White House warns Israel over post-war plans for Gaza

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US President Joe Biden and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

The White House maintained Tuesday that it did not believe Israeli forces should reoccupy Gaza following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comments that the country would have the “overall security responsibility” in Gaza for an “indefinite period” after the war ends.

“The president still believes that a reoccupation of Gaza by Israeli forces is not good. It’s not good for Israel; not good for the Israeli people,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on “CNN This Morning.”

“One of the conversations that Secretary (Antony) Blinken has been having in the region is what does post-conflict Gaza look like? What does governance look like in Gaza? Because whatever it is it can’t be what it was on October 6. It can’t be Hamas,” he added.

The latest warning from the White House comes after Netanyahu told ABC News on Monday that Gaza should be governed by “those who don’t want to continue the way of Hamas” before adding, “I think Israel will, for an indefinite period, will have the overall security responsibility because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t have it.”

It was one of the first hints Netanyahu has given about his vision for a post-war Gaza and suggests a divergent view than that of the US, including President Joe Biden’s own statements about what the future of the strip would look like.

In an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” last month, Biden said it would be a “big mistake” for Israel to occupy Gaza. At the time, Michael Herzog, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Israel does not intend to occupy Gaza after the conflict ends.

There have been other sharp gaps between the US and Israel emerging in recent weeks as the war continues. Blinken last week pushed the Israelis for a “humanitarian pause” to allow hostages and civilians to leave Gaza and for aid for Palestinians to enter, but was rebuked by Netanyahu.

And despite Blinken’s forceful public missive that “civilians should not suffer the consequences for (Hamas’) inhumanity and its brutality,” Israeli forces continued to strike civilian sites in the wake of the top US diplomat’s visit. The forces claimed that the sites were being used by Hamas.

Biden told reporters in Washington that he hasn’t had a chance to speak with Netanyahu on Tuesday – but he did ask the Israeli prime minister to consider a humanitarian pause when the two leaders spoke on Monday.

“I didn’t get a chance to talk to him today. I did ask him for a pause in the past –- yesterday. I’m still waiting to hear from other people,” Biden told reporters.

Israeli government officials have not yet elaborated on how Gaza would be governed should they succeed in eliminating Hamas.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Tuesday that Israel will “retain complete freedom of action to respond to any situation in the Gaza Strip” once the war ends. Gallant said that “at the end of this ‘campaign,’ Hamas, as a military organization or governing body in Gaza, will cease to exist.” Gallant’s comments were published on the Ynet news website.

“There will be no security threat to Israel from Gaza, and Israel will retain complete freedom of action, to respond to any situation in the Gaza Strip that poses any kind of threat,” Gallant can be heard saying on the Ynet recording of a meeting of Israel’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Netanyahu, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday that Israel is “not talking about any sort of ongoing occupation of the Gaza strip.”

“When this is over and we have defeated Hamas, it is crucial that there won’t be a resurgent terrorist element, a resurgent Hamas. There is no point doing this and just going back to square one,” Regev told CNN.

“There will have to be an Israeli security presence, but that doesn’t mean Israel is re-occupying Gaza, that doesn’t mean that Israel is there to govern the Gazans,” he continued.

The US and its western allies have been telling their Israeli counterparts for weeks that Israel should have clear objectives when it comes to degrading Hamas and should seek to avoid a long-term occupation of the Gaza Strip.

US officials had previously told CNN that they didn’t have a clear sense for Israel’s intentions in Gaza and believe it will be difficult for Hamas to be eradicated entirely.

Despite the apparent gaps between his administration and the Israeli government, Biden reiterated support for Israel during a call with Netanyahu on Monday, Kirby said.

“One of the things that the president made clear to the prime minister is that we’re going to continue to stand with Israel. We’re going to continue to make sure that they have the security assistance they need, the tools, the weapons, the capabilities to go after Hamas. That hasn’t changed since October 7 and it’s not going to change going forward,” Kirby said. [CNN]

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