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Netanyahu says Gaza needs a new 'civilian government,' but won't say who


Updated November 17, 2023 at 9:24 AM ET

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told NPR that Israel is committed to doing three things in Gaza: destroying Hamas, freeing the Israeli hostages it's holding and giving Gaza a different future.

But the interview with Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep was notable for what the prime minister did not say: who he thinks should govern the territory with a population of 2.3 million, now devastated by six weeks of Israeli bombing.

Israel is responding to an attack by Hamas on Oct. 7 that killed about 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials. Palestinian officials say the Israeli response has killed more than 11,000. Israeli troops now directly control much of northern Gaza, and this week occupied a major hospital center.

Before October 7, Israel had followed a policy of allowing Hamas to govern Gaza so that Israel would not have to. Israel now says Hamas cannot be allowed to rule.

Netanyahu said Israel must maintain "overall military responsibility" in Gaza "for the foreseeable future."

"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," Netanyahu said.

He added "there has to be a civilian government there," but declined to say who he thought it would be.

It's unclear who would replace Hamas in the seat of government. The leader of the Palestinian Authority, which runs the West Bank, has said he is not interested — and Israel doesn't want that either.

"I think I know who it can't be — it can't be people committed to funding terrorism and inculcating terrorism," Netanyahu added.

An Israeli military officer told NPR in early November that some combination of "local and international" forces should govern Gaza, but no candidates for this role have emerged.

For all the latest developments on this story, listen live to Morning Edition now.

Netanyahu compared the situation in Gaza to the Allies' occupation of Germany and Japan after World War II, after their surrender, for administrative and rehabilitative purposes (such a move by Israel, however, would likely be unilateral).

And he called for a similar "cultural change" in Gaza to those that took place in Germany and Japan when those countries transitioned from authoritarian rule to democracies after surrendering to the Allies. He added that any government in Gaza should be committed to fighting terrorism, not funding it.

Netanyahu says Israel has taken over Al-Shifa Hospital

This week, Israeli troops closed in on Gaza City's Al-Shifa Hospital, which is the territory's main hospital. Al-Shifa had effectively stopped functioning due to ground fighting, fuel shortages and lack of medical supplies resulting from Israel's blocking the entrance of most aid to Gaza.

Many patients, doctors and other civilians have remained in the hospital even as conditions have deteriorated.

Israel said Hamas had a command center underneath Al Shifa, an assertion that the U.S. has publicly supported and Hamas has denied. The Israeli military said its troops found weapons and other equipment — as well as the bodies of two hostages — in the area of the complex. But those statements have not been independently confirmed.

Netanyahu said troops found weapons, ammunition, bombs and a "major" command center in the hospital, which he said Israel has now taken over. He added that as troops moved in, they brought Arabic-speaking doctors and incubators with them.

"This is, I think, the most humane takeover of a hospital commandeered by terrorists in history," he said.

The Geneva Conventions protect hospitals during war, but the safeguards are not absolute. Human rights groups continue to call for a cease-fire, which Netanyahu has said cannot happen until all the hostages are released.

This story will be updated.

The broadcast interview was edited by Reena Advani and produced by Lilly Quiroz and Shelby Hawkins.

For all the latest developments on this story, listen live to Morning Edition now.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.