the area safe from mines, IEDs, booby traps and unexploded ordnance. An ideal next step would be for an international force, a larger, more robust and capable version of the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai, to assume security responsibility for the Gaza Strip. Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has, for example, recommended the deployment of a NATO force to perform this role. 

We’d suggestthat while troops from NATO countries might form the core of such a force it’s worth noting that the Multinational Force and Observers has Australian participation and is a long-standing presence in the Sinai, very close to Gaza.

If Egyptian agreement can be obtained, it would be convenient to utilize the existing command, control, logistics and diplomatic framework to expand the mandate and facilities in support of an MFO that would be of the necessary scale and capabilities.  

Working in tandem with this force there should be a major international humanitarian effort that deploys assistance directly to Gazans and the reconstruction effort. That will require performance monitoring to avoid the corruption and diversion of funds that Hamas has engaged in since 2005. 

This international and security effort should be accompanied by a political operation, perhaps under the auspices of the European Union, to begin the process of bedding down Palestinian Authority administration in Gaza. It will be important to differentiate this Gaza proposal from the arrangement in south Lebanon, where the UN force hasn’t been effective in preventing Hezbollah infiltrating and establishing a very well-armed presence on the Israeli border. 

It should be noted that in Areas A and B in the West Bank, areas under Palestinian control, Israel reserves the right for IDF forces to enter these areas to prevent an impending terrorist attack or similar. This is about Israel’s rights under the law of self-defence to respond to attacks or imminent attacks emanating from a territory where there’s no willingness or ability to prevent it by the “host” authority. 

In the past Israel has, for example, had to bypass the completely ineffectual UN forces when responding to Hezbollah. That’s why Israel will never agree to any other option but a fully capable and robustly mandated non-UN force that they would trust to be present in Gaza.

As Israel does with the MFO, there’d be constant interaction to share intelligence. But in the first instance Israel will want to ensure that all serious Hamas capability is destroyed in Gaza before any “hand off”. It should then be manageable for an international force.

The real risk to the international force initially would be Hamas or Palestinian Jihad attempts to generate a mass casualty event.  But we’d be confident that an international force would cooperate fully to avoid such attacks and that would include the ability for Israeli human intelligence operators to operate in Gaza. If there was an attempted attack Israel would look to the international force to respond effectively. If it didn’t there’d be moves to terminate the mission. 

On the Israel side of the equation the formation of a national unity government should be encouraged. This government should, as a priority, begin dismantling some settlement outposts in the West Bank as a gesture of bona fides. 

There should be a return to the negotiating table by both sides based on the Olmert plan. This is the plan developed by former prime minister Ehud Olmert in negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas in September 2008. 

Under the plan Israel would cede almost 94 percent of the 1967 West Bank area. To offset the remaining percentage there’d be a swap of land to the Palestinians from Israeli territory. All the settler outposts would be evacuated. Major settlements close to Jerusalem and Israel would become part of Israel. 

The area of its territory that Israel was prepared to hand over is adjacent to the southern end of the West Bank and near Gaza. Also included was the offer of the construction of a tunnel between Gaza and the West Bank, administered by the Palestinians.

Jewish neighbourhoods in Jerusalem would be under Jewish sovereignty. Arab neighbourhoods would be under Palestinian sovereignty, which could be the capital of a Palestinian state. The “holy basin” in Jerusalem would be jointly administered by five nations, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Palestinian state, Israel, and the United States. 

Israel would agree on a humanitarian basis to accept 1,000 Palestinian refugees every year for five years, which would be the extent of returns to Israel proper. An effort would be made to establish an international fund for Palestinian compensation. The agreement would also include recognition of the suffering of approximately 850,000 Jews who were forced out of their homes in neighbouring Arab States after 1948.

Palestine would have a strong police force, with no army or air force. The Palestinian border with Jordan would for a time be patrolled by international forces. No foreign army would be allowed to enter Palestine. There’d be no military agreements with any country that doesn’t recognise Israel.

These are the broad features of an approach Australia should be supporting in a post-Hamas Gaza. Backing this plan would advance our long-standing goal of encouraging a negotiated two-state Israeli- Palestinian peace.

Michael Kelly is a former army officer who has served on multiple deployments. He was a federal member of parliament and minister with extensive experience in the Middle East. Anthony Bergin is a senior fellow at Strategic Analysis Australia and an expert associate at the National Security College.