Charting a Path Forward: The Potential for a Post-Hamas Gaza

The October 7 Hamas operation aimed to change the status and future of Gaza’s Palestinian population through shock and terror. The operation has been successful, and Israeli authorities predict that life in Gaza will never be the same. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stated that the planned Israeli Defense Force (IDF) land offensive into Gaza will be the last maneuver, as after it, Hamas will no longer exist. National Security Council chief Tzachi Hanegbi pledged Israel would “wipe [Hamas] from the face of the earth.” If the IDF succeeds, eight possible directions for Gaza’s future may involve one or more of these scenarios in combination.

After Hamas’s expulsion of Fatah from Gaza in 2007 and the dissolution of the Palestinian Unity government, Gaza and the West Bank have had little official interaction. This means that the Palestinian Authority (PA) government in the West Bank has little presence or influence in isolated Gaza. If the PA returns to Gaza, it could suffer by following behind Israeli troops, unless some sort of intermediate administration is established. Even then, it would be difficult to avoid being characterized as Israel’s puppet. If Gazans are allowed to remain, Israel will intensify its control of the enclave, which will be sealed even tighter to prevent the supply of money or weapons to any resistance factions in Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) may not be eager to return to Gaza due to political instability and the potential for a dangerous power vacuum caused by Israel’s plan to destroy Hamas and other Islamist militias. Palestinian anger may encourage the growth of greater extremism, potentially manifesting in new forms or the rise in popularity of groups like al-Qaeda or Islamic State. If the IDF occupies all of Gaza, it will be the third such operation since the 2005 evacuation of Israeli troops and settlers.

The idea of returning Gaza to Israeli military occupation 18 years after disengagement is largely unsupported in Israel and other countries. Egypt, the dominant power in Gaza, advocates for an independent Palestinian state based on pre-Arab-Israeli borders.

Hamas can expect no help from Egypt due to the group’s close connections to Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood. Cairo believes many Gazans are infected with Islamic extremist ideology and are suspected of collaborating with Islamist fighters in the Sinai who continue to be engaged in a 12-year-old insurgency. Egypt, already home to 9 million refugees, is hesitant to regain control of Gaza, a 2.2 million-person territory, as it would exacerbate tensions with Israeli security forces, posing a potential tinderbox situation.

Cairo is concerned that the Gaza conflict is distracting from the ongoing conflict in neighboring Sudan, which has seen over 9,000 deaths since April. Egypt has received over 300,000 Sudanese refugees, and Cairo is seeking greater international intervention to end the six-month-old war in Sudan. Israel is using airstrikes and warnings to force Gazans to move to the southern part of the enclave near the Egyptian border, causing concerns that the entire population may be driven across the border into Egyptian Sinai. President al-Sisi has acknowledged the attempt to push the civilian population to seek refuge in Egypt, but warned that the consequences of failing to contain the violence go beyond self-defense.

A possible direction for a post-Hamas Gaza could involve the revival of mandated territories, similar to those common in the Middle East and Africa during the interval between the first and second world wars. However, securing support for such a program from all the poorly-divided members of the permanent UN Security Council would be difficult.

Arab nations like Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain, and the UAE could be given mandates over disarmed Gaza, but there is no clear list of Arab nations willing to take responsibility for the struggling Gazans. Israel faces the challenge of eliminating Hamas, a political and armed group with deep roots in Gaza, which is likely to survive the current fighting, even under a different name.

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