Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his country does not intend to “occupy” or govern Gaza after the end of its war with Hamas.
In an interview with Fox News aired on Thursday, Netanyahu said that Israel would need to find a “civilian government” to govern the enclave, which has been run by Hamas since 2006, without specifying who would form such a body.
“We don’t seek to govern Gaza, we don’t seek to occupy it. But we seek to give it and us a better future … and that requires defeating Hamas,” he said. “I’ve set goals, I didn’t set a timetable because it can take more time.”
Gaza, however, is already viewed as an occupied territory because Israel has full control of its borders, airspace and territorial waters despite having formally withdrawn its forces and settlers from the enclave in 2005. In 2007, Israel began enforcing a suffocating blockade on the territory which it had captured along with other Palestinian territories – occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank – in the 1967 War.
While Israel has argued that the 2005 withdrawal marked the end of the occupation, experts in international law such as former UN special rapporteur Michael Lynk maintain that it never ended as the Israeli military continues to exercise “effective control” over the territory.
In his interview, Netanyahu said that a “credible force” would be needed to enter Gaza as necessary to “kill the killers” and “prevent the re-emergence of a Hamas-like entity”.
Netanyahu’s comments come days after he said Israel would take responsibility for Gaza’s security for an “indefinite period” after the end of its war with Hamas, prompting pushback from the United States.
On Tuesday, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said that President Joe Biden did not believe that reoccupying Gaza would be the “right thing to do”.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that the conditions for “durable peace and security” would include “no reoccupation of Gaza after the conflict ends”.
Israeli officials have said that Netanyahu’s comments about managing Gaza’s security did not suggest Israel would assume administrative control of the enclave, but conflicting statements by senior members of the government, including Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, have created confusion about its plans.
US officials have previously suggested that the Palestinian Authority should govern Gaza after the war, which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said would only be possible under a political solution that returns territory captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
Netanyahu on Thursday reiterated his opposition to a ceasefire with Hamas, as the Biden administration announced that its ally had agreed to daily four-hour pauses in fighting to allow civilians to flee hostilities.
“A ceasefire with Hamas means a surrender to Hamas, surrender to terror,” Netanyahu said, adding that Israel’s military was performing “exceptionally well” and would continue its campaign “however long it takes.”
Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has killed at least 10,569 Palestinians, including 4,324 children, according to the health ministry in the enclave.
Israel has promised to eliminate Hamas in response to the armed group’s October 7 attacks on the country, which Israeli officials say killed 1,405 people, mostly civilians.