Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a meeting in Jerusalem on Feb. 5, 2024.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a meeting in Jerusalem on Feb. 5, 2024. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool via AP)

JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a proposal early Friday for Israel’s indefinite military control of Gaza, repeating stances he has made before but still surprising the public by putting it all in writing as a concrete postwar plan.

For months, Netanyahu has placed two topics largely off-limits in public questioning: What responsibility does he bear for security lapses leading to the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, and who will govern the enclave when the fighting is over?

On the first question, Netanyahu continues to deflect. But he has finally spoken on the second with a one-page proposal presented to his security cabinet Thursday night and released publicly after midnight. The outline is meant as a starting point for further discussions, his office said.

The debut of a plan that had been considered off-limits to public discussion came as a surprise to many in the government, according to an Israeli official close to the discussions. The new policy followed a meeting Thursday with White House envoy Brett McGurk and came as momentum appeared to be building in Paris-based talks toward a possible cease-fire and hostage-release deal with Hamas.

“This was synchronized with the Americans,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about internal discussions.

The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem did not respond to a request for comment.

“Netanyahu’s number one goal is buying time,” said Gideon Rahat, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and chair of Hebrew University’s political science department. “He bought as much time as he could on this in the face of pressure from Joe Biden.”

The proposal outlined by Netanyahu largely reflects what he has said in public. Among its key points:

Israel’s military will stay in Gaza as long as it takes to demilitarize the enclave, eliminate Hamas and keep it from regrouping.

Israel will assume greater control of Gaza’s southern border, in cooperation with Egypt “as much as possible,” and will carve out border buffer zones to prevent smuggling and further attacks. Egypt has rejected any Israeli role on its border with Gaza.

The United Nations’ primary aid agency in Gaza and the West Bank, UNRWA, which Israel accuses of complicity with Hamas and fostering hatred of Jews, would be disbanded and replaced.

The proposal rejects any permanent agreement with “the Palestinians” that is not achieved through direct negotiations with Israel, as well as any “unilateral” Palestinian state.

The Palestinian Authority, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said the outline was a nonstarter.

“The plans proposed by Netanyahu are aimed at continuing Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories and preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state,” said Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “Israel will not succeed in its attempts to change the geographical and demographic reality in the Gaza Strip.”

Critics in Israel also dismissed the outline as a compendium of ideas that have already been rejected by the international community and Israel’s most important backers.

The points will be welcomed by Netanyahu’s conservative base but do little to advance strategic considerations about postwar Gaza, said Chuck Freilich, a former deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council and a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

“This is just a presentation of Israel’s maximalist positions,” Freilich said. “The pressure was building on him to come up with something, so he came out with this document and slapped ‘day after’ on the top.”

But if the goals were in line with Netanyahu’s rhetoric, political observers said the proposal was notable for breaking the official silence on the topic. And it did not call for the reestablishment of Israeli settlements inside Gaza, as some of Netanyahu’s coalition partners have demanded.

Nor, as many Israeli political observers noted, did it slam the door on Palestinian Authority officials playing a role in Gaza, as Netanyahu has repeatedly done in the past.

Instead, the outline describes a civil service staffed by “local entities with managerial experience,” without defining who that might be. Anyone with ties to terrorist groups or countries “supporting terrorism” - a possible reference to Qatar and Iran - would be barred.

Senior Israelis have previously pushed the idea of unaffiliated clan leaders taking charge of many government functions, which critics dismiss as an unworkable alliance with inexperienced locals who would be seen as Israeli proxies.

Not explicitly rejecting (or even mentioning) the Palestinian Authority, which governs in the West Bank, at least avoids another public break with the Biden administration, which has pushed the idea of a “revitalized” authority as the best place to look for stable, long-term administrators for Gaza.

“It’s vague enough to enable him to control his coalition on the one hand and to give a hint to Biden and others that there might be some type of Palestinian Authority role when it doesn’t come to security issues,” Rahat said.

But Palestinians saw the document’s silence as an insult.

“The Palestinian Authority is simply ignored, rendering it as if it doesn’t exist,” political analyst Mustafa Ibrahim told The Washington Post in a phone interview from Rafah, in southern Gaza, where he is sheltering with his family. “What Netanyahu’s plan presents is a vision solely centered around Israel and its interests, with no regard for the humanity or rights of Palestinians.”

Hazem Balousha in Amman, Jordan, and Itay Stern in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.

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