As Israel Defense Forces commanders claim that Hamas fighters have lost control of the north of the Gaza strip — and its troops enter the center of Gaza City — a central question remains unanswered: What will happen to the devastated Palestinian territory after the war between Israel and Hamas militants is over?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told ABC News this week that Israel would maintain “security responsibility” for Gaza for an indefinite period, “because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t have that security responsibility.”
However, questioned on those comments, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that Washington would not support any reoccupation of Gaza, some 18 years after Israel withdrew its forces and settlers from the narrow strip of land in 2005. While the territory is home to 2.3 million Palestinians, Israel controls access by land, sea and air, and the United Nations considers the Gaza strip as occupied territory.
More than 1,400 Israeli soldiers and civilians were killed in the cross-border attack by Hamas militants on October 7, and more than 200 people were taken hostage.
Israel’s aerial bombing and ground attacks on Hamas targets since then have killed more than 10,000 people in the Gaza strip, including several thousand women and children, according to Hamas-run health authorities.
The apparent lack of any post-conflict plan for Gaza overshadowed a two-day meeting of foreign ministers from the G7 group of wealthy nations in Tokyo, which wrapped up Wednesday.
The group — comprising the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy and Germany — issued a joint statement following the meeting, only the second such joint communique since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel.
“G7 members have agreed to unequivocally condemn the terrorist attack by Hamas and others and, secondly, to seek the immediate release of hostages. Thirdly, we have agreed that it’s necessary to take urgent action to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa told reporters following the meeting Wednesday.
She added that G7 foreign ministers had called for “pauses” in the fighting “to allow undisrupted humanitarian assistance including food, water, medical care, fuel, shelter and access for those involved in humanitarian aid access [to Gaza].”
Israel, its Western backers and other regional powers — including the Palestinians — must formulate a postwar plan for Gaza, said Yossi Mekelberg of Chatham House, a London-based policy institute.
“What happens if Hamas disappears as a political and military power? Who is sucked into this vacuum? It might be even worse than Hamas. I think we move into an interim period. And I think it’s really important, I really think there should be a regional element to this,” he told VOA.
While the U.S.-Israeli alliance remains strong, there are disagreements between Washington and Tel Aviv, Mekelberg said.
“From early on, the United States understood that on the one hand, giving Israel all the support it needs, including allocating more than $14 billion, sending weapons, munitions and its navy to the eastern Mediterranean, is one thing. But they don’t trust Netanyahu. They don’t trust the current government. And they know that giving too much of a blank check can be dangerous,” he said.
The G7 did not call for a more permanent cease-fire. Across the world, there have been protests calling for an end to the war. There is a danger that the conflict exacerbates global divisions, according to Mekelberg.
“It’s very tricky. Because the G7 obviously represent the more affluent part of the world — and the one that much of the resentment is directed at — of neglecting and taking an approach which protects their interests but not the rest of the world’s interests. I, for one, find it difficult to feel sorry for their predicament, because the neglect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was criminal. I’ve no other word. Because for years there were some of us that warned that this was unsustainable, it will implode one way or another. And they did nothing,” Mekelberg said.
Arriving in Saudi Arabia for talks on the conflict Thursday, Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said Israel’s military operation to defeat Hamas was a necessary response.
“Calling for a cease-fire is understandable. But what we also recognize is that Israel is taking action to secure its own stability and its own security,” Cleverly told Reuters.
“The Israeli military are currently in Gaza. And we have said that any security responsibility that they take on because of the military operation in Gaza needs to be temporary, and needs to exist only as long as we’re able to move towards a Palestinian leadership — a Palestinian leadership that we want to see committed to peace, committed to the two-state solution,” he added.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has warned that the conflict between Israel and Hamas is distracting Kyiv’s Western allies from its war with invading Russian forces.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke with G7 foreign ministers in Tokyo via video link.
The G7 host, Japan’s Kamikawa, said Ukraine had the group’s full support. “We as the G7 stand with Ukraine even while the international attention tends to be on the Middle East,” Kamikawa said Wednesday.