Israel is trying to appease the United States with proposals on Gaza while Blinken heads to the Middle East Israel-Gaza war

Israeli officials are scrambling to head off growing frustration in Washington in the lead-up to a potentially difficult meeting between the top US diplomat and Benjamin Netanyahu by offering a series of policy proposals on Gaza that critics say lack detail or commitment.

The United States has offered strong support for Israel since its war with Hamas broke out three months ago, but it is keen to extract some concessions from Netanyahu to reduce regional tensions and help avoid a broader conflict in the Middle East.

Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, arrived in Turkey on Friday to begin a week-long tour of the Middle East. During his upcoming visit to Israel, Blinken is expected to put pressure on Netanyahu to do more to protect civilians in Gaza, allow more aid to reach the Strip and rein in far-right ministers who have called for the mass resettlement of Palestinians — rhetoric that the United States has condemned as inflammatory. And irresponsible.

Netanyahu has also angered Washington by refusing so far to participate in any detailed planning for governing Gaza when the Israeli military offensive ends and rejecting US preferred options.

In recent days, senior Israeli ministers have been quick to make some post-war proposals and repeat previous promises that the IDF would move to tactics that are less costly to civilians.

On Thursday, Israel's defense minister suggested that Israel would retain security control over Gaza, but with an unspecified, Israeli-directed Palestinian body running day-to-day administration, and the United States, the European Union and regional partners responsible for the reconstruction of the Strip. .

About 85% of Palestinians in Gaza have been displaced, many forced to move to a smaller area to avoid Israeli air strikes. Photography: Mohamed Saber/EPA

Under Yoav Galant's plan, the Israeli assault on Gaza would continue until hostages taken during Hamas' attack on Israel on October 7 were released, and Hamas' “military and governmental capabilities” were dismantled.

After that, a new phase begins during which unspecified Palestinian bodies – apparently local government employees or community leaders – will administer the area.

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But Israeli observers note that Gallant's proposals are not official policy, have not yet been presented to other ministers and are unlikely to succeed.

“The Israeli army presents its plan to politicians for consideration. It's a recipe for disaster. The idea of ​​wanting local Palestinians to take over local governance is the right approach but you have to let them choose, said Merav Zonszyn, a senior analyst on Israel and Palestine at the International Crisis Group.

The plan outlined by Gallant differs starkly from US calls to revitalize the Palestinian Authority, which is based in the occupied West Bank, to also take control of Gaza and begin new negotiations toward creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“We do not expect every conversation on this trip to be easy,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. “It is clear that there are difficult issues facing the region and difficult choices ahead of us.”

Bezalel Smotrich wears a black suit
Bezalel Smotrich's comments encouraging Palestinians to leave Gaza were severely criticized. Photography: Amir Cohen – Reuters

The Biden administration has previously been credited with convincing Israel on several aid issues, including allowing limited amounts of fuel and commercial trucks into the Gaza Strip. This week, Israeli officials suggested more Entry points from Israel It may be opened to allow more aid to reach northern Gaza.

Gallant also indicated a more precise approach to targeting Hamas fighters and their leaders, in what appears to be another response to pressure from Washington.

The United States is pushing Israel to shift to less intense military operations in Gaza that more precisely target Hamas, which seized control of the Strip in 2007. In a rare public criticism, Biden warned last month that Israel was losing international support because of its policy. “Indiscriminate bombing”.

The Israeli campaign in Gaza has killed more than 22,400 people, more than two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in the Strip, with thousands more believed to be buried under the rubble and tens of thousands wounded.

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The attack was launched after Hamas sent thousands of militants into southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and kidnapping about 240 others.

Gallant's statement said that Israeli forces in northern Gaza would shift to a “new combat approach” focusing on raids, tunnel destruction, “air and ground activities and special operations.”

It was not immediately clear how this might differ from current operations, although the recent withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza may signal an imminent change in tactics.

The Palestinians said that Israeli air strikes and bombing have not stopped since the announcement, as planes and tanks intensified their attacks on densely populated areas in Al-Maghazi, Al-Bureij and Al-Nuseirat in central Gaza.

In southern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians moved on Israeli advice, six Palestinians were killed in an air strike on Khan Yunis, local health officials said.

Another concern for the Biden administration is calls by far-right members of Netanyahu's government to encourage Palestinians to leave Gaza en masse.

On Sunday, Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister who was left out of the war cabinet and discussions on next-day arrangements in Gaza, called on Palestinian residents of Gaza to leave the blockaded enclave, to make way for Israelis who can “make the desert bloom.” .

A day later, Itamar Ben Gvir, the Minister of National Security, said the conflict was an opportunity to “encourage the migration of Gazans,” which he said would be a “right, just, moral and humane solution.”

Such statements, which come amid unconfirmed reports in Israel of proposals to persuade other countries to accept large numbers of Palestinians, have raised fears in much of the Arab world that Israel wants to expel Palestinians from lands on which they want to build their future state, repeating the mass displacement of Palestinians in The wars that followed the establishment of Israel in 1948.

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Rwanda on Friday described reports published by an Israeli news agency about talks between Rwanda and Israel regarding the transfer of Palestinians from Gaza as “completely misleading information… [that] It should be ignored.”

Antony Blinken arrives in Istanbul
Anthony Blinken is trying to avoid a broader conflict in the region and is seeking reassurances during his visit to the Middle East. Photography: Evelyn Hochstein – Reuters

Smotrich, whose far-right Religious Zionist Party enjoys support from the Israeli settler community, made Similar comments In the past, which angered the United States. It is believed that Biden made it clear to Netanyahu that he holds him responsible for the ministers' statements.

Miller, of the US State Department, told reporters: “We have been clear, consistent and unequivocal that Gaza is and will remain Palestinian territory, with Hamas no longer in control of its future and with no terrorist groups capable of threatening Israel.” .

In another apparent attempt to reassure the United States as Blinken’s visit approaches, Gallant said that although Israel reserves its right to operate inside the Strip, his plan stipulates “no Israeli civilians in the Gaza Strip after the war objectives are achieved.” “.

Some in Gaza are reluctantly considering leaving the Strip in the future.

“I know this is what the Israelis want, but I think about my children’s future and wonder where we can go. I don’t want to,” said one UN director who has been living in a crowded shelter near Khan Yunis since his home was destroyed just over 100 kilometers away. I would never leave in normal times, but there is nothing here now: no schools, no roads, no home.” Two months ago.

Much of northern Gaza was reduced to rubble. About 85% of Gaza's 2.3 million people have been displaced, forced to live in ever smaller areas. A quarter of the population now suffers from hunger due to the lack of adequate supplies, according to the United Nations.

The US State Department said that during his trip, Blinken will visit Israel, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and five Arab countries: Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

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