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The Israeli resettlement of Gaza is no longer a fringe idea

In Israel, the resettlement of Gaza is no longer a fringe idea
5 min read
07 February, 2024
In-depth: In the absence of an official post-war plan, extremist ideas once reserved for the fringes of society are taking over policymaking in Israel.

On the last Sunday in January, thousands of Israelis gathered in Jerusalem for a conference calling for the resettlement of the Gaza Strip.

In the absence of an official post-war policy, extremist ideas, once reserved for the fringes of Israeli society, are appearing to take over.

Israel’s war on Gaza is entering its fourth month yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to propose a viable plan for when the guns fall silent.

“There's definitely an impact of the fact that there is a void in any kind of coherent policy towards the day after in Gaza that allows the more right-wing, far-right factions of the Israeli government to try to propose their Messianic vision,” Eyal Lurie-Pardes, Palestine and Palestinian-Israeli Affairs fellow at the Middle East Institute, told The New Arab.

Among the conference’s participants were 12 ministers from Netanyahu’s Likud party and 15 coalition members, suggesting to Dutch-Palestinian analyst, Mouin Rabbani, that the event was actually part of Israel’s post-war planning.

“I don't think that we can pretend this is not an attempt by those involved in post-war planning to try to set an agenda,” Rabbani said.

Beyond their attendance, Israeli lawmakers have promoted resettling Gaza in their wartime rhetoric.

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“We cannot withdraw from any territory we are in in the Gaza Strip. Not only do I not rule out Jewish settlement there, I believe it is also an important thing,” Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said at the beginning of the year.

Ben Gvir echoed this sentiment during his conference speech saying, “If we don't want another October 7, we need to go back home and control [Gaza]. We need to find a legal way to voluntarily emigrate [Palestinians]”.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who’s also championed resettling Gaza, made similar remarks during his speech at the conference.

Israeli lawmakers have frequently promoted resettling Gaza in their wartime rhetoric. [Getty]

"We knew what that would bring and we tried to prevent it," Smotrich said. "Without settlements there is no security."

This notion that settlements and security are two sides of the same coin is a natural part of Israeli thinking, Mairav Zonszein, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, explained.

“The concept that you need to put people on the ground - settlers and soldiers - in order to provide security has always been part of the Israeli understanding of how to do things,” Zonszein said.

From kingmakers to decision-makers

While resettling Gaza hasn’t become the majority position among Israelis, surveys indicate the idea is gaining momentum.

A recent Israeli Channel 12 poll found 4 in 10 Israelis support reviving the settlements in Gaza. Israel evacuated around 9,000 Israeli settlers from Gaza in 2005 under the Disengagement Law - a decision then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made amid the violence of the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, against Israeli occupation.

In a November Channel 12 poll, 32% responded to the question of what should happen to Gaza when the war is over with “Israel should remain permanently and renew Jewish settlement”.

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Another poll conducted by Direct Polls in January shows the large amount of support resettling Gaza has among Israel’s right-wing and centre-right, with 86% of Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) - parties Smotrich and Ben Gvir lead - voters and 63% of Likud voters in favour of resettling the coastal enclave.

Even if a clear post-war plan was in place, Rabbani notes those holding significant power are merely weaponising Hamas’ atrocities to their advantage - allowing them to dictate policy.

“We're talking about people that already had an agenda prior to the 7th of October who saw the 7th of October as an opportunity to promote that agenda,” Rabbani said. “They see Netanyahu as a prime minister who is weak, indecisive, risk averse, desperate to stay in office, and entirely dependent on their consent to remain in office.”

Netanyahu is reliant on far-right pro-settler parties to hold his fragile coalition together. [Getty]

Netanyahu, who is embroiled in a corruption trial, only managed to return as Israel’s prime minister in 2022 by partnering with the far-right - the only politicians willing to work with him. Now, if the coalition falls apart and snap elections occur, Netanyahu could lose his premiership and possibly face jail time over bribery and fraud charges.

In this sense, it’s key for Netanyahu to keep the extremist members in his coalition happy.

Lurie-Pardes believes Netanyahu when the prime minister says he doesn’t want to rebuild settlements in Gaza but isn’t sure how tough that stance is given the fragility of Netanyahu’s survival.

“Because of that reliance, I'm very sceptical of Netanyahu’s political wiggle room to actually block these [resettlement] attempts if they will occur,” Lurie-Pardes said.

Currently, United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, is touring the Middle East, with plans to visit Israel later this week and establish a post-war plan. But obstacles abound over truce talks as the US and Netanyahu may not actually be in charge.

 “If it's left exclusively to Israel and the Americans,” Rabbani said. “Then the most extremist faction in Israel will be calling the shots.”

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist covering Palestine and Israel. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The National, and Gulf News.

Follow her on Twitter: @jess_buxbaum