What Next in Gaza?

The cease-fire will end. What follows is not at all clear.

Flags of Israel and Palestine painted on the concrete wall with soldier shadow. Gaza and Israel conflict

BBC diplomatic correspondent Paul Adams (“When this truce ends, the decisive next phase of war begins“):

Israel’s military campaign in Gaza City is probably in its final stages.

The truce, brokered to allow for the release of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners, will delay the IDF by anywhere from four to nine days, depending on how many hostages Hamas decides to release.

When that ends, Israeli experts expect the battle for control of Gaza City to resume and last another week to 10 days.

But what happens when the Israeli military turns its attention to the southern Gaza Strip, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has strongly indicated?

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas wherever it exists. It assumes that the group’s most important leaders, Yayha Sinwar and Mohammed Deif, are somewhere in the south, along with thousands of fighters and, probably, a significant number of Israeli hostages.

If Israel decides to do to the south what it’s already done to the north, will Western – especially American – goodwill start to run out?

With the bulk of the Gaza Strip’s estimated 2.2 million people now crammed into the southern two thirds of the Strip, many of them homeless and traumatised, is a larger humanitarian disaster looming?

One of the last straws might be the sight of hundreds of Palestinian civilians, huddled in tents, amid the sandy fields of a place called al-Mawasi.

According to the UN relief agency for Palestinians (Unrwa), almost 1.7 million people have been displaced across the Gaza Strip since 7 October. Most of them are in the south, living in overcrowded shelters.


For several weeks, Israeli officials have been talking about a solution – a so-called “safe area” at al-Mawasi, a thin strip of mainly agricultural land along the Mediterranean coast, close to the Egyptian border.

Last week, leaflets dropped over the nearby city of Khan Yunis warned of impending airstrikes and told people to move west, towards the sea.

In a post on social media on Thursday, Avichay Adraee, the IDF’s spokesman for the Arabic media, told Gazans al-Mawasi would provide “the appropriate conditions to protect your loved ones.”

But how realistic is it to expect more than two million people to shelter there while the war rages nearby? And just how “appropriate” are conditions at al-Mawasi?


For Israel, it’s a matter of military necessity. Just as Hamas was embedded in Gaza City, it says, so the group’s fighters and infrastructure exist in Khan Yunis and Rafah. Removing the civilian population ahead of an assault, Israelis argue, is the humane way to approach the job of defeating Hamas.

“People in Israel don’t like the situation where people in Gaza are somewhere in al-Mawasi, under the rain of winter, which is coming,” says retired Maj Gen Yaacov Amidror, a former Israeli national security adviser. “But what is the alternative? If someone has an idea how to destroy Hamas without it, please tell us.”

The Economist (“What happens to Gaza after the war?”):

After two days of talking to officials about the plan for post-war Gaza, the inescapable conclusion is that there is no plan. The shattered enclave will need external help to provide security, reconstruction and basic services. But no one—not Israel, not America, not Arab states or Palestinian leaders—wants to take responsibility for it.

America hopes that Arab states will contribute troops to a post-war peacekeeping force, a proposal that is also backed by some Israeli officials. But the idea has not found much support among Arabs themselves. Ayman Safadi, Jordan’s foreign minister, seemed to rule it out altogether at the conference. “Let me be very clear,” he said. “There will be no Arab troops going to Gaza. None. We’re not going to be seen as the enemy.”

The reluctance is understandable. Arab officials do not want to clean up Israel’s mess and help it police their fellow Arabs. But they also do not wish to see Israel reoccupy the enclave, and they admit, at least in private conversations, that the Palestinian Authority (pa) is too weak at present to resume full control of Gaza. If none of those options is realistic or desirable, it is not clear what is.

In the longer term, Mr McGurk said that a “revitalised Palestinian Authority” should resume control (it governed Gaza until Hamas seized power in 2007). For that to happen, though, would require two unlikely developments. First would be a serious Israeli effort to reach a two-state solution: Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, says he will not return to Gaza without one. But Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has spent his career trying to sabotage that two-state solution (and he is not keen on the pa coming back to Gaza either).

Second is a serious effort to achieve the “revitalised” pa Mr McGurk spoke of. Mr Abbas, who is 88 years old, was elected in 2005 to a four-year term. Still in power, he has held office for longer than most Gazans have been alive. He is a sclerotic and uninterested leader; both he and his aides, some of whom are also his possible successors, are widely seen as corrupt. Nobody can explain how his government might be rejuvenated.

Even before the war, wealthy Gulf states were growing tired of chequebook diplomacy. They will probably be reluctant to fund reconstruction in Gaza, which will cost billions of dollars. “They’ve already rebuilt Gaza several times before,” says one Western diplomat in the region. “Unless it’s part of a serious peace process, they won’t pay.”

Then there is Hamas itself. Its leaders, and many of its fighters, seem to have fled to southern Gaza, a region where Israel has yet to send ground troops. For now, they appear to have enough food and fuel to remain in the web of tunnels beneath Gaza. Civilians are suffering under the Israeli siege. Their rulers are not. “They’re not under any pressure at all,” says an adviser to Israel’s national-security council. “On the contrary, it helps Hamas, because they use it to build international pressure for a ceasefire.”

Moussa Abu Marzouk, a Hamas official, said in a television interview last month that Hamas was not responsible for protecting civilians in Gaza. The tunnels under the strip, he said, exist only to protect Hamas; the un and Israel should protect civilians. Other Hamas leaders have berated the un for failing to send enough food and medicine. They brought misery upon Gaza by carrying out their massacre in Israel last month but want someone else to deal with the fallout.

For nearly two decades, Gaza has been a problem without a solution. Israel and Egypt were content to leave it under a blockade after the Hamas takeover. Despite his occasional paeans to Palestinian unity, Mr Abbas had no desire to go back to Gaza, and Hamas was happy to keep its grip over an immiserated enclave. Everyone sought to preserve the status quo.

That status quo was shattered on the morning of October 7th. The problem has become much bigger, and the solutions are far-fetched. Optimists hope the Gaza war will offer the chance to finally settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. More likely, though, it will end with Gaza as yet another of the Middle East’s failed states, broken but never rebuilt.

Reuters (“Egypt president says future Palestinian state could be demilitarised“):

A future Palestinian state could be demilitarised and have a temporary international security presence to provide guarantees to both it and to Israel, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Friday.

“We said that we are ready for this state to be demilitarised, and there can also be guarantees of forces, whether NATO forces, United Nations forces, or Arab or American forces, until we achieve security for both states, the nascent Palestinian state and the Israeli state,” Sisi said during a joint news conference in Cairo with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

A political resolution which requires a Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, has remained out of reach, Sisi added.

Arab nations have rejected suggestions that an Arab force provide security in the Gaza Strip after the end of Israel’s current military operation there against the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told reporters in London this week that Arab states would not want to go into a Gaza Strip that could be turned into a “wasteland” by Israel’s military offensive.

“What are the circumstances under which any of us would want to go and be seen as the enemy and be seen as having come to clean up Israel’s mess?” he said.

Israel has been under enormous pressure from the international community to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza. While they’re taking considerable measures to do so, there’s no safe place in a tiny strip of land where Hamas fighters intentionally integrate with the civilian population precisely to force massive casualties.

The destruction is likely to get even worse once the fight moves to the south. And, given a perfectly reasonable and just war aim of destroying Hamas, I believe the killing is proportionate to the military advantage, as required by international humanitarian law.

The problem, though, is tying the military strategy to the political one. Aside from “Hamas won’t be able to kill Israeli citizens any time soon”—a goal I certainly share—it’s not obvious what the ultimate war aim is. What is the better state of peace?

It continues to appear to me that the Netanyahu government has not figured that out. Not so much because they’ve given it no thought but that there are no acceptable answers.

The “two-state solution,” while logically the only end state that can possibly lead to long-term peace, is a fantasy. Israelis have maintained a Zionist state since 1948 and intend to keep it. Even if we could somehow persuade the Palestinians to abandon a goal of a state from the river to the sea,” it’s inconceivable that they’d settle for one that didn’t include Jerusalem. A single state where Arabs and Jews live together in perfect harmony, presumably while having a Coke and a smile, is even more absurd.

The leaders of the Arab states, it is clear, have no interest in taking responsibility for the situation. The Egyptian proposal of some sort of post-conflict peacekeeper force has some merit and might even get some takers. But it doesn’t change the longer term political reality.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, World Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. MarkedMan says:

    It continues to appear to me that the Netanyahu government has not figured that out.

    The Netanyahu government has had this figured out for decades. First, recognize that while Israel within its internationally recognized boundaries would be overwhelmingly Jewish for generations, if it incorporates the West Bank and Gaza that completely changes the balance, if the Palestinians living there remain and are given a vote. Second, focus on the West Bank. Take the land from the Palestinians and give it to violent and racist settlers under an apartheid regime where the settlers can vote and the Palestinians cannot. Make the West Bank a miserable place for Palestinians, offering no hope for a future. Third, make Gaza a hell hole and put off its immediate resolution, playing the long game. Ensure that the Palestinians who live there either die off or are desperate to leave. Once the West Bank is consolidated and apartheid is deeply ingrained, begin to settle Gaza.

    However much this conflicts with the jaw flapping of various officials and supporters, it exactly matches the actual actions of the Israeli government.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The cease-fire will end. What follows is not at all clear.

    I predict more bodies.

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    When this first happened I earned rapturous support here for pointing out (admittedly too often) that no one, absolutely no one, had a realistic yet decent solution to the problem of Gaza. Now we’ve heard from just about everyone on planet earth and still no one has a clue. Everyone has an idea of what should not happen: Hamas killing people, Israel killing people, and everyone has a list of past fuck-ups that got us to this point, but no one seems to have a clue what should happen when the killing stops. “Two state solution!” everyone cries, as though Gaza is the West Bank and handing it over to the PA in the person of the 88 year-old, corrupt, incompetent and checked-out Mahmoud Abbas, would somehow cause something to happen with regard to Gaza.

    While we’re at it we also have no clue what to do about Lebanon or Syria or Libya or Yemen. And the only reason we aren’t similarly hopeless about Egypt and Jordan and Saudi Arabia and Iran is that they are stable dictatorships where people who do things like protest or talk about democracy get a truncheon upside the head.

    The core of the problem is not Israel. Israel did not cause the Syrian civil war, or the Libyan, or the Yemeni, or the ongoing clusterfuck that is Lebanon, or the Sunni-Shia hate-on. The problem is that no one in the ME with the sole exception of Israel has anything like a legitimate government, they are all thug states, and the one democracy has voters hagridden by religious fanatics eagerly exploited by opportunistic crooks like Netanyahu.

    Nor is the United States responsible for all the evils, though we have definitely contributed to the Iraq mess and the Libya mess, and we have supported most of the aforementioned thug states at various times and to various degrees. The US initially was all about oil to feed our Chevrolets. And keeping the Russians out. And now it’s about keeping the Chinese out. And also ensuring oil flows to our weak-ass European (and Asian) friends who rely on our power in between sneering at us for being unsophisticated louts.

    If you want a picture of the Middle East going forward imagine a series of boots stamping on a variety of human faces, forever. And if you think the magic solution is for the US to go full isolationist, you want to remember that Russia, China, Turkey, Egypt, the KSA, the UAE and Iran, are all eager to keep the tornado of shit spinning, so all American withdrawal would really mean is that we ignore the horrors which will continue without so much as a single American tut-tut.

  4. JKB says:

    Of course, all this is due to the gross incompetence of generations of Western elite status university graduates. The area was named Palestine when the League of Nations created it out of the Ottoman Empire. They gave it to the British to administer. The British gave 80% of the land to colonizer Bedouin Hashemites whom they owed a favor for their work with Lawrence of Arabia during the war. The Hashemites had no historical connection to the area but did have an army that needed a place to land after being forced out of Mecca by the Wahhabi (Saudis). Thus 80% of Palestine became what we now call Jordan.

    When the horrors of the Holocaust made it impossible for the antisemitic elite in the US State Department and British Foreign Office along with the newly formed UN to refuse a Jewish homeland, the British did their best to keep the Jews unarmed but the Jews succeeded in smuggling arms in so they could defend themselves from the Arab onslaught when the British cleared the way. Jordan did take part of Jerusalem, an “international” city, what is now the West Bank and the Egyptians held onto Gaza. Until the ill-fated 1967 war when Israel pushed back those who would genocide them.

    So here we are, with none wanting to revisit the failures of the elite status university grads of old. Remember, they were the “experts”. And the “experts” still pursue their goal against Israel, if only to prove their failed professors finally “right”.

    Every day Israel, not only exists, but thrives, is a direct affront not only to the gnostic religion that the Nazis took to heart, but also the failed foreign policy “experts” that had taught successive generations of foreign policy experts at elite status universities in the US and Britain.

  5. Slugger says:

    The ceasefire and hostage exchange seems to be working pretty good. I’m trying to point out something positive. I hope further steps toward less bloodshed will follow.
    A two state solution will require a reconciliation between Hamas, Fatah, and Hezbollah, and factions that I can’t name. I see this as an obstacle.

  6. @JKB:

    Of course, all this is due to the gross incompetence of generations of Western elite status university graduates.

    This is peak self-parody.


    Andy Kaufman, is that you?

  7. gVOR10 says:

    @MarkedMan: That. The Israeli government wants to displace the Palestinians, and they’re certainly never going to admit to doing so. And the Palestinians don’t have the money, power, or friends to effectively oppose it. There’s really not much to say beyond seconding your comment, but I expect the thread will go on.

  8. Gustopher says:

    My bet would be more vigorous lawn-mowing to try to keep Hamas 2.o from attacking Israel, along with some western hand-wringing that there’s nothing that can be done. And propaganda. Lots and lots of propaganda*.

    There are over a million people displaced now, and a lot of buildings destroyed, so I would expect a large homeless population living in tent cities. The equivalent of a refugee camp, but on the rubble of their homes.

    Conditions will simply be a worse version of the pre-invasion status quo, with greater poverty and unemployment and dependence on foreign aid, and Israel desperately trying to not take an active role where they are writhing rock/stabbing distance, and just regularly bombing the population.

    Security in the West Bank will be tightened, and there will be a few settler massacres. Massacres of settlers, and massacres by settlers.

    And in a few years it will overflow into Israel proper again, demonstrating that for all this loss of life and destroying of lives, it didn’t make Israel safer in the end.

    *: Speaking of propaganda… Fun Fact: The empty rooms below the hospital that were presented as evidence of a terrorist command center were built by Israel decades ago, according to former PM Ehud Barak. The IDF propaganda video shows off the toilets and the power coming directly from the hospital as evidence that the (alleged) terror center was tightly integrated with the hospital, when in reality the power came from the hospital because that’s the way it was built, by Israel, decades ago.

    And no actual evidence of a terrorist command center found, unless the IDF has released a new video since then with terrorist office supplies or something more meaningful.

    Even if there was ever a terrorist command center there, it was gone before the Israeli forces got there, which begs the question of what the point of attacking a hospital was in the first place.

    It reminds me of the stories where a church is destroyed, but the pastor and his flock realize that the church isn’t the building, but that the church was them and the love in their hearts. Except Hamas instead of a church, and hate instead of love.

  9. Gustopher says:


    The Israeli government wants to displace the Palestinians, and they’re certainly never going to admit to doing so.

    If the Israeli government wasn’t so opposed to tunnels, they could drive the Palestinians underground and make them the Morlocks.

    But, I expect Escape From New York is the most likely model for the dystopian hellscape.

  10. Mister Bluster says:

    Washington Post
    November 25, 2023 at 12:57pm

    Hamas delays release of more Israeli hostages, imperiling Gaza pause.
    JERUSALEM — Hamas said Saturday that it was delaying the release of a second group of Israeli hostages, plunging their deal to pause hostilities and exchange captives into uncertainty.
    The Al-Qassem Brigades, the Hamas fighting force, cited unspecified failures by Israel in allowing the delivery of humanitarian relief to the besieged Gaza Strip, which is also part of the agreement.
    The announcement was posted to the Al-Qassem Brigades’ Telegram Channel two hours after the planned release of around 13 Israelis held hostage in Gaza at 4 p.m. local time. That was to have been followed by the release of 42 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. The pause held; there were no reports of fighting on either side.

  11. dazedandconfused says:

    If the goal is to eliminate HAMAs there is only one way – occupation. Taking over complete management of Gaza and becoming the government for a significant period of time. Bibi has said they will be there for a long time. It doesn’t seem to be that big a mystery. This is the plan at the moment and it’s not idiotic. There is simply not other way to police HAMAs completely out of existence, and it’s plausible with the help of some portion of the Gazans as a lot of Gazans hate HAMAs. Unless the IDF is very lucky it’s going to be expensive and tough and success is not guaranteed, but there is no other way to accomplish the stated goal. They are going to try to do this.

  12. Mister Bluster says:

    Reuters November 25, 2023 1:53 PM CST

    Gaza hostage release back on after aid row settled
    GAZA/JERUSALEM, Nov 25 (Reuters) – A Gaza hostage release deal was back on track on Saturday night after a row over aid supplies to the north of the besieged enclave was resolved following mediation by Qatar and Egypt.
    A Palestinian official familiar with the diplomacy said Hamas would continue with the four-day truce agreed with Israel, the first break in fighting in seven weeks of war.
    “After a delay, obstacles to release of prisoners were overcome through Qatari-Egyptian contacts with both sides, and 39 Palestinian civilians will be released tonight, while 13 Israeli hostages will leave Gaza in addition to 7 foreigners,” Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al Ansari said on social media.

  13. JohnSF says:

    Colonizer Bedouin Hashemites?
    Are you nuts?

    The al-Hashim had had influence among the native Bedouin of what later became Tranjordan for centuries, due to their status as hereditary Sharifs of Mecca and rulers of the Hejaz.
    Modern political boundaries are not very helpful in understanding the politics of the Arabs from 1900 to 1948.
    And generally Palestine was understood, before 1918, to NOT include the Transjordan, i.e now the state Jordan.

    If the British had been so anti-semitic, it hardly explains their original inclination to a Jewish “National Home of Settlement” in Palestine.

    They later moved to restrict Jewish immigration simply because it was provoking massive Arab unrest in Palestine, and the Empire always tried to avoid upsetting local populations, if possible.
    A major reason for the upset being, large parts of Palestine land was legally owned by Turkish absentees, or held in Turkish waqf trusts, and had been for centuries.
    The Jewish settlers bought the freeholds, from landowners who were offered premium prices, and who now resided in another country (i.e. Turkey).
    Landownership had been traded in the past; but the custom had been to leave the indigenous peasants in place. They simply paid rents and other dues to a new landlord, and that was that.
    As the Jewish settlers intended to farm the lands themselves, that was not the case.
    The Palestinian peasants were evicted.
    This did not make them happy, unsurprisingly enough.

    It is easy to see why the Palestinians felt aggrieved, then and now.
    But the elemental fact is that Israel was effectively emergent from 1918 onward.
    The British might have restricted Zionist aliyah; they were never going go so far as to extirpate the Jewish settlements to please the Arabs.

    Hence Grand Mufti Amin al-Husseini (and Iraqi Prime Minister Rashid Ali al-Gaylani ) rocking up in Berlin in 1941, and hoping that a German victory would lead to the extermination of the Jews in Palestine.

    The Palestinian Arabs best option, in the circumstances, would have been the 1947 UN Plan.
    Their second best the 1948 borders.
    The third best the 2000’s Peace Plan.
    They seem to have seldom realised that, once you roll the dice of war, you seldom get to demand “backsies” if it does not work out as you may have wished.

    elite status university grads

    Bleats about elites!
    Stop being so ludicrously superficial.

  14. JohnSF says:

    That Barak video seems to have been rather misinterpreted.
    There were underground areas in the hospital during the Israeli occupation; however, unless they were planning to bomb themselves, an extensive shelter network appears rather pointless.

  15. JohnSF says:


    the British did their best to keep the Jews unarmed

    Ever heard the name Orde Wingate?
    Look it up some time.
    British policy in Palestine was always ambivalent; as in many parts of the Empire, the British often tried to moderate and balance between parties, and were often undecided about who to uphold.

    You might consider that not being quite so simplistic in your interpretation of history could lead to a better understanding of what happened, and why.

  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    You might consider that not being quite so simplistic in your interpretation of history could lead to a better understanding of what happened, and why.

    Remember, this is JKB you’re talking about. Just sayin’…

  17. JohnSF says:



    This is inaccurate.
    Under apartheid in South Africa there were basic, rather arbitrary, but rigorously enforced racial distinctions: White. Black. Coloured. Asian.

    As Palestinians and about half of Israelis are “racially” pretty much indistinguishable, it seems a rather misleading term.
    Especially as Palestinian Arabs in “Israel Proper” have full civil rights, which no “non-Whites” ever had in South Africa.
    The comparison is misleading both regarding its basis and its practice.

    …begin to settle Gaza.

    Which rather begs the question: if that were the objective, why did a Likud government dismantle and abandon the settlements in Gaza in 2005?

  18. mattbernius says:


    Stop being so ludicrously superficial.

    That would require JKB to consider that his priors are not always correct.

    Confirmation bias is a hell of a drug.