Germany has floated that the United Nations could take control in Gaza once the Israel-Hamas war is over, according to a document seen by POLITICO.
However, both the Palestinians and some EU diplomats have serious doubts about the feasibility of the idea, with a senior Palestinian figure in Europe calling it “unacceptable.”
Israel has been striking the densely populated Gaza Strip in reaction to an attack by Hamas on October 7, during which the militant group killed around 1,200 Israelis. According to data from the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli strikes have killed more than 11,000 Palestinians.
Discussions are ongoing about how to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza and how to stop the fighting. But there are also increasing discussions on scenarios for after the war.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month that an “effective and revitalized Palestinian Authority” should ultimately govern Gaza but offered no indications on how to make it “effective” or overcome Israeli opposition. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had stated earlier that his country would take “overall security responsibility” for Gaza “for an indefinite period.”
That is a no-go for the EU and the United States.
The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, on Monday stressed that Israel cannot stay in Gaza after the war, when he presented his vision for what happens post conflict ahead of a trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories. He also said, “we believe that a Palestinian authority must return to Gaza,” stressing he meant “one Palestinian authority, not the Palestinian Authority.”
Blinken has also warned that Israel cannot reoccupy Gaza after its war with Hamas ends.
The German proposal — a two-page, nonofficial document (or non-paper in EU-speak) — is dated October 21, so before Israel’s decision to launch the second phase of its military operation against Gaza at the end of October.
Berlin, one of Israel’s staunchest allies within the EU, writes that “Israel’s goal is a goal we share: never again should Hamas be in a position to terrorize Israel and its citizens.” Yet at the same time, “it is clear that these goals are hard to achieve with military means only … Its radical ideology and agenda cannot be fought by military means.”
It floats five different scenarios about the future of the Gaza Strip, including Israeli re-occupation of Gaza, and either the Palestinian Authority (PA) or Egypt taking control.
The U.N scenario is also on the list. In Berlin’s words, the scenario means an “internationalization of Gaza under the umbrella of the United Nations (and regional partners)” with “a carefully organized transition” toward Palestinian self-administration, “ideally” through elections “and in combination with an international coalition that provides necessary security.”
The document described this scenario as one that “could offer a political perspective since neither the PA nor Egypt are willing or able to take over and a return to the status quo ante or an Israeli re-occupation are politically not desirable.”
But Berlin also warned that “this scenario would require significant investment of political capital and financing as well as an international coalition to engage on security issues alongside the U.N.”
The document says that “the EU should take over a pro-active role in shaping this [the post-war] discussion” and it ends by emphasizing that the situation in the Gaza Strip “can only be sustainably stabilized through a relaunch of the Middle East Peace Process.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen echoed the U.N. idea in her speech last week to EU ambassadors, saying that after the conflict the world has to ensure Gaza is no longer a safe haven for terrorists. To ensure that, von der Leyen said “different ideas are being discussed on how this can be ensured, including an international peace force under U.N. mandate.”
But several diplomats — granted, like others in this article, anonymity to discuss the sensitive subject — said that the German suggestion didn’t go far enough. It came in the very early stages of the conflict, it was not circulated among all member countries and was not intended to be discussed by foreign ministers.
When German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stated Berlin’s line more recently, she said that “Gaza must not be occupied, but ideally be placed under international protection” without explicitly mentioning a U.N. role.
One EU diplomat described the document as “stillborn.”
The German suggestion has angered Palestinian officials, already unhappy at EU statements that don’t mention a cease-fire in Gaza.
That feeling extends across Muslim countries. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) — which has 57 Muslim countries as members — held a press conference in Brussels on Monday morning, at the same time as EU foreign ministers were meeting, to argue that they don’t want to talk about the future of the Gaza Strip as long as there’s no cease-fire.
The 27 EU member countries have agreed on a call for “humanitarian corridors and pauses” but there’s no unanimity on a cease-fire, which is being pushed by Spain but objected to by the likes of Germany and Austria for several reasons, including that it could put Israel and Hamas on the same level, as the former is a country and the latter classed as a terrorist organization by the bloc.
For Abdalrahim Alfarra, the head of the Palestinian Mission to the EU, Belgium and Luxembourg, the U.N taking control of Gaza would be “unacceptable.”
He told POLITICO that a U.N role in providing international protection at the borders — like the blue helmets in the south of Lebanon — to protect the frontier between two future countries, Israel and Palestine, is “what we need.”
The problem with the German document is that it doesn’t talk about U.N protection at the borders but rather about U.N “control of Gaza,” he said.
Alfarra said that the Palestinian Authority has not been consulted about the document and also criticized it for not mentioning any form of cease-fire before addressing the future of the region.
“They didn’t talk about how we’re going to protect the men and women now. Right away: the future of Gaza,” he said.