While the current Israeli military operation seeks to degrade the military capabilities of Hamas, the Israeli government has not put forward a coherent plan for what should happen to the Gaza Strip once the operation is over.
The United States, the European Union and other key allies of Israel have stated their objection to an Israeli re-occupation of the Gaza Strip. Instead, the US administration and several other key actors have indicated their preference for the Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza. However, the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmud Abbas, and other prominent Palestinian figures have made it clear that they do not wish to take over the running of Gaza immediately after Israel’s military operation with no political horizon in sight. In the longer run, they expect to see the Gaza Strip incorporated into an independent Palestinian state. Importantly, the Palestinian Authority currently does not have the capacity to take over and govern the Gaza Strip.
An interim solution that could assist in the governance of the Gaza Strip, while providing security and preventing further attacks on Israel, is deploying a large multinational peacekeeping force with a clear mandate and robust rules of engagement. In terms of its mission, size, mandate, and rules of engagement, such a multinational force would need to resemble KFOR in Kosovo and INTERFET in East Timor much more than the ineffective UNIFIL mission in southern Lebanon, which proved incapable of keeping Hezbollah forces away from Israel’s border.
An effective peacekeeping mission in Gaza would have to fulfil three interlinked tasks.
Security: It is still unclear how the present military operation in the Gaza Strip will end. If Israeli forces withdraw while there are still militant groups with the capacity for violence within Gaza, the multinational force may have to engage in peace enforcement. Under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, peacekeepers can be authorised to target particular actors, demobilize warring parties and decommission their weapons, and to support the transfer of territorial control from illegitimate non-state armed groups to legitimate authorities. The multinational force could assume gradual responsibility over parts of the Gaza Strip as part of a phased Israeli withdrawal. Careful coordination between the IDF and the peacekeeping mission will be crucial.
Governance: The multinational force must prevent a vacuum in governance in Gaza. Part of its mission should be to ensure that basic civil authorities and essential services return to work and continue to function, and that internally displaced refugees can be temporarily accommodated and eventually return to their homes. An internationally-appointed High Representative should lead the mission’s civilian efforts, paving the way for a phased handover to Palestinian control.
Reconstruction: The Gaza Strip is currently experiencing unprecedented levels of destruction. The multinational force can play a key role in initial reconstruction efforts, ensuring the supply of electricity and water returns quickly, and minimizing any hazard caused by unexploded ordnance, Hamas tunnels, and sewage spillages.
Deploying multinational forces in Gaza will send a very clear message to Palestinians, Israelis and the rest of the region that there will not be a return to the status quo ante of “managing the conflict”. A peacekeeping mission in Gaza will be an interim phase and must be part of a broader diplomatic settlement that will include Israelis, Palestinians, key regional actors, and the international community.
* This document is part of a series of policy papers which is a product of a joint project by the Mitvim Institute and the Berl Katzenelson Foundation to reflect on the post-war era with the support of the new Israel Fund.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this paper represent the personal views of the authors and are not necessarily the views of the US Department of Defense, Department of the Air Force, Department of the Army, Army University, US Military Academy, or the US Air University.