Azmi Bishara: No united Palestinian leadership means victory for Netanyahu’s post-war Gaza plans

Azmi Bishara: No united Palestinian leadership means victory for Netanyahu’s post-war Gaza plans
Dr Azmi Bishara said that if a unified Palestinian leadership was not formed it would allow Netanyahu's post-war plan for Gaza to succeed.
9 min read
27 February, 2024
Dr Azmi Bishara said that without a unified Palestinian leadership Netanyahu's plans for Gaza are likely to succeed [Al-Araby Al-Jadeed]

The absence of a united Palestinian leadership could allow Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's postwar plans to dominate Gaza to succeed, Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Dr Azmi Bishara, warned in a new interview.

While Bishara viewed the anger of Gazans today as wholly justified due to the scale of the genocide being carried out against them, he warned external forces are trying to exploit their anguish to undermine the resistance.

He also expressed his belief that Arab states are ready to cooperate with Netanyahu’s scheme for governing Gaza, and stressed that Palestinians should put forward an alternative plan to thwart Netanyahu, based on the establishment of a united Palestinian leadership which would provide the political framework for a technocratic government managing its affairs.

On the ongoing Paris and Doha negotiations on a truce and prisoner exchange deal between the resistance and Israel, Bishara expects the determining factor in Hamas's response to the draft agreement will hinge on the extent of people's suffering. Therefore, if the agreement allows Gazans to return to the north and repositions the Israeli army, "it's likely the resistance will show flexibility", he said.

Netanyahu's 'day after'

In a new Alaraby TV interview on Sunday evening, Bishara warned if the situation remains as it is on the Palestinian front (i.e. without a united Palestinian leadership including the resistance factions, one which will insist on a just solution for the Palestinian issue) "it's possible Netanyahu's plan will be achieved" because Palestinian society is exhausted and has been primed to accept a ploy of this kind.

Bishara believes the fate of this plan hinges on Palestinians' awareness of what is being concocted for them - not Washington's rejection of or agreement to the plan. This is because Netanyahu isn't overly concerned with the US stance on his postwar plan, as he knows Washington's support for Israel is unconditional, and there is no sign any genuine American pressure will be placed on him.

Bishara added that Netanyahu was "interested in Biden's fall and Trump winning – so why would he give Biden the political gift of accepting his plan?"

Bishara deems it likely Washington won't give verbal assent to Netanyahu's plan, but will proceed with trying to apply it on the ground.

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He also pointed out that Netanyahu's plan for governing Gaza included assistance from Arab states which have normalised relations with Israel, (UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Egypt and Jordan) and may also be based on employing former officials from the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestinian Preventive Security service previously in charge of Gaza.

On this point, he mentions that on the eve of the Al-Aqsa Flood operation, the Israeli-Arab alliances may have surpassed security coordination and reached a shared vision for the whole region.

He concludes that today's brutal Israeli war on the Gaza Strip aims to go back to what was being arranged prior to October 7, and in order for this to happen, specific settlements - which ensure the West Bank and Gaza will be under security control - are demanded.

Bishara confirms that a number of Arab states stand ready to engage with Netanyahu's plans, and while some states who have normalised with Israel shed crocodile tears for the Palestinians, there are also constant efforts to pin responsibility for the genocide onto Hamas "instead of the occupation".

At the same time, "they (some Arab states) are banning the writing of blog posts in solidarity with Palestine and jail those who announce their solidarity with Gaza".

Two ways to govern Gaza

In a related context, Bishara spoke about two ways Hamas could be involved in governing Gaza going forward. Either this would happen under Israel's occupation "if the movement bows to weather the storm", in which case a Palestinian side might use them for a period of time to gain legitimacy, then betray them to get rid of them.

The other possibility is that a unified Palestinian leadership would be formed in the framework of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) or something else, and a technocratic government put together to govern Gaza.

Here he revealed that proposals of the second kind had been made to the PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who had not responded. Here he warned that the PA's "waiting" to take over [in Gaza] was a dangerous illusion.

Al-Aqsa Flood: Correct motives, mistaken calculations

Regarding recurring discussions critical of Hamas and Al-Aqsa Flood, and the anger against them, Bishara believes the matter depends on who is addressing the subject.

If they don't question the principle that the Palestinian people have the right to resist the occupation, then discussion of the feasibility of the Al-Aqsa Flood operation is natural, as is discussion about the methods used and their feasibility, and what the best tools for the struggle are. This is an existing discussion, he says.

However, he adds that a wide spectrum of those holding the resistance responsible for the war today are fundamentally against the resistance and ignore the entire historical and political context that led to the Al-Aqsa Flood operation.

In this context, he recalled that the resistance had warned relevant parties against the continuation of [Israel's] Judaization policies; desecration of Al-Aqsa Mosque; settlements; prisoner persecution; the siege, and the occupation, without anyone responding to its warnings.

Moreover, he compared those holding the resistance responsible for the genocide against Palestinians today in Gaza with those who held participants in the Syrian revolution responsible for the massacres perpetrated against them by the Syrian regime.

He concluded here that that there was also a political attempt, backed by external parties, to transform the anger in Gaza into [the desire for] revenge against the resistance - instead of holding Israel responsible for what is happening.

On the other hand, he said that while the Al-Aqsa Flood operation's "motives were correct, its calculations were mistaken". He remarked again that the way the resistance in Gaza had prepared their military defensive capacity in recent years was astonishing.


However, he believes it likely those in charge have begun to prepare for the worst and for the survival of the movement - and of the Palestinian cause. Here he pointed out that the fundamental matter isn't just to think about how to keep the issue alive, but rather how the issue can be solved fairly, and Hamas actions show it is taking steps towards this end.

Paris negotiations progress

Regarding progress in the Paris negotiations on a truce and prisoner exchange deal between the resistance and Israel (with Qatari-Egyptian mediation and active American participation), Bishara said it was possible that progress has actually occurred, because Israel has agreed to some of what it refused at the Paris meetings (on 28 January), which seemed a result of American pressure.

Tel Aviv had previously withdrawn its approval from a number of issues during the first round of the Paris negotiations about a month ago, including: allowing Gazans to move between the north and south; everything related to halting the desecration of Al-Aqsa Mosque; the number of days in the truce (about 45 in its first phase); the ceasefire; the number of prisoners to be released, and the repositioning of the army to allow people to return to their areas of residence.

Bishara stressed that today, "perhaps under American pressure, Israel has gone back and approved matters related to the number of prisoners and the movement of Gazans between the north and the south".

Communication is now underway with Hamas (as it wasn't present in the Paris, Doha, or Cairo negotiations).

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Bishara revealed that there are two main topics requiring detailed discussion now. One is how Gazans will be able to move between the north and the south - with details of how the Israeli army will reposition during the truce weeks.

The other is how many Israeli prisoners will be released; their names, and how many Palestinian prisoners will be released for every Israeli hostage - in addition to the "type" of charges against the Palestinian prisoners and the sentences issued against them.

He explained these Israeli retractions in advance of the Paris agreement being concluded as occurring in order to settle the war of Khan Younis - so that the truce's first stage could take place during Ramadan. This was because they realised this month had a particular sensitivity not limited to Gaza.

Bishara said he feared Israel would be content with just the first stage of the agreement (which includes a truce of around six weeks and maybe the release of 40 Israeli civilian prisoners in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners), as it categorically rejects a ceasefire.

He added that the Americans were using the tactic of playing "the optimist" in order to exert pressure so that the first stage would go ahead, and the second and third stages would follow, without any guarantees nor promises of an end to the war, on the understanding it would be difficult to return to the war after a long pause.

Bishara described this rationale as "akin to the words of analysts not powerful states" and said it was because the US wasn't ready to apply any pressure on Israel.

He thinks it likely any US guarantees will only relate to specific items agreed upon (i.e. the repositioning of the Israeli army in the first phase, the six-week truce, the entry of aid, the exchange of prisoners etc.).

He believes the sense of optimism in the media around the Paris negotiations in the last few days has been generated by Israel and the US, and their goal is to embarrass the other side (Hamas) and portray it as though it is the reason for any failure there might be with the agreement.

On his expectations regarding Hamas' response to the new draft agreement, he suggested that the suffering of the people, which has reached famine and the decimation of their morale, will play the primary role in whether the agreement is concluded or not.

Here, Bishara pointed out that the Palestinian resistance has concerns relating to its popular social base in the Gaza Strip, so "if the text of the new agreement allows people to return to the north and the repositioning of the occupation army, the resistance will most likely show flexibility towards [it]".

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Ground invasion of Rafah

Regarding Israel's insistence it will invade Rafah, Bishara is confident this will happen, because Israel has repeated that however long the truce, it will only delay the Rafah operation – not cancel it – and the war must continue until it has achieved its goals. The resistance is well aware of this, he added.

In the eyes of Tel Aviv, the war's objectives haven't yet been met – ending Hamas' military capability and imposing a local administration on Gaza with Israeli oversight.

He concluded that "it isn't possible that Israel will end the war for as long as there is no real Arab or American pressure" for it to end.

Here, he added that the Israel's are repeating that they won't enter Rafah before informing Egypt, as though to get Egypt used to the idea, and "we haven't heard a clear Egyptian position [showing] that invading Rafah is forbidden".

Bishara believes the possibility of allowing some residents to return to northern Gaza is likely related to reducing the number of residents in Rafah in order to create conditions which will allow it to be attacked.