Israeli Minister Proposes Plan for Postwar Gaza Amid Divisions

Israeli Minister Proposes Plan for Postwar Gaza Amid Divisions

As Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken returned to the Middle East on Friday in an effort to ease escalating tensions, Israel’s defense minister floated a postwar plan for the Gaza Strip that exposed divisions in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wartime government.

The proposal by the defense minister, Yoav Gallant, who is a moderate member of Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, was widely seen as a trial balloon, but it showed the pressure Israel was facing as Washington and others press for a shift to a less intense phase of the war.

Further complicating diplomatic efforts in the region, Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the powerful armed group Hezbollah, which has been clashing with Israeli forces along the Israeli-Lebanese border, on Friday ruled out any negotiations to stop the fighting until the war in Gaza ended.

Mr. Gallant’s proposal, shared on Thursday at a stormy meeting of the Israeli security cabinet, is predicated on the military’s defeat of Hamas in Gaza. It calls for Israel to maintain military control of Gaza’s borders while a “multinational task force” oversees reconstruction and economic development in the territory, which has been devastated by nearly three months of relentless Israeli airstrikes.

Under the plan, Gazans who do not have ties to Hamas, which runs Gaza and has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, would handle civilian affairs in the enclave, according to details of the cabinet meeting leaked to the Israeli news media. But there would be no role for the Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and there would be no resettlement of Israelis in Gaza — an idea that far-right Israelis support.

The proposal appeared to be an effort to stake out a middle ground between postwar plans put forward by the United States and by members of the Israeli far right. The Biden administration has called for a “revamped and revitalized” Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza after the war, viewing it as a path toward a two-state solution that would create a Palestinian state consisting of Gaza and the West Bank, a proposal that many Israelis on the right oppose.

In a Facebook post, one far-right Israeli leader, Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister, criticized Mr. Gallant’s plan, suggesting that it risked a repeat of the deadly Hamas-led attack on Israel on Oct. 7. He reiterated his call for the “voluntary emigration” of Palestinian civilians from Gaza, where most of the 2.2 million residents have been driven from their homes. Many are starving, sick and living in ramshackle tents.

In recent days, Mr. Smotrich and another far-right Israeli leader, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister, have suggested that Palestinians should leave Gaza and that Israelis should resettle the enclave as part of a long-term solution to the war.

France, Germany and the United States have denounced the comments, which the State Department called “inflammatory and irresponsible.”

The Israeli news media described the Israeli security cabinet meeting as turbulent and said it had ended in a blowup after several ministers assailed the military’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, for forming a committee to investigate the military failures that led to the attacks on Oct. 7, when about 1,200 people were killed and 240 others were abducted to Gaza, according to the Israeli authorities. The ministers criticized the makeup of the committee and questioned whether the investigation should be conducted while Israel was at war.

Mr. Netanyahu’s governing coalition holds a fragile majority, with 64 seats in the 120-seat Parliament. Days after the Oct. 7 attack, some of Mr. Netanyahu’s centrist rivals joined him to form an emergency government and bolster his small war cabinet. But they did not sign on to any coalition agreements, and they have said they will leave the government when they see fit.

With his popularity at a new low, in large part because of the security failures of Oct. 7, Mr. Netanyahu is loath to face elections anytime soon and must keep his governing coalition together in order to stay in office.

In a speech on Friday, Mr. Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, addressed Israelis directly, telling them, “You should demand your government to stop the offensive.”

“There will be no dialogue unless the aggression stops in Gaza,” he added, warning, “You will be the first to pay the price.”

The statement came as Mr. Blinken embarked on a Middle East tour aimed at preventing a wider regional war after the assassination on Tuesday of a senior Hamas official in a suburb of the Lebanese capital, Beirut.

Israel has not publicly accepted or denied responsibility for the killing, but two senior Lebanese security officials, who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss an active investigation, said that Israel had carried out the attack using six missiles, two of which did not explode.

Lebanon’s caretaker government said on Friday that it had submitted a complaint to the U.N. Security Council over the strike, labeling it the “most dangerous phase” yet of the conflict and a violation of its territorial sovereignty.

Mr. Nasrallah reiterated a message he delivered in a speech on Wednesday, vowing that Hezbollah would avenge the killing of the Hamas leader, Saleh al-Arouri, whom he described as a “dear friend.”

“This won’t go unpunished,” Mr. Nasrallah said on Friday. “We cannot stay silent.”

But he did not say how or when Hezbollah would respond. And although clashes have been intensifying along the Israeli-Lebanese border, none so far have signaled a marked escalation.

Michael Levenson contributed reporting from New York.

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