Jan 29, 2024 - World

Scoop: Israeli defense chief tells U.S. he won't allow rebuilding of settlements in Gaza

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Oct. 25, 2023. Photo: Elad Malka/Handout/Anadolu via Getty Images

Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant told U.S. officials last week that he and the Israeli military will not allow the rebuilding of illegal outposts or settlements by Israeli settlers inside the Gaza Strip, four U.S. and Israeli officials told Axios.

Why it matters: The Biden administration is concerned that a one-kilometer buffer zone Israel is planning to establish inside Gaza will be used for the rebuilding of the settlements that were dismantled during the 2005 Israeli pullout from the enclave.

  • This concern has been growing in recent weeks after the settler lobby in Israel and members of the governing coalition started to increase pressure and call for full occupation of Gaza and the rebuilding of settlements.

Behind the scenes: Gallant met last week with U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew and U.S. envoy for humanitarian affairs David Satterfield to discuss the situation in Gaza, the Israeli and U.S. officials said.

  • Lew and Satterfield asked Gallant whether the buffer zone was a basis for settlements. They stressed Secretary of State Tony Blinken's public remarks that rejected any change in the territory of Gaza and opposed any harm to civilian infrastructure, the officials said.

Gallant committed that he would not allow the rebuilding of settlements in Gaza and stressed the buffer zone would be temporary and for security purposes only, according to a senior Israeli official and two U.S. officials.

  • Oded Basyuk, the head of the IDF operations branch who attended the meeting, said that the Israel Defense Forces wouldn't allow Israeli civilians to enter the buffer zone because it would contradict the security purpose, a senior Israeli official said.
  • The Israeli Defense Ministry didn't respond to a request for comment.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have previously Israel does not plan to permanently "reoccupy" the Strip.

State of play: Twelve Israeli ministers, including three from Netanyahu's Likud party, participated in a conference in Jerusalem on Sunday that called for the rebuilding of settlements in Gaza and encouraged the displacement of Palestinians from the enclave.

  • Eighteen coalition lawmakers also participated in the conference, which was the biggest political demonstration of support for rebuilding settlements in Gaza and the uprooting of the enclave's Palestinian population, since the Oct. 7 terrorist attack.
  • War cabinet members Benny Gantz and Gadi Eizenkot condemned the conference. Netanyahu said the members of Likud who participated in the conference were entitled to freedom of speech and stressed the cabinet determines Israeli policy.

A White House National Security Council spokesperson said on Monday the Biden administration is "troubled by reporting and statements from the conference in Jerusalem yesterday encouraging resettlement in Gaza, which was endorsed and attended by members of the Government of Israel."

  • "The United States does not support an Israeli reoccupation of Gaza. We have also been clear, consistent, and unequivocal against the forced relocation of Palestinians outside of Gaza," the spokesperson added.
  • "This rhetoric is incendiary and irresponsible, and we take the Prime Minister at his word when he says that Israel does not intend to reoccupy Gaza."

Go deeper: Arab officials held secret meeting to discuss plans for post-war Gaza

Editor's note: This story has been updated with the National Security Council's comments.

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