What Does the Term ‘Demilitarization’ Imply for Gaza?

Israel’s goal for Gaza is to demilitarize the enclave, but experts argue that this goal and “total destruction” in the conflict have become indistinguishable. The West Bank-based Palestine government has been discussing taking charge of postwar Gaza’s governance, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vehemently denied the idea. Tobias Borck, a senior research fellow for Middle East security at the Royal United Services Institute, believes that Netanyahu’s statement represents no change in Israeli policy. He believes that the Israeli military’s actions in Gaza are justified and that even an independent Palestinian state would have to be demilitarized.

On December 6, Netanyahu stated that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would be responsible for demilitarizing Gaza, claiming that international forces would be incapable of achieving success. Netanyahu denied warning external actors to stay away from Gaza, as neighboring Arab states have deemed it a mess Israel must clean up alone. The current situation in Gaza involves over 17,700 civilian deaths, 7,800 unaccounted for deaths, more than 46,000 injuries, and Hamas-run health authorities alleging ongoing war on hospitals and medical facilities. Palestinian author and journalist Ramzy Baroud sees little likelihood of Israeli success in efforts to demilitarize Gaza, noting that for Netanyahu to achieve this, he would first require him to have control over it. Subduing Palestinians in one of the most rebellious regions on earth is not only a difficult task but also virtually impossible.

Gaza’s complete demilitarization is a complex issue, with the collective mood among Palestinians in the Occupied Territories being a key factor. Jordanian analyst Osama Al-Sharif suggests that Gaza’s destruction is necessary for Israel to level the entire 365 sq. km area and evacuate its population, but the military operation window is closing soon. By the end of November, 98,000 buildings in Gaza had been destroyed, with estimates suggesting 40% of the entire enclave was now in a state of rubble. This highlights the importance of understanding Hamas as a terrorist military, which allows Hamas to perform combined arms maneuvers. The IDF is trying to destroy all of Hamas’ military capacity, which could lead to Gaza being demilitarized.

If Israel successfully achieves its aim of demilitarization, there is only one outcome for Gaza: a Palestinian leadership put in place to run schools, hospitals, and collect garbage, ideally also running domestic policing. American officials are working with the Palestinian Authority (PA) on a plan to run Gaza after the war is over. The preferred outcome would be for Hamas to become a junior partner under the Palestinian Liberation Organization, helping to build a new independent state that includes the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. However, Borck argues that a replication of the West Bank governance model in Gaza is far from ideal, as it would involve Israeli-run checkpoints and a total reordering of the way Gazans live.

Israel is reportedly working to create a buffer zone in the north while pushing the majority of Gaza’s population to the south and along the border with Egypt. This move could put it into the path of a direct confrontation with the Biden administration, which has been clear in its desire for the Palestinian Authority to take control of Gaza when the fighting ends.

The US opposes forced transfer of Gazans, partition of the enclave, or reducing its pre-war area. Despite its veto in UN calls for a ceasefire, the Democratic administration is facing pushback over the conflict and a retraction of support for Israel’s response to October 7. The top diplomat is criticized for re-emphasizing civilian safety in handling the war.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken stated that it remains imperative Israel put a premium on civilian protection, and there does remain a gap between the intent to protect civilians and the actual results that we are seeing on the ground. Israelis would be wise to learn from one of Israel’s great military generals, the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was responsible for the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza after 38 years of occupation.

GazaIsraelWhat Does the Term 'Demilitarization' Imply for Gaza?