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PM cancels war cabinet meeting on post-war plan for Gaza under pressure from Smotrich

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday evening canceled at the last minute a war cabinet meeting that was to discuss post-war arrangements for the Gaza Strip, apparently due to pressure from his far-right coalition partners , including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

Netanyahu has refused to hold such meetings until now, apparently because he does not want to reveal the expected role of Palestinian Authority officials in managing Gaza’s civil affairs after the war.

The delay has frustrated the Biden administration, which says the failure to plan who will govern Gaza after the war could lead to the Israel Defense Forces being bogged down in the enclave indefinitely.

Hebrew media reported Thursday evening that Netanyahu decided to discuss the issue at a Tuesday meeting of the expanded security cabinet, after Smotrich’s far-right Religious Zionism party announced it was holding a faction meeting urgently to protest his exclusion from the planned discussion.

“The war cabinet is not authorized to decide (what will happen after the war with Hamas in Gaza),” sources in the Religious Zionism faction were quoted as saying by Ynet News.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the far-right Oztma Yehudit party, also spoke out against the war cabinet discussion, according to the Ynet report. “That is the role of the security cabinet – so discussions about what happens after (the war against Hamas) should take place in the security cabinet – not in the war cabinet. »

IDF troops operate in the Gaza Strip, in this undated photo released by the army on December 29, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Ynet report adds that on Tuesday the security cabinet will also hear news of ongoing talks led by Qatar to secure the remaining hostages kidnapped by Hamas on October 7, when some 3,000 terrorists crossed the border from Gaza by land , air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and capturing more than 240 hostages, most of them civilians.

In response to the surprise attack, Israel vowed to destroy the terrorist group, launching a large-scale offensive in the coastal enclave that, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, killed more than 21 000 people, mostly women and children. These figures cannot be independently verified and are believed to include both Hamas terrorists and civilians, as well as those killed as a result of terrorist groups’ misfired rockets.

The United States says it is opposed to a ceasefire that would leave Hamas intact, as the terrorist group continues to pledge to continue attacks against Israel of the type it carried out on October 7.

U.S. President Joe Biden is greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport, October 18, 2023. (AP/Evan Vucci)

But Washington insists that the Palestinian Authority – which Israel accuses of supporting terrorism through education, payment of stipends to terrorists and its failure to condemn the atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7 – will eventually fill the vacuum to reunify the West Bank and Gaza under a single political entity and pave the way for a path to a possible two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The United States recognizes that the Palestinian Authority will need to be “rejuvenated” before it can assume responsibility for the Gaza Strip.

Earlier in the week, Channel 12 reported that Netanyahu had rejected several requests, including those from the heads of Mossad, Shin Bet and the Israel Defense Forces, to hold deliberations on the issue.

Netanyahu’s office responded to the report by saying he had asked his top confidants, including Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, to prepare for preliminary deliberations on the issue and that a date had been set.

The report comes as Dermer is in Washington to meet with senior U.S. officials to discuss the war between Israel and Hamas and efforts to return hostages.

Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer enters the Executive Office Building next to the White House in Washington, DC, December 26, 2023. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP)

Meanwhile, on Friday morning, Smotrich sent a message to Biden on social media – albeit in Hebrew – that Israel will continue to withhold Palestinian tax funds for as long as he remains as finance minister.

“We have great respect for the United States, our best ally in the world, and for President Biden, who is a true friend of Israel,” Smotrich said. job on X, formerly Twitter. “But we will never leave our destiny in the hands of foreigners, and as long as I am finance minister, not a single shekel will go to the Nazi terrorists in Gaza. This is not an extreme position. This is a life-saving position and is based in reality.

On Thursday, an unnamed U.S. official told Axios that Biden was increasingly frustrated with Israel’s decision to withhold tax funds following the October 7 attacks, and pushed Netanyahu to resolve the issue.

Israel collects monthly tax revenue on behalf of Ramallah on imports and exports, and transfers these funds to the Palestinian Authority, but increasingly holds a portion of these funds for various matters, primarily Ramallah’s payment of allocations to convicted of terrorism and to the families of the killed terrorists.

He recently warned that he would not allow the PA to transfer funds intended for services and salaries in the Gaza Strip, alleging that the money could reach Hamas while Israel is at war with the terrorist group.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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