La gouvernance de Gaza par Israël serait probablement “par défaut” après le Hamas, selon le général américain à la retraite, David Petraeus

La gouvernance de Gaza par Israël serait probablement “par défaut” après le Hamas, selon le général américain à la retraite, David Petraeus

SINGAPORE: Israel would most likely have to take up the responsibility of governing Gaza – at least in the short term – should Hamas be wiped out, according to a retired US general.

Whoever administers the war-torn city will have a two-fold task, stressed Mr David Petraeus – winning the hearts and minds of residents through concrete measures, while ensuring Hamas cannot rebuild.

He was speaking at the S R Nathan Distinguished Lecture 2023 on Wednesday (Dec 13). The forum was moderated by Mr Bilahari Kausikan, chairman of the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute.

Mr Petraeus, who spent much of his military career in the Middle East through roles like the commander of US Central Command, observed that no Arab nation nor international organisation has indicated a willingness to administer Gaza.

“I don’t see any willingness on the part of the US (to govern Gaza) either. So one big idea of who is going to administer Gaza, at least on a transitional basis, (is) starting to look increasingly to me like it will have to be Israel as a default mode,” he said.

“The ideal … and the goal eventually is to have a competent, capable and trustworthy Palestinian entity that can oversee the Palestinians in Gaza, but we don’t see one of them, even in the West Bank.”

The Palestinian Authority has overseen parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank since the mid 1990s.

US President Joe Biden said last month that a “revitalised” Palestinian Authority should ultimately govern the Gaza Strip and the West Bank following the Israel-Hamas war.

In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “the Palestinian Authority in its current form is not capable of accepting the responsibility for Gaza”. Mr Netanyahu has previously said Israel must maintain “overall military responsibility” in Gaza “for the foreseeable future”.

Mr Petraeus, who is also a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, noted on Wednesday that the future administrator of Gaza would have to ensure Hamas is not able to rebuild.

“(The) reconstitution of Hamas may turn out to be the biggest of the challenges that Israel has after destroying Hamas, which I do believe can be done, albeit very, very challenging,” said Mr Petraeus, asserting that Iran will attempt to aid Hamas in any way it can.

Moving forward, Mr Petraeus said that Palestinians in Gaza must be assured that their situation will improve with Hamas gone.

“Lay out for the people in advance that life is going to be better because we’re going to get these extremists, these terrorists out of your community. And we will not just destroy them, we’re going to clear it and hold it, and then rebuild it. In other words, we’re very concerned about you,” he explained.

He added that there needs to be a consciousness that “hearts and minds” are being dealt with in the issue, and that it would be better to conceive Israel’s military offensive in Gaza as a “counterinsurgency campaign” than a conventional war.

“And to ensure that, again, there are plans to very rapidly provide humanitarian assistance, restore basic services, begin reconstruction, especially given the amount of damage that we’re seeing in the images that have come from there,” the retired general said.

Around 1,200 people were killed in the Oct 7 attack by Hamas on Israel and around 240 people taken hostage by the armed group.

Israel has since commenced heavy bombardment of Gaza and undertaken a ground offensive. The retaliation has killed more than 18,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry.

On Tuesday, the 193-member United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire with 153 countries voting in favour and 23 abstaining. The US and Israel, which argue a ceasefire only benefits Hamas, voted against the measure along with eight other countries.

The resolution is not binding but carries political weight, reflecting a global view of the war.


Mr Petraeus also weighed in on US-China ties in a later Q&A session. 

He was asked about a possible reaction from Washington amid increasing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, as well as worsening tensions between China and the Philippines.

Ties between Beijing and Manila have become increasingly frayed amid a spate of incidents involving their vessels at contested reefs. The latest confrontation took place over the weekend.

Mr Petraeus said while Washington has been exhibiting a “firm response”, the crux of the matter is ensuring the US-China relationship “never erupts into confrontation”.

“And of course, this is why the meeting between President Xi and President Biden was so important in San Francisco, the effort to restore to some degree guardrails, a floor for the relationship … I think is critical,” he said.

At the same time, the retired US general highlighted the need to reduce dependencies of the US and other Western countries on China.

“I mean, during the pandemic, we discovered that where do we get all of our personal protective equipment? It’s China. Where do we get the precursors for the pharmaceuticals? I mean, so much comes from China – strategic minerals, etc,” he said.

“There should be some degree of de-risking. That’s understandable. That’s thoughtful.

“You can’t decouple. And I think, again, the wise people have recognised this.”

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