Gaza: What are the Village Leagues Israel plans to replace Hamas?

Gaza: What are the Village Leagues Israel plans to replace Hamas?
Israel is proposing that 'influential clans' take control of Gaza after the war but it previously tried – and failed – to impose the same thing in the West Bank
4 min read
06 March, 2024
Israel wants 'influential clans' to take control of aid and services in Gaza [Getty]

Israel’s brutal war on Gaza and its land reoccupation of large parts of the Palestinian territory, despite continued resistance by Hamas and other groups, has left it with a dilemma.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put forth little in the way of a "day after" plan for Gaza and said that Israel intends to maintain "security control" over Gaza, while giving few details. In recent days, however, there have been reports about how Israel plans to administer the Gaza Strip, or at least the parts that it manages to occupy.

Netanyahu has already ruled out allowing President Mahmoud Abbas’s West Bank-based Palestinian Authority to administer Gaza. Israel appears to be planning to allow what it calls "influential family clans" to play a role in managing areas of Gaza it controls. The Jerusalem Post reported that Israel wants to use these clans as a "shield" against Hamas attacks, saying that "even Hamas fears angering large families that have influence and power and may have weapons as well".

The clans' envisaged role appears to be limited to providing services and running local affairs, as well possibly as acting as local enforcers for the Israeli military. However, Israel has tried a similar experiment before in the West Bank and it ended in utter failure. In the 1980s, in order to counter the influence of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in the occupied territory, Israel set up the Village Leagues.

Live Story

What were the Village Leagues?

After Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967, the territory stayed relatively quiet for a number of years. However, the PLO remained armed and active outside Palestine’s historic boundaries, occasionally carrying out attacks on Israel, first from Jordan and then from Lebanon. In 1976, Israel organised local elections in the West Bank, hoping to give some legitimacy to its occupation and create a "moderate" Palestinian local leadership willing to accept autonomy under Israeli rule.

However, this plan backfired when pro-PLO candidates won sweeping victories in all the towns of the West Bank. Rather than securing a pliant Palestinian political class ready to do its bidding and accept its occupation, Israel inadvertently gave legitimacy to an enemy that it was refusing to recognise at the time. It therefore encouraged the formation of the unelected Village Leagues, which were presented initially as "non-political entities", concerned with agricultural affairs and representing Palestinians living in rural areas not served by the municipal councils which were now dominated by pro-PLO elected officials.

A stillborn alternative

In reality, Israel was setting them up as an alternative to the PLO and their supporters, and it later imprisoned or deposed the pro-PLO mayors who were elected in 1976. The head of the Village Leagues was Mustafa Dudeen, a local notable, who was previously a Jordanian cabinet minister. Jordan had ruled the West Bank before the 1967 Israeli occupation and Israel had hoped that it could find collaborators among pro-Jordanian traditional leaders.

When Israel militarily defeated the PLO in Lebanon in mid-1982, the Village Leagues began to be reported on in the press at the time as a serious alternative with which Israel could do business. However, despite trying to ingratiate themselves with rural Palestinians by handing out money, the Village Leagues were an utter failure. Opinion polls conducted at the time showed that they had the support of 0.2% of the Palestinian population in the West Bank, while the PLO enjoyed 86%, despite its Lebanon setback.

The Village Leagues were seen as little more than traitors and local thugs and in the end Israel withdrew support. By the end of 1982, they had sunk into irrelevance and in 1987, the Palestinian population in the West Bank rose up against Israeli rule in the First Intifada. Israel then had to negotiate with the PLO, signing the ill-fated Oslo Accords in 1993.

Can Israel re-create the Village League experiment in a devastated Gaza?

The kind of local leadership that Israel is proposing for the Gaza Strip appears to be remarkably similar to the Village Leagues – pliant, non-political, and concerned only with local affairs.

The circumstances, however, are very different. Israel has utterly devastated the Gaza Strip in its indiscriminate war, but still faces fierce armed resistance across the territory. These conditions are very different from the West Bank of the 1970s.

While Gaza’s population is weary of war and faces starvation and disease, and many Gazans had expressed discontent with Hamas’s 15-year rule of the territory long before the events of October 7, any leadership appointed by Israel will almost certainly face rejection and contempt. Its members will also likely face physical attacks by Hamas and other armed groups which are still active in the territory.

Israel's previous failure to impose an administration on the West Bank and Gaza compelled it to agree to the Oslo Accords in 1993 and withdraw from Gaza in 2005. It is likely to face a similar scenario if it appoints a leadership made up of collaborators.