Israeli Officials Weigh Sharing Power With Arab States in Postwar Gaza

For months, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has avoided detailed public discussion about Gaza’s postwar future. Trying to placate both his far-right allies, who seek to rebuild Israeli settlements in Gaza, and Israel’s foreign partners, who want Gaza returned to Palestinian governance, Mr. Netanyahu has stopped short of any specific declaration.

Behind the scenes, however, senior officials in his office have been weighing an expansive plan for postwar Gaza, in which Israel would offer to share oversight of the territory with an alliance of Arab countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the United States, according to three Israeli officials and five people who have discussed the plan with members of the Israeli government.

According to that proposal, Israel would do so in exchange for normalized relations between itself and Saudi Arabia, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the matter.

Far-right members of Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition are almost certain to dismiss such an idea, and so are the Arab countries mentioned as possible participants. But it is the clearest sign yet that officials at the highest levels of Israel’s government are thinking about Gaza’s postwar future, despite saying little in public, and could be a starting point in future negotiations.

The disclosure comes against the backdrop of intense international efforts to get Israel and Hamas to agree to a cease-fire that could eventually become a permanent truce, and it follows growing pressure on Israel to plan for what comes next. Israel’s reluctance to determine how to govern Gaza has created a power vacuum in much of the territory, leading to lawlessness and worsening the dire humanitarian situation.

Arab officials and analysts have called the power-sharing plan unworkable because it does not create an explicit path toward a Palestinian state, which the Emirati and Saudi governments have said is a prerequisite for their involvement in postwar planning. But others have cautiously welcomed the proposal because it at least suggests greater flexibility among Israeli leaders than their public statements suggest.

Under the proposal, the Arab-Israeli alliance, working with the United States, would appoint Gazan leaders to redevelop the devastated territory, overhaul its education system and maintain order. After between seven and 10 years, the alliance would allow Gazans to vote on whether to be absorbed into a united Palestinian administration that would govern in both Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, according to the proposal. In the meantime, the plan suggests, the Israeli military could continue to operate inside Gaza.

The proposal does not explicitly say whether that united administration would constitute a sovereign Palestinian state, or if it would include the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank. Publicly, Prime Minister Netanyahu has rejected the idea of full Palestinian sovereignty and all but ruled out the involvement of the Palestinian Authority.

The Israeli prime minister’s office declined to comment.

The proposal lacks detail and has not been formally adopted by the Israeli government, which publicly has presented only a vaguer vision under which Israel would retain greater control over postwar Gaza.

Emirati and Saudi officials and analysts said the new proposal would not secure the involvement of Arab states like Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., particularly because it stopped short of guaranteeing Palestinian sovereignty and would permit continued Israeli military operations inside Gaza. The Saudi government has said it will not normalize ties with Israel unless Israeli leaders take irrevocable steps toward creating a Palestinian state.

“The details need to be more explicitly laid out in a manner that is ‘irreversible,’” said Ali Shihabi, a Saudi commentator considered close to the Saudi royal court. “The problem is the Israelis have a habit of hiding behind ambiguous terms, so I think the Saudi government would be looking for such clarity.”

Still, the proposal is the most detailed plan for postwar Gaza that Israeli officials are known to have discussed, and parts of it align with ideas articulated by Arab leaders both in public and in private.

Thomas R. Nides, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel who has been consulted on the plan, said the proposal was significant because it revealed internal Israeli thinking.

“It shows that despite the Israeli government’s public posture, behind the scenes Israeli officials are thinking seriously about what a postwar Gaza would look like,” Mr. Nides said. “Obviously the devil is in the details, which may not be enough to coax Arab partners like the U.A.E. to engage in the plan. And nothing can happen until the hostages are released and a cease-fire starts.”

The disclosure of the plan comes amid renewed efforts to seal a truce between Israel and Hamas.

A group of businessmen, most of them Israeli, some of whom are close to Mr. Netanyahu, drew up the plan in November. It was first formally proposed to Israeli officials in Mr. Netanyahu’s office in December, according to one of the government officials.

Two of the officials said that the plan was still under consideration at the highest levels of Israel’s government, though it cannot be put in place until after Hamas is defeated and the remaining hostages in Gaza are released.

Hamas remains in full control of parts of southern Gaza, despite a devastating Israeli military campaign that has killed more than 34,000 people, according to officials there; brought parts of the territory to the brink of famine; and left much of Gaza in ruins.

The businessmen, who asked not to be named in order not to jeopardize their ability to promote the idea, said that they had briefed officials from several Arab and Western governments, including the United States, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., on the plan.

It has also been shown to Tony Blair, the former British prime minister who runs an institute advising the Saudi government on modernization projects. A Palestinian businessman, who asked not to be named in order to protect his relatives from retribution in Gaza, also has been involved in promoting the idea to American officials.

Asked about the plan, the U.A.E. foreign ministry said in a statement that the Emirati government “will not participate in any reconstruction effort in Gaza until there exists an agreement on a road map for a political solution to the conflict, which includes a transparent, timely and binding path for all parties and that leads to the establishment of the two-state solution, with an independent Palestinian state.”

A Saudi official, speaking on condition of anonymity to conform with government protocol, dismissed the proposal because it did not create a “credible and irreversible pathway” toward Palestinian statehood or ensure the Palestinian Authority’s involvement. The official also denied that the Saudi authorities had previously been made aware of the plan.

A spokesman for the Egyptian government declined to comment.

The aim of the businessmen is to win international support for the idea in order to persuade Mr. Netanyahu that it would be worth his embarking on the difficult task of winning domestic backing for it.

Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition government could collapse if he formally backed a plan that did not conclusively rule out the creation of a Palestinian state. Far-right members of his coalition strongly oppose Palestinian sovereignty and want to re-establish Israeli settlements in Gaza. They have threatened to bring down the government if Mr. Netanyahu ends the war in Gaza without ousting Hamas.

Polling shows that a majority of Israelis also oppose the creation of Palestinian state, which many say would reward Hamas for leading terrorist attacks that killed some 1,200 people on Oct. 7, during the cross-border raid on Israel that started the war.

Wary of both collapsing his government and losing support in a subsequent election campaign, Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly voiced his opposition to a Palestinian state in recent months, pledging to retain Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza.

But analysts and some of his allies believe that he would be prepared to leave open the notional possibility of Palestinian sovereignty if it allowed him to seal a landmark normalization deal with Saudi Arabia.

Forging diplomatic ties with the most influential Arab state would allow Mr. Netanyahu to restore some of his political legacy, which has been tarnished because the Hamas-led raid on Israel, the deadliest single attack in Israeli history, occurred under his watch.

“He wants this legacy,” said Nadav Shtrauchler, an Israeli political analyst and former strategist for the prime minister.

“On the other hand, one, he doesn’t believe in the two-state solution. Two, he cannot pitch it to his crowd,” Mr. Shtrauchler added.

Adam Rasgon contributed reporting from Jerusalem, and Julian E. Barnes from Washington.

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