Whose peace? Israel’s Gaza plan at odds with Tokyo Principles

Netanyahu has finally announced his plan for the day after in Gaza. It is not what others want to see.

Whose peace? Israel’s Gaza plan at odds with Tokyo Principles

In November 2023, an outline for the future of Gaza and its people was introduced and discussed by world leaders in the Japanese capital.

These so-called ‘Tokyo Principles’ advocate for “no forcible displacement of Palestinians, no use of Gaza as a launchpad for terrorism, no reoccupation post-conflict, no blockade, and no territorial reduction of Gaza”.

They were supported by the United States — Israel’s staunchest ally. During the Manama Dialogue, Brett McGurk, a senior Middle East official in US President Joe Biden’s administration, shared these principles with foreign ministers.

The Tokyo Principles seemed to have wide support, but as the more powerful and active of the two belligerents in the Gaza War, Israel’s opinion needed to be heard.

Two Gaza plans

What did Israeli ministers envisage for Gaza ‘the day after’? What was the end game? And when would they unveil their thinking? Weeks passed, then months.

Finally, at the end of February—four and a half months after the Israeli prime minister first declared war on Hamas—he unveiled his vision for a post-Hamas Gaza to Israel’s security cabinet, who all agreed with him.

The 'Tokyo Principles' call for "no forcible displacement, no Israeli reoccupation post-conflict, no blockade, and no territorial reduction of Gaza".

Netanyahu outlined how the Israeli army would continue its efforts to achieve its war aims: to dismantle Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and secure the release of hostages.

After that, his vision is of Israel maintaining a security footprint in the Strip, establishing "safe zones" in northern Gaza adjacent to Israeli settlements, and embedding an Israeli military presence along the Gaza-Egypt border.

This was directly at odds with Washington, given that US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had reiterated the United States' firm opposition to any "reoccupation" of Gaza.

Netanyahu also called for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Refugees (UNRWA) to be permanently shuttered due to its "participation in the 7 October attack".

Following the dismantlement of UNRWA (which Netanyahu also called for in 2017 and 2018, for other reasons), aid operations for Gaza's two million people would be taken on by other international groups, according to Israel.

Yet UNRWA's "destruction" (a word used by Israeli lawmakers in a debate on 4 January) has political implications for Palestinians' right to return to land from which they were forced since 1948, something specifically recognised in UN Resolution 194.

A Palestinian state

In Tokyo in November, the foreign ministers of the G7—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, the US, and the EU—doubled down on their commitment to a two-state solution.

They said: "We underscore that a two-state solution, which envisions Israel and a viable Palestinian State living side-by-side in peace, security, and mutual recognition, remains the only path to a just, lasting, and secure peace."

In his long-term plans, however, Netanyahu firmly opposes what he calls the "unilateral recognition" of a Palestinian state and rejects "international mandates regarding a permanent settlement with the Palestinians".

Israel wants to keep a security footprint in the Strip, establish 'safe zones' in northern Gaza, and put Israeli soldiers on the Gaza-Egypt border.

He says any solution with the Palestinians is only achievable through "direct negotiations between the two sides", without preconditions. He sees the recognition of a Palestinian state after 7 October as an obstacle to any future peace agreement.

This contrasts starkly with the view from Western capitals on the potential recognition of a Palestinian state.

British Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron explicitly suggested such a possibility before any Israeli-Palestinian negotiations conclude, although ruled out doing so while Hamas governed Gaza.

Moreover, Israel's outright rejection of a Palestinian state disregards the Tokyo Principles, which lays the groundwork for a "two-state solution," ensuring Israel's security while planning the long-term reconstruction of Gaza.

Tough love? Or just love?

Next to one another, these two Gaza plans look quite different. Netanyahu's lays the foundations for Israel's security dominion over Gaza and the West Bank. Tokyo lays the foundations for two states alongside one another.

Netanyahu's paves a path to the evasion of final-stage negotiations on key issues such as Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, borders, and further settlement expansion.

It comes as Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced that more than 3,300 new Israeli settlements would be built in the occupied West Bank.

In response, Blinken bluntly labelled settlement expansion "inconsistent with international law".

It was a rare but pronounced put-down of Israeli plans, in direct contrast to Biden's predecessor (and possible successor) Donald Trump, who gave Israel the green light on settlement expansion.

After Israel announced another 3,300 settlement units in the occupied West Bank, the US said settlement expansion was 'inconsistent with the law'.

Yet Biden is far from being anti-Israel and has repeatedly refused to impose "any restrictive conditions" on military aid to Israel. It is just as well because, in an election year, he cannot afford to antagonise America's strong pro-Israel lobby.

In a similar vein, the White House has made "an exception" for Israel by waiving the human rights adherence requirement typically imposed on arms importers.

All of this lets Netanyahu feel justifiably emboldened, given Biden's diminishing capacity to exert influence over Israel, in the run-up to an election in which his opponent will happily write Israel a blank cheque while looking the other way.

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