The White House cautioned Israel on Tuesday against re-occupying the Gaza Strip after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that his country could hold a security role there “for an indefinite period” once the war is over.
“We’re having active discussions with our Israeli counterparts about what post-conflict Gaza looks like,” John Kirby, the White House national security spokesperson, told reporters. “The President maintains his position that re-occupation by Israeli forces is not the right thing to do.”
The words of caution came after Netanyahu said Israel would need to oversee the security of the Gaza Strip once the fighting is over to prevent future attacks. Netanyahu, in an interview with ABC News, did not say who should govern the enclave after Hamas, which now controls it, is gone. But he said he thought Israel would “have the overall security responsibility” over the territory indefinitely.
President Joe Biden previously said that it would be “a big mistake” for Israel to re-occupy Gaza, from which it withdrew in 2005.
The US has offered staunch support for Israel since the October 7 terrorist attack by Hamas, which killed more than 1,400 people, according to Israeli authorities. A post-conflict Gaza, Biden has said, “can’t be Hamas”, an organisation whose founding covenant embraces “killing the Jews” and wiping out Israel. The US and the EU have designated Hamas a terrorist group.
But as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza deepens, the US is trying to balance its backing for Israel with calls for the protection of Palestinian noncombatants and for “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting.
In just under a month, Israeli strikes have killed more than 10,000 people in Gaza and injured more than 25,000 others, the Gaza health ministry said on Monday. The figures from the ministry, which operates under the political arm of Hamas, could not be independently verified, but a Pentagon spokesperson, Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, acknowledged that “we know the numbers are in the thousands”.
Biden spoke with Netanyahu on Sunday and discussed the need to accelerate and increase the humanitarian assistance going into the enclave, Kirby said. “He also talked about the importance of pauses in the fighting.” Kirby also said the White House is “keeping in our thoughts and prayers the many, many thousands of innocent Palestinians who have been killed in the conflict since October 7, and many more who are injured and wounded in the conduct of the operations”.