Israeli far right’s plans for expulsion and expansion

Reproduced from Le Monde Diplomatique of December 2023, with thanks

There needs to be a path to a Palestinian state,” says Joe Biden, but it’s far from clear what that path looks like. Meanwhile, Israel’s right see an opportunity in the tragedy.

by Gilbert Achcar 

It’s often said that wars are easier to start than finish. Israel’s war in Gaza is already proving to be a particularly telling demonstration of this. Hamas’s operation Al-Aqsa Flood of 7 October has given Israel’s far right, which dominates the government Binyamin Netanyahu formed in late 2022, the ideal opportunity to implement their plan for a Greater Israel that includes the West Bank and Gaza, in other words, the whole of British Mandate Palestine.

The political-ideological lineage of the Likud party, which Binyamin Netanyahu has run since 2005 (and before that in 1996-99) can be traced back to a fascist-inspired strain of ‘revisionist Zionism’ which emerged in the interwar period. Before Israel’s foundation, this movement campaigned for the Zionist project to incorporate the entire territory of the British mandate on both banks of the Jordan, including Transjordania, which Britain granted to the Hashemite dynasty in 1921, creating present-day Jordan. Later, having focused its ambition on mandatory Palestine, the movement criticised the Zionism favoured by David Ben Gurion’s Labour movement (MAPAI), for having stopped fighting in 1949 before it took the West Bank and Gaza.

For Ben Gurion and his comrades, this was simply unfinished business: Israel occupied both territories in 1967. Since then, Likud has consistently sought to outdo the territorial ambitions of Labourite Zionism and its allies when it comes to these territories. But in 1967, instead of fleeing the fighting as had happened in 1948, most residents of the West Bank and Gaza remained on their land and in their homes. They had learned the lesson of 1948: 80% of the Palestinians who had lived in the territory which formed the state of Israel the following year and represented 78% of mandatory Palestine had left in search of temporary refuge. That turned out to be permanent as the new state denied them their right of return. This dispossession is at the heart of what Arabs call the nakba (catastrophe) (1).

As there was no exact repeat of the Palestinian exodus in 1967 (though 245,000 Palestinians, mostly refugees from 1948, did flee to the other side of the Jordan), the Israeli government’s desire to annex the territories was jeopardised by demographics: annexing them and granting their inhabitants Israeli citizenship would endanger Israel’s Jewishness; annexing them without granting such a right would undermine its democracy (an ‘ethnic democracy’, according to Israeli sociologist Sammy Smooha) by formalising apartheid. The solution devised for this problem – known as the Allon Plan, after Yigal Allon, the deputy prime minister who came up with it in 1967-68 – was to take long-term control of the Jordan Valley and areas with a low concentration of Palestinians in the West Bank and give Jordan administrative control over more populous areas.

Likud’s quest for annexation

Likud opposed this plan and kept pushing for the annexation of the two newly occupied territories and their complete colonisation, not limiting themselves to the areas targeted under the Allon Plan in Judea and Samaria (the biblical names of the regions of which the West Bank is a part). Likud won the 1977 election, meaning that less than 30 years after Israel’s founding the Zionist far right was in power. It would remain in control for most of the next 46 years, including more than 16 under Netanyahu, all the while shifting further right.

In late 1987 the Palestinian popular uprising known as the first intifada challenged Likud’s hegemony and the prospect of a Greater Israel. The Labour Party returned to power in 1992 under Yitzhak Rabin, more determined than ever to implement the Allon Plan. Jordan officially relinquished administration of the West Bank in 1988, in the midst of the intifada, and was replaced by the PLO as Israel’s partner for dialogue. The PLO leadership agreed to temporarily abandon its previously non-negotiable conditions: the eventual withdrawal of the Israeli army from all Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and the ultimate dismantling of the settlements, a process which would begin with the halting of their expansion. This enabled the Oslo accords, signed in Washington by Rabin and Yasser Arafat in September 1993 and presided over by Bill Clinton.

The objective of eradicating an organisation embedded in the population, as Hamas is in Gaza, could not be achieved without a massacre of huge proportions

In 1996 Likud, led by Netanyahu, returned to power, but was again defeated three years later by Ehud Barak’s Labour Party. Netanyahu had to resign and was replaced by Ariel Sharon, who led Likud to victory in 2001, following his provocative visit to Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem in autumn 2000, setting in motion the second intifada. In 2005 Sharon implemented Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and dismantled the few settlements that had been established there. He thus pleased his military, who had struggled to control this densely populated territory. Sharon’s main aim was to annex as much of the West Bank as possible, pursuing the option outlined by the Allon Plan in maximalist, unilateral fashion.

Netanyahu, who was Sharon’s finance minister, resigned from the government in protest at the withdrawal from Gaza. He cited security reasons, while playing up to Likud’s hardline base and the settler movement. Sharon, now at odds with his own party, quit in autumn 2005, clearing the way for Netanyahu’s comeback. In 2009 Netanyahu became prime minister again, a post he held until June 2021, breaking Ben Gurion’s record. He returned to the role yet again in December 2022 by forming an alliance with two parties of the religious Zionist far right which even Israeli Holocaust historian Daniel Blatman has called ‘neo-Nazi’ (2).

The Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit) party, led by Itamar Ben Gvir, is directly descended from Kach, founded by Jewish supremacist Meir Kahane, who advocated the immediate ‘transfer’ of Arabs from the ‘land of Israel’ – in other words, the ethnic cleansing of the entire territory from the Mediterranean to the Jordan (3). Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionist Party, made headlines in October 2021 when he told Arab deputies in the Knesset, “It’s a mistake that Ben Gurion didn’t finish the job and didn’t throw you out in 1948“(4).

Further settlement expansion

The current Israeli government is thus dominated by politicians committed to realising a Greater Israel through the annexation of the territories conquered in 1967 and the expulsion of their indigenous populations. But such a plan could only be accomplished in normal times by a long-term course of action, with no guarantee of success: creeping annexation of the West Bank by the expansion of settlements and harassment of its inhabitants (5), which have both become markedly worse since the establishment of the far-right government, and the economic strangulation of Gaza.

Like the George W Bush administration, which was full of figures who had urged Bill Clinton to invade Iraq but were unable to implement this project from cold, the far right needed a strong political pretext. It is in this respect that comparisons between the 9/11 attacks in the US and Hamas’s operation on 7 October are especially relevant. Netanyahu emphasised this analogy when US president Joe Biden made a visit in support of Israel on 18 October. Al-Aqsa Flood was immediately exploited by the entire Israeli far right to push for the implementation of their expansionist plan.

This clearly caught the Israeli army unprepared. War plans in response to the 7 October attack had to be hastily drawn up, which explains the delay in launching the Gaza ground offensive. The three weeks between Hamas’s operation and the start of the invasion on 27 October were, however, used to intensively bombard urban population centres so that the ground offensive could be executed at the least cost in lives of Israeli soldiers – and, consequently, at the highest cost in lives of Palestinian civilians, inevitably many of them children.

The Israeli government’s disregard for civilian harm, shared by the war cabinet established on 11 October, was expressed most bluntly by defence minister Yoav Galant, a ‘moderate’ member of Likud and Netanyahu rival, who announced on 9 October that he had ordered a complete siege of the Gaza Strip, which he justified by describing the enemy as “human animals“. There have been plenty more such declarations from members of the government and influential figures in Israeli political and intellectual life (6), to the point that a 300-strong lawyers’ collective filed a complaint against Israel on 9 November at the International Criminal Court (ICC), alleging its actions in Gaza amount to genocide, a charge that implies deliberate intent (7).

Israel’s post-war plans for Gaza

The same complaint also highlighted ‘population transfers’, given the massive displacement of the Gazan population under way within the enclave. Israel’s intention is more clearly manifest in this respect. In the aftermath of 7 October, the Israeli intelligence ministry – led by another Likud member, Gila Gamliel, and coordinating between the external service, Mossad, and the internal one, Shin Bet, under the auspices of the prime minister – put together a plan for Gaza that was finalised on 13 October and revealed two weeks later on the Israeli dissident site Mekomit. Titled ‘Options for a Policy Regarding Gaza’s Civilian Population’ (8), the paper considers three alternatives: (a) the population remaining in Gaza and the import[ation] of Palestinian Authority (PA) rule; (b) the population remaining in Gaza along with the emergence of a local Arab authority (to be set up by Israel); and (c) the evacuation of the civilian population from Gaza to Sinai.

The document suggests that the first two options present “significant deficiencies“, as neither is capable of producing the “necessary deterrent effect” long-term. Option (c), however, ‘will yield positive, long-term strategic outcomes for Israel, and is an executable option. It requires determination from the political echelon in the face of international pressure, with an emphasis on harnessing the support of the United States and additional pro-Israeli countries for the endeavour.’

Each scenario is then described in some detail. Option (c), favoured by the intelligence ministry, begins with the evacuation of “the non-combatant population from the combat area“, followed by their transfer to Egyptian Sinai. Initially, refugees would be sheltered in tent cities. “The next stage includes the establishment of a humanitarian zone to assist the civilian population of Gaza and the construction of cities in a resettled area in northern Sinai,” while maintaining a security perimeter – “a sterile zone” – on both sides of the border.

The paper then describes how the transfer of the Gazan population would be carried out. It advocates calling for the evacuation of civilians from the combat zone while concentrating airstrikes on northern Gaza to clear the way for a ground offensive that would start from the north and continue until the entire Gaza Strip was under occupation. In doing so, “it is important to leave the travel routes to the south open to enable the evacuation of the civilian population toward Rafah,” where the only Egyptian border crossing is located. The paper notes that this option fits into a global context where “large-scale migration from war zones (Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine) and population movement is a natural and sought-after outcome due to the dangers associated with remaining in the war zone.”

The order to move south

On 13 October, the day this intelligence document was finalised, the Israeli army told people in northern Gaza to move south. On 30 October the Financial Times reported that Netanyahu had lobbied European governments to put pressure on Egypt to allow Gazan refugees to cross to Sinai (9). Though it received the backing of some attendees at the European summit on 26-27 October, the idea was judged unrealistic by France, Germany and the UK.

According to Israel’s intelligence ministry, “Egypt has an obligation under international law to allow the passage of the population.” In exchange for its cooperation, it would receive financial aid to alleviate its current economic crisis. However, despite a debt burden which is costing nearly 10% of GDP just to service, Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sissi has categorically rejected any transfer of the Gazan population to Egypt. His government even organised a billboard campaign declaring “No to the liquidation of the Palestinian cause at Egypt’s expense“.

The reason for this refusal is certainly not sympathy for that cause. The Egyptian president spelled it out during German chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit to Cairo on 18 October to sound him out on this option. Sissi emphasised that the transfer of the Gazan population to Sinai would make Egypt “a base for attacks against Israel“, jeopardising relations between the countries (10). The Egyptian government knows how explosive the Palestinian issue can be, especially as the ongoing war has made it yet more volatile. Likewise, the Jordanian government, alarmed by the intensification of settler attacks and IDF operations in the West Bank since 7 October, has warned against any displacement of Palestinians across the Jordan.

Israeli supporters of expelling Gazans may nevertheless be counting on the concentration of people fleeing the invasion forces becoming so great that the Egyptian border guards at the crossing are overwhelmed. Moreover, Egypt’s refusal prompted the intelligence minister, Gila Gamliel, on 19 November to call on the international community to take in the Palestinians from Gaza and pay for their ‘voluntary resettlement’ around the world, rather than mobilise funds for the reconstruction of the enclave (11).

Washington, however, has been unequivocal in its opposition to the forced relocation of Palestinians from Gaza. While providing unwavering support for the Israeli offensive, US officials have repeatedly warned their ally against a long-term reoccupation of the Strip and forced displacement of its population to Egypt.

Who will decide Gaza’s future?

On 15 October, in a CBS interview, President Biden clearly indicated that he opposed a new occupation of Gaza, while conceding that it was essential for Israel to invade the Strip to eradicate Hamas (12). This explains Washington’s refusal, echoed by several other Western governments, to call for a ceasefire while the latter objective remains unfulfilled. In short, Washington and its allies approve of the temporary occupation of Gaza to root out Hamas, but want it to be followed by an Israeli military withdrawal.

The option that Washington advocates is the relaunch of the Oslo peace process, which has been stalled since the second intifada at the turn of the century. “There needs to be a path to a Palestinian state,” Biden told CBS. To achieve this, he wants power in Gaza to be handed over to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority. In an op-ed in the Washington Post on 18 November, Biden reaffirmed his preference for a two-state solution and called for a united Gaza and West Bank under a ‘revitalised’ Palestinian Authority. This is the option favoured by most Western governments, but also by Moscow and Beijing and most Arab states. It is supported by some of the Israeli opposition, which has also, however, backed Netanyahu’s announcement that Israel will remain ‘indefinitely’ in charge of security inside Gaza (13). This is the position of the current Israeli opposition leader, Yair Lapid, whose party refused to join the war cabinet (14).

The futility of trying to resurrect the Oslo process and create a Palestinian state is evident in light of its glaring contradiction with what Israel has announced. Moreover, a Palestinian state created within the framework of the Oslo accords could only be a Bantustan dependent on the goodwill of Israel – far from the minimum conditions without which no peaceful settlement could be accepted by the Palestinians: total withdrawal of Israel from all territories occupied in 1967, dismantling of settlements and provision for the return of the refugees. These conditions were set out in the ‘Prisoners’ Document’, produced in 2006 by Palestinian political leaders held in Israeli jails and approved by almost all Palestinian political organisations, including PLO member groups and Hamas.

The greater fear is that the ongoing war will in fact lead to a second nakba, as the Palestinians quickly apprehended and as Israeli politicians have openly announced, with the additional problem of refugees on Egyptian soil or, at very least, of ‘internally displaced persons’ in camps in southern Gaza. It is obvious, moreover, that the very objective of eradicating an organisation embedded in the population as Hamas is in Gaza could not be achieved without a massacre of huge proportions. All this demonstrates the irresponsibility of Western governments’ eagerness to express unconditional support for Israel. It will inevitably backfire on their interests and their own security. For now, the real endgame in Gaza will be determined by the evolution of fighting on the ground and international pressure on Israel.

Gilbert Achcar

Gilbert Achcar is professor of international relations at SOAS, University of London. His most recent book is The New Cold War: The United States, Russia and China, from Kosovo to Ukraine, Westbourne Press, London, and Haymarket, Chicago, 2023.

Translated by George Miller


(1) See Alain Gresh, ‘A question of justice’, Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, June 2017.

(2) Ayelett Shani, ‘Israel’s Government Has neo-Nazi Ministers. It Really Does Recall Germany in 1933’, Haaretz, 10 February 2023.

(3) Ruth Margalit, ‘Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s Minister of Chaos’, The New Yorker, 20 February 2023.

(4) Jeremy Sharon, ‘How Bezalel Smotrich rode unfiltered radicalism and unforgiving politics to power’, The Times of Israel, 30 November 2022.

(5) See Dominique Vidal, ‘No more two-state solution’, Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, February 2017.

(6) An eye-opening montage of video clips has been put together on X by 5 Pillars, a Europe-based Muslim news site.

(7) Human Rights League, section for the department of Aube, ‘Plainte pour génocide présentée à la Cour Pénale Internationale (CPI) le jeudi 9 novembre 2023 – la justice est la réponse à la violence’ (Compliant for genocide presented to the ICC, Thursday 9 November 2023), 15 November 2023,

(8) Their website is at The paper was translated into English by the Jewish-Arab magazine +972: ‘Expel all Palestinians from Gaza, recommends Israeli gov’t ministry’, 30 October 2023.

(9) Henry Foy, Leila Abboud, Donato Paolo Mancini and Andrew England, ‘Netanyahu lobbied EU to pressure Egypt into accepting Gaza refugees’, 30 October 2023,

(10) Nayera Abdallah, Nadine Awadalla and Mohamed Wali, ‘Egypt’s Sisi rejects transfer of Gazans, discusses aid with Biden’, Reuters, 18 October 2023.

(11) Gila Gamliel, ‘Victory is an opportunity for Israel in the midst of crisis’, The Jerusalem Post, 19 November 2023.

(12) Scott Pelley, ‘President Joe Biden: the 2023 60 Minutes interview transcript’, CBS News, 15 October 2023.

(13) ‘Netanyahu to ABC’s Muir: “No cease-fire” without release of hostages’, ABC News, 7 November 2023. Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, confirmed this aim in an interview with the Financial Times on 16 November (Andrew England and James Shotter, ‘Israel will maintain “very strong force” in Gaza, says president’).

(14) Victoria Kim and Matthew Rosenberg, ‘Israel signals future role in Gaza as fighting enters second month’, NYT Live, 7 November 2023

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