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Unpacking Netanyahu's intentions for the future of Gaza

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

What will happen to Gaza after the war? That's one question that our colleague Steve Inskeep put to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an interview this morning. They discussed a wide range of issues, and we're going to focus on one part of their conversation - what the future of Gaza may look like. Steve picks it up from here.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: What do you intend to do with Gaza once Israeli troops are fully in control on the ground there?

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: We have two main goals there. One is to prevent this threat from reemerging. And for that, we need to demilitarize Gaza. And the second thing we have to do is deradicalize Gaza. It's like, what do you do when you beat the Nazi regime? Well, you make sure that Germany is - doesn't arm itself again, and you also make sure that Nazism is removed. Same thing you did in the victory against Japan - you know, you won the victory, but you then also made sure that there was a cultural change in Japan. We need a cultural change in any civilian administration in Gaza. It can't be committed to funding terrorism. It has to be committed to fighting terrorism.

INSKEEP: When you say any civilian administration, prime minister, that seems to be the question. You've said you don't want the Palestinian Authority running Gaza, which would be the other major Palestinian organization other than Hamas. You don't want them running Gaza. Who else is there?

NETANYAHU: Well, first of all, anyone who doesn't share Hamas' goals and who doesn't share Hamas' inculcation of teaching children, Palestinian children, that Israel has to be destroyed and that's their goal in life. I mean, that's what the Palestinian Authority is doing in the West Bank. It's teaching children, Palestinian children, that Israel has to be annihilated. They pay for slay. They pay the families of terrorists for the murder of Jews. And the more Jews they murder, the more they get paid. This is not the people who can work for peace. And, you know, almost 40 days have passed, and the Palestinian leadership of the Palestinian Authority, President Abbas, has yet to condemn the savagery.

SHAPIRO: Referring, of course, to October 7, when 1,200 people were killed, according to Israel's tally. Throughout the interview, Prime Minister Netanyahu often referred to post-World War II Germany as a possible roadmap for what he called the demilitarizing and radicalizing of Gaza. Steve picked up that thread.

INSKEEP: The question, of course, is the United States ended up keeping troops in Germany for generations. That's where you're heading here with Gaza.

NETANYAHU: Well, I'm not sure of keeping troops inside, and in fact, it's not particularly necessary. Gaza is very small. So the overriding military responsibility has to be with Israel for the foreseeable future because once you eliminate Hamas - and we have to eliminate Hamas. We have to beat these barbarians. Otherwise this evil will spread, and it is a great danger to everyone. But once we defeat Hamas, we have to make sure that there's no new Hamas, no resurgence of terrorism. And right now the only force that is able to secure that is Israel. So for the foreseeable future, Israeli overall military responsibility - but there also has to be a civilian government there. And that civilian government...

INSKEEP: But you haven't said who that civilian government would be, sir.

NETANYAHU: Well, I think I know who it can't be. It can't be...

INSKEEP: OK.

NETANYAHU: ...People who are committed to...

INSKEEP: I want to - if I...

NETANYAHU: ....Funding terrorism and inculcating terrorism. Let me say this, though.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, sir.

NETANYAHU: That you had this - we can give Gaza a different future. You say, how will this generation have a different future? Just the way the German people had a different future, the Japanese people had a different future - because you eliminated these toxic regimes, these tyrannies, these heartless monstrosities, and you replace them with something good. And what we need is something that is - we replace that with something that cares for the future of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, that cares to rebuild Gaza, that cares to eliminate this terrorist tyranny that subjugated the people of Gaza. I think that's the only hope for peace and the only hope for Palestinians.

SHAPIRO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu there speaking with Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep. Let's parse what he did and did not say about the future of Gaza with NPR's Greg Myre, who is in Tel Aviv. Hey, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So many references there to World War II. How well does this comparison actually apply to the current war?

MYRE: There are really a lot of differences, but actually, there's a more recent Israeli war that does seem very relevant today. Back in 1982, Israel invaded southern Lebanon to drive out militant Palestinians who were attacking northern Israel. Now, Israel did push out those Palestinians, but in their place, very soon after came the militant group Hezbollah. Israel then found itself stuck in southern Lebanon for 18 years, fighting Hezbollah until Israel unilaterally withdrew in 2000. Today, Hezbollah is stronger than ever, and it's trading fire with Israel across its northern border. Israel does have the region's most powerful military, but it still needs to find political solutions, and the Palestinians say that would be statehood.

SHAPIRO: And to that persistent question about what the civilian government of Gaza would look like, what are the options for who can run Gaza?

MYRE: Well, in short, Israel just hasn't provided an answer. You heard Prime Minister Netanyahu sort of evading Steve's question there. Netanyahu says Hamas will never be allowed to run Gaza again. He also says he doesn't want the Palestinian Authority to run Gaza. The Palestinian Authority runs the West Bank, but it's ineffectual and unpopular, and it even says it won't go to Gaza on the back of an Israeli tank. Ultimately, a political solution will involve Palestinians ruling Gaza. But Netanyahu seems to be ruling out the options that exist today.

SHAPIRO: Well, whether or not the leader of Israel's government is willing to spell it out in an NPR interview, what does Israel seem likely to do? What are they likely to be planning right now?

MYRE: So we've spoken to a lot of Israeli officials, and there's kind of this vague talk about having the international community come in and perhaps be part of some transitional phase. But outsiders just haven't shown any interest in running the territory. Arab countries don't want to come into Gaza and serve as an enforcer. The United Nations does things like provide food and health care and schooling, but it simply isn't equipped to govern. So for Israel, the real risk is getting stuck in Gaza, even if it decides at some point it wants to leave.

SHAPIRO: And Netanyahu did not say a lot about the humanitarian situation. Can his government continue to resist international pressure as conditions in Gaza grow even more dire?

MYRE: This is going to be very hard because of these daily images of the very real Palestinian hardship in Gaza. Already, more than 11,000 are dead, tens of thousand wounded, according to Gaza officials. Food and water are increasingly hard to find. The World Food Program says Gaza is just getting a tiny fraction of the food it needs. There's a fuel shortage that's shutting down water systems, communications, hospitals. You see images of people burning wood in the street just to cook a meal. Israel is now going to allow enough fuel for the U.N. to run sewage and desalination plants. But this kind of piecemeal approach is not going to solve the larger crisis. So no matter what happens on the battlefield, Israel is going to face sustained pressure to do more, much more to deal with the humanitarian crisis.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Greg Myre in Tel Aviv. Thank you.

MYRE: Sure thing, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF OLIVIA RODRIGO SONG, "GOOD 4 U") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tyler Bartlam
Kathryn Fox
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.