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Israel is divided over next steps in Gaza

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Israel has signaled it is approaching the end of major combat in Gaza, which raises a question. What happens next? NPR's Daniel Estrin found military and political leaders are pulling in different directions.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: The Israeli military took some reporters last week to Rafah on Gaza's border with Egypt. Their footage shows a wasteland of bombed homes. The military says it has killed most of Hamas' fighters there. Reporters were whisked away when a gun battle erupted.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNS FIRING)

ESTRIN: In North Gaza, Israel ordered Palestinians to again evacuate their homes, as the army reentered the area to battle Hamas militants in a school and clinic. These steps are not turning the tide in the war, says Israel Ziv, a former military commander in Gaza.

ISRAEL ZIV: It's kind of a meanwhile - just kind of a maintenance situation. There is no real strategic plan to what to do with Gaza.

ESTRIN: There is a cease-fire and hostage release deal being negotiated this week. Kobi Michael is a former Israeli government strategist specializing in Palestinian affairs.

KOBI MICHAEL: There is a very significant dispute between the military echelon that push forward in favor of this deal and the political echelon - the majority of the political echelon which hesitates with regard to this deal.

ESTRIN: Far-right parties want full-scale combat to continue in Gaza. They've threatened to topple the government if there's a deal with Hamas. On the streets, Israeli protesters demand a deal with Hamas.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in Hebrew).

ESTRIN: The mother of a captive in Gaza is in a cage suspended from a bridge right outside Israel's military headquarters in Tel Aviv. There are thousands of Israelis here, chanting, now, a deal now.

Israeli protester Yifat Hagai.

YIFAT HAGAI: We have more and more dead soldiers, and the hostages are also getting killed there.

ESTRIN: The government keeps saying the war can't stop. They have to keep fighting because they have to defeat Hamas.

HAGAI: Yeah, they can't defeat Hamas. Right now, our government defeats us, so we just want it all to stop.

ESTRIN: Israel has not spelled out its next steps in Gaza. But NPR spoke to three experts whose proposals have made their way to decision-makers. Israel Ziv, the former army commander, proposes creating, quote, "humanitarian islands" in Gaza - Hamas-free neighborhoods fenced in and patrolled by Arab peacekeepers or contractors where Palestinians can get food and health care while, outside those neighborhoods, Israeli soldiers continue to battle Hamas.

ZIV: It's not like a camp, yeah, but it's a closed neighborhood. People can go in and out, but it has to be controlled. It has to be monitored because we don't want the Hamas to go in and get influence on this population.

ESTRIN: Kobi Michael from the conservative think tank Misgav suggests a similar model for North Gaza but says it should be Israeli soldiers in charge.

MICHAEL: We will not be able to end this war without establishing a temporary military administration that will take control for the distribution of the humanitarian aid and will assure by its presence that Hamas will not be able to reconstitute itself.

ESTRIN: Danny Orbach of Hebrew University co-authored a proposal reviewed by the Israeli government that envisions Israeli troops occupying North Gaza until Palestinians agree to disavow an extremist ideology against Jews in Israel that fueled Hamas attackers on October 7.

DANNY ORBACH: The choice will be very clear. You don't want us to occupy Gaza. We don't want to be in Gaza as well but conditioned on the reforms because we see these reforms as necessary to avoid another war.

ESTRIN: What all these proposals have in common is that they do not envision a full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, as Hamas is demanding in cease-fire talks. They see Israeli boots on the ground in Gaza with no time limit.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Tel Aviv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.

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