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Who will run Gaza after the war? Israel? Hamas? The UN?

A Palestinian youth stands on a donkey cart in the grounds of a partially destroyed school being used as a shelter by internally displaced families in the Jabalia refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip on June 3, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas militant group.    (Omar Al Qatta/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Tracy Wilkinson and Nabih Bulos Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — Pressure from numerous fronts, domestic and international, is building on Israel to end the war in Gaza.

The International Court of Justice, Arab and European leaders, angry Israeli citizens and segments of the Biden administration are calling for an urgent cease-fire as part of an initial step toward determining the future of the devastated, impoverished coastal enclave.

But what happens then?

Here’s a rundown of some of the plans being floated for the endgame in Gaza and their prospects for success.

Israeli annexation or settlement?

Some of Israel’s most right-wing politicians are calling for the annexation of parts of the Gaza Strip.

They advocate building Jewish settlements in Gaza that would dot and break up contiguous Palestinian communities. In other words, Gaza would look like the West Bank, where around half a million Israeli Jews live in heavily guarded enclaves, using their own roadways and farmland in settlements most of the world considers illegal under international law.

This was the situation in Gaza before 2005.

First, a brief history: Under the 1947 United Nations partition plan, Gaza was to be part of a new Palestinian state that also included the West Bank. Israel accepted the plan and declared statehood in 1948. Arab nations rejected it. Jordan seized control of the West Bank. Egypt moved into Gaza.

In the 1967 Middle East War, Israel captured Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel occupied and began settling all three areas.

In 2005, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a hard-liner, ordered the withdrawal of Israeli military troops from Gaza and the forcible relocation of around 8,500 Jewish settlers. Sharon characterized his move to the world as a concession to Palestinians, but critics noted that Gaza’s occupation had become particularly difficult and dangerous for Israel. And Sharon withdrew on his own terms, maintaining Israel’s blockade of the strip, controlling all access by land, sea and air.

Proponents of resettlement argue expanded Israeli military and civilian presence is the only way to ensure security for Israelis and prevent the militant group Hamas from reemerging.

There are significant problems with this plan, not the least of which is it would be seen by most of the world as a blatant violation of international law.

“Starting with it’s illegal,” said Diana Buttu, a lawyer and former advisor to the Palestinian Authority.

Critics say settlement would also be a logistical nightmare, an enormous investment of military force to protect settlers.

Palestinians, particularly Gazans, Egypt and the rest of the Arab world would never accept the return of settlements in Gaza, potentially fueling political turmoil and violence.

And politically it would be extremely difficult to sell to the world.

President Joe Biden has said Gaza must remain in the hands of Palestinians, a position that most of the international community shares.

Israeli (re)occupation of Gaza?

There’s debate about whether Israel ever actually stopped its occupation of Gaza. Some say the 2005 withdrawal in effect turned over control to Palestinians, but others say Israel’s continuing control over access to the strip essentially turned it into a vast, open-air prison.

That said, another postwar option frequently discussed would have Israel returning to a more traditional, direct military reoccupation of Gaza.

One plan calls for Israeli-controlled “buffer zones” that could encircle the Gaza population. Such zones might make it easier for Israel to prevent another Oct. 7-style attack, when militants swept into Israel, killed about 1,200 people and seized about 240 hostages.

Instead of settling the Palestinian land with Israelis, the zones would be vacant no-man areas and heavily guarded by the Israeli military.

Palestinians reject such a plan as de facto annexation of their land.

Because Gaza is only 7.5 miles wide at its east-west broadest, such zones would greatly shrink what is already a densely populated territory. As a result, this idea would face strong opposition from the international community.

The return of Hamas and status quo?

Hamas, which nearly eight months into the conflict is still fighting Israel and launching attacks, has proposed its own plan for ending the war and retaining some control over Gaza.

It starts with a permanent cease-fire followed by Israel’s withdrawal of all troops, Israel’s release of hundreds of Palestinians detained in its jails, and Hamas’ release of all hostages it still holds from its Oct. 7 attack, which triggered the war.

Under the Hamas proposal, once a “sustainable calm” is maintained, a reconstruction plan would commence along with the establishment of a realistic path to establishing an independent Palestinian state.

Israel has flatly rejected such proposals. For Israel, any plan that leaves Hamas standing — much less in power over Gaza — is unacceptable. Israel has repeatedly rejected the notion of Hamas remaining in power and has vowed to destroy the militant group.

The atrocities committed by Hamas also eroded any lingering support with international powers. The U.S. has declared that there can be no more “business as usual” in tolerance for Hamas in parts of the Middle East.

It’s unclear whether Palestinians would support such a plan. Among many Palestinians and other Arabs, Hamas has gained support for having inflicted such damage on Israel.

But in recent years, Hamas was not very popular among Palestinians and especially Gazans, who bristled under Hamas’ heavy-handed rule. Major regional powers such as Egypt do not trust Hamas.

An alternative Palestinian authority?

If not Hamas, is there some other Palestinian group that could step in?

The most obvious option would be the Palestinian Authority, which provides a measure of civil administration over Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, although still under the umbrella of Israel’s military.

In the past, the authority helped run the Gaza Strip until it was driven out by Hamas in 2006.

Biden has floated the idea of a new, reformed Palestinian Authority, which could take over postwar administration of Gaza.

Reforms would include new, younger leadership. The authority’s current president, Mahmoud Abbas, 88, has overstayed his term by more than a decade and is refusing to hold new elections. Biden also speaks about financial transparency and improved law enforcement practices.

Others have suggested incorporating Gaza clans into a new leadership.

But there’s opposition to this plan as well.

Israel, which secretly helped create Hamas decades ago as a rival to the Palestinian Authority, will probably be concerned over the prospect of Palestinian unity. The chaos and divisions among Palestinians have long been cited by Israel as reasons for not moving forward on a Palestinian state. It’s highly doubtful Israel would agree at this point to give Palestinians any control over land, water or borders in Gaza.

That explains why the authority itself has resisted such proposals in the past. No one wants to be seen as “riding into Gaza on the back of Israeli tanks,” as a common refrain goes. Palestinians don’t want to be seen as caretakers — or worse, collaborators — working under Israel’s occupation, with little real power.

Finally the authority may not want to be handed the keys to Gaza after Israel has inflicted such massive destruction to buildings and infrastructure, and left the population on the verge of starvation.

The Palestinian death toll in Gaza is more than 36,000, according to Palestinian authorities. Rebuilding after the Israeli attacks will be a monumental task.

Any alternate Palestinian power would also have to contend with whatever remains of Hamas and other Islamist groups.

International authority?

For an international authority to take over — such as a U.N. peacekeeping force — a major obstacle would be Israel’s unwillingness to relinquish control over security for the Gaza Strip.

That complicates many of the international plans on the table.

One would involve an international authority, possibly with Palestinian components, to take over Gaza once the war ends, handling the food supply, medical care and schooling while negotiating broader security relationships.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Benny Gantz this month proposed an “American, European, Arab, and Palestinian administration” to manage civilian affairs in Gaza until a new government can be formed, with Israel maintaining “security control” in the interim.

The Biden administration has already conducted outreach to regional allies such as the United Arab Emirates and Morocco regarding creating a peacekeeping force. Both Egypt and Jordan have rejected such an idea in the past for fear of being seen as interfering in Palestinian self-determination. And Palestinians have lost faith in the U.S. as a fair broker.

Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan shot down a proposal from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the UAE be involved in a postwar administration.

“The UAE stresses that the Israeli prime minister does not have any legal capacity to take this step, and the UAE refuses to be drawn into any plan aimed at providing cover for the Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip,” Al Nahyan wrote on the social platform X.

On the other hand, wealthy outside powers such as Saudi Arabia could be tempted to assist a new Palestinian government if it were assured Israel was out of the picture and if it got something in return, such as the mutual defense pact that Riyadh has been seeking from Washington.