The elusive search for a Gaza cease-fire continues to occupy the time of President Joe Biden and other global leaders, even as the on-going kinetic conflict produces an inevitable stream of deaths, destruction, and displacement. Yet amidst the horrors that appear daily on television screens worldwide, discussions are underway regarding the “day after.”

Already, detailed “day after” plans have been released by well-respected think tanks, including the Atlantic Council, Portland Trust, and other organizations. Several plans reflect the experiences of those who have been involved in post-conflict operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, even as they acknowledge that the situation in Gaza is fundamentally different: Israel will remain a major actor even after fighting stops and may have its own plan, whereas the devastation in the small territory of Gaza, which 2.2 million Palestinians call home, is unprecedented.

To assist government policymakers faced with a plethora of day after plans in distinguishing among them, I propose a consideration of the following factors:

First, what is the vision proposed? Several plans focus exclusively on economic reconstruction, without addressing the desired end state. Their hesitancy is designed to avoid Israeli objections to an assumption that there is a pre-determined outcome in favor of the establishment of a Palestinian state. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are expected to fund significant portions of the plans, have stated emphatically that their willingness to commit resources is dependent on a firm timeline for establishing an independent and sovereign Palestine.

Second, do the plans explicitly reflect the voice of Palestinians? Most of the plans have been authored by Americans, Europeans, and Israelis (predominantly male), although they generally reference “broad consultations” undertaken with unnamed Palestinians. Yet an effective plan will require buy-in by different segments of Palestinian society, including leaders of pre-existing geographic communities, representatives of civil society organizations and business associations, and women and those falling within the 20-35-year-old cohort, who now represent a significant percentage of the population. Given the wide diversity of views among those living in the West Bank, Gaza, and the diaspora, articulating a consensus will be a challenge.

Third, do the plans articulate concrete and politically realistic plans for the governance and security of Gaza during the immediate post-conflict phase? The elephant in the room, of course, is Hamas, which will likely retain some influence in the Gaza Strip afterward. Several plans describe multi-national security and governance structures for an interim period. The assumption is that key countries, including Egypt, Morocco, and various Gulf states, will assume such responsibilities and that Israel will assent to those arrangements. Left unsaid are the types of financial and diplomatic incentives that will be required to convince these countries to do the heavy security and governance lifting in an environment where Hamas cadres may not have been completely eliminated.

Fourth, how are Israel’s legitimate security concerns addressed in the plans? To date, there is limited retrospective analysis as to how Hamas managed to build up a large cache of rockets and other armaments, despite being blockaded for 17 years by Israel and Egypt. New technologies can address existing gaps, but a traumatized Israeli public will have to be convinced before Israel will allow the importation of machines and materials required for major reconstruction.

Fifth, what responsibilities do the plans prescribe for the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)? Some plans seek to avoid reliance on the PA to exercise a governance role in Gaza, at least until it can show that it has “reformed” or, in the terminology of US policymakers, is “revitalized.” And the prevailing assumption regarding UNRWA, at least in Washington, is that it is too politically tainted to play a constructive role in the rebuilding of Gaza, unless it undertakes significant reforms.

Sixth, do the plans limit themselves to Gaza recovery and reconstruction, or do they reference similar needs in the West Bank and promote enhanced political and economic linkages? Obviously, there will be an immediate priority to ensure that the essential needs of the population in Gaza are addressed. As the timeline advances from early recovery projects to longer-term reconstruction and development activities, the emphasis must move from a singular focus on Gaza to a holistic undertaking that contributes to the desired vision of an independent Palestinian state.

Seventh, what mechanisms are included in the plans for controlling or disincentivizing potential spoilers? Israel must take steps to eliminate the violence and havoc being perpetrated in the West Bank by the most radical elements of Israeli society, often with the acquiescence of the army. And the Palestinians, with assistance from the international community, must devise a formula that prevents groups and individuals from using violence to undermine a peaceful settlement with Israel. Also, potential external spoilers, including Iran and Hezbollah, must be deterred from taking actions that would discourage both Israelis and Palestinians from moving forward with their respective obligations.

Eighth, what structures are proposed for facilitating constructive dialogue among regional actors and other donor countries? The post-Oslo period featured a robust set of formal and informal arrangements for managing both the political and economic dimensions associated with building a Palestinian state. While partially successful in coordinating assistance programs, they proved deficient in preventing the recurrent violence and in establishing a viable Palestinian national economy not reliant on large transfers of funds from external donors. Hence, the plans should offer a new set of fit-for-purpose arrangements that reflect current regional and global dynamics.

Ninth, what level of resources is presumed necessary to implement the plan, and is there a realistic approach set forth for generating the requisite amounts? An initial needs assessment conducted in January by the World Bank and United Nations estimated that Gaza had suffered upwards of $18 billion in damages. This number has certainly more than doubled during the past five months. Creative financing mechanisms have been suggested, but they must be ground-truthed against the realities of competing global demands and, given past experiences, convince risk-averse donors that investments in the West Bank and Gaza can achieve desired outcomes.

Finally, and in some respects most importantly, are the plans feasible given the current leadership in Israel and Palestine, or do they assume fundamental political change in both societies? If the latter, then must the implementation of the plans be paused until change happens, and can the international community encourage such change without being seen as interfering in domestic politics?

The fact that the various day after plans put forth to date provoke many questions is inevitable given current uncertainties. But we also should not fool ourselves into believing that beautiful prose and game-changing projects are substitutes for the political will that must be demonstrated by all involved parties if these planning processes are going to serve as anything more than mere academic exercises.


Larry Garber, a former senior USAID policy official during the Clinton and Obama administrations, served as the USAID mission director to the West Bank and Gaza and as an election observer to Palestinian presidential, legislative, and municipal elections.

Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images

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