After the Israel-Hamas War, a Transitional Trusteeship for Gaza

In the face of the most violent period of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1949, a transitional trusteeship regime for Gaza offers the most compelling path forward.

United Nations Trusteeship Council

Should the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) achieve anything close to its stated military objectives of degrading Hamas’s military infrastructure and capabilities, Israel must not remain in place as an occupier. Israel’s government has largely evaded questions about its plans for governance of Gaza the “day after,” with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu merely reiterating his government’s intention to retain “overall security responsibility” following the termination of its military campaign. The more extreme, messianic factions of Netanyahu’s cabinet have celebrated Israel’s invasion as an invitation to reestablish civilian settlements in the Gaza Strip, declaring at an ultra-nationalist conference in Jerusalem late last month, “[W]e need to return home and control the land.” The law of belligerent occupation delineates the responsibilities incumbent on an occupying power to secure the well-being of the occupied population. Israel lacks both the legitimacy and the political will to adequately fulfill this role. 

In 2005, Israel withdrew from Gaza based on the assessment of its political and military leadership that the costs of maintaining military occupation were too high. In April 2002, senior IDF officers highlighted the military burden of protecting Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. A sensibility had coalesced that settlements were a burden to Israel’s security rather than an asset. By 2003, the defense establishment informed the prime minister that the ongoing cost of Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian cities was draining the IDF’s budget and manpower. In addition to whatever ideological shifts and political realities underlaid Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s strategic reversal, the prospective economic cost of an endless war against endemic terrorism in Gaza led to this momentous turnabout.

In 2005, Sharon was motivated to change course by the long-term implications for Israel’s economy and security of the extraordinary ongoing costs of occupation. In the face of conditions significantly worsened compared to those it left as Israel withdrew its permanent military presence nearly two decades ago, given the legacy of Hamas’s misrule, the de-development resulting from 16 years of an Israel-Egypt blockade and periodic bombardments, and the devastation caused by Israel’s massive bombardment of Gaza following the Oct. 7 attacks, the costs of a future Israeli occupation will prove even higher. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman described the prospect as “a giant, sucking chest wound that overstretches Israel militarily, economically and morally.” 

Prior to Israel’s current military operation, international legal scholars disputed the status of Gaza following Israel’s unilateral withdrawal, including whether Israel retained responsibilities as an occupying power due to its retention of functional control, for instance in controlling all entrances and exits of people and goods from the Gaza Strip, among others. Now, Israel’s military has acknowledged that it has seized effective control of parts of Gaza, destroying whatever governing capacity Hamas had earlier possessed in that area. As such questions diminish in salience in the face of Israel’s outright invasion and exercise of effective military control, they are replaced by the burning question of what governance regime will be imposed to fulfill the needs of the population. Among the available alternatives, one path forward is superior to the available alternatives (as I also argue at length here): creating an international trusteeship to administer Gaza for a transitional period with a mandate to lay the groundwork for an independent Palestinian state.

By “the Sword Alone”

Sharon, an architect and key mover of Israel’s settlement enterprise aiming to colonize territories Israel seized from Egypt and Jordan in 1967, was the unlikeliest figure to champion the dismantlement of settlements in Gaza and the West Bank. He embarked on his proposed “disengagement” at great political cost, having reached the conclusion that “the sword alone cannot decide this bitter dispute in this land.” Explaining the need to exit Gaza, Sharon declared in 2005, “We have no desire to permanently rule over millions of Palestinians, who double their numbers every generation. Israel, which wishes to be an exemplary democracy, will not be able to bear such a reality over time.” What Sharon said in justifying withdrawal then remains true now: “[T]he idea that it is possible to continue keeping 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation …is bad for Israel …. Controlling 3.5 million Palestinians cannot go on forever.”

Nearly 70 years ago, at Kibbutz Nahal Oz (the same ravaged by the recent Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7), an Israeli soldier, Ro’i Rotberg, was ambushed and brutalized, his body dragged to Gaza. In his eulogy to the slain soldier, then-IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan captured the hatred that emanated from the refugee camps of Gaza toward Israelis. “How did we shut our eyes and refuse to look squarely at our fate, and see, in all its brutality, the destiny of our generation? Have we forgotten that this group of young people dwelling at Nahal Oz is bearing the heavy gates of Gaza on its shoulders? Beyond the furrow of the border, a sea of hatred and desire for revenge is swelling, awaiting the day when serenity will dull our path[.]” In his 1956 eulogy, Dayan denigrated “the ambassadors of malevolent hypocrisy who call upon us to lay down our arms” as a path to be rejected. He attributed Rotberg’s death to a “yearning for peace” that had “deafened his ears [such that] he did not hear the voice of murder waiting in ambush.” Israel’s condition was to be a life lived forever by the sword. 

Israel’s current and longest-serving leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, has promised as much. In 2015, he declared that Israelis would live “forever by the sword.” Israel would maintain control over the occupied territories for the “foreseeable future.” Rather than attempt to reach a compromise requiring Israeli concessions to Palestinian national aspirations, the conflict could instead be “managed” with an occasional strafing from the air of Gaza matched with penetrating intelligence and surveillance. Weakening the Palestinian Authority politically by strengthening Israel’s erstwhile enemy, Hamas, would neutralize the “threat” of peace. Ever clutching the sword has borne its own strategic costs. 

Israelis became keenly aware of this cost amid the carnage of Oct. 7. In the face of Hamas’s brutal atrocities, Israel’s prevailing security paradigm, the so-called conceptzia in the Israeli parlance, collapsed. It is true that operational failures—for all of the staggering investments Israel made in advanced technological listening systems—underlaid the intelligence and security collapse. More crucially, however, Israel’s catastrophic strategic failure grew from a failure to listen not only to Israelis’ yearnings for peace and democracy but also to the clear warnings of Israel’s security chiefs that the drive to abolish the Supreme Court weakened Israel in the eyes of its enemies. The failure grew more fundamentally from a callous indifference to the yearnings of another people: to Palestinians’ cry for dignity, for freedom, and for equality. Netanyahu’s concept of “conflict management”—encapsulated in the notion that Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians needn’t be “solved” but could be permanently “managed” by suppressing the Palestinians’ hopes for self-determination—has led to the unprecedented bloodshed in the current war in Gaza as much as Hamas’s machinations did. 

Israel can no more “manage the conflict” without solving it than it can directly administer the territories as a military occupier. In the eyes of Gaza’s residents—an occupied population, brutalized, blockaded, and bombed—Israel is not and can never be a legitimate governing authority. Given the apocalyptic level of destruction that Israel’s campaign has unleashed on the neighborhoods of Gaza, with over 29,000 dead, many more wounded, and over a million displaced, there is no possibility of Israel assuming a role as an administrator of these territories. Mass starvation and epidemic disease threaten deaths on an order of magnitude larger than what the IDF’s air campaign has already wrought. 

Characterized as among the most intense aerial bombardments in this century, the devastation Israel’s military operation has wrought upon Gaza will leave not only a decimated infrastructure but also a traumatized population justifiably and perhaps permanently embittered against Israel. The bitter subterranean and close urban combat undertaken in the wrecked alleyways and tunnels of Gaza should convince Israelis that the cost of a perpetual counterinsurgency campaign is intolerably high. In short, there is no prospect of Israel governing as an occupying force in a manner that meets the needs of its civilian population, the fundamental responsibility of an occupying power.

Though the foregoing runs counter to a deeply ingrained Israeli politico-cultural instinct for self-sufficiency and a long-standing disdain for multilateral fora Israelis perceive as biased against them, Israel cannot go this alone. Instead, Israel can look to multilateral institutions to help restore normalcy in Gaza, fix what is broken, and return to a sustainable path to peace. In order to fulfill this enormous task, among the imperfect available options, the most attractive one involves imposing a transitional trusteeship regime, the basis for which is baked into the United Nations (UN) system itself out of which Israel emerged in 1948.

Trusteeship for Gaza

In the wake of the World War II, the architects of the postwar international order envisioned trusteeship as a means to provide a transitional governance that would facilitate self-determination and self-government of peoples toward the emergence of independent states, while correcting for the colonial abuses that took place under the League of Nations’s mandate system. Under the auspices of the Trusteeship Council, the UN would impose effective oversight and transparency over the trustee.

The idea of trusteeship is not foreign to this conflict. After the passage of the UN resolution partitioning Palestine in 1947, amid increasing civil violence between Palestinian Arabs and Zionists, but before Israel declared its independence, the Truman administration announced its support for a “temporary trusteeship for Palestine” to “maintain the peace.” President Truman made clear this was to be an emergency measure to avoid the bloodshed and violence that would inevitably “descend” upon the territory in the absence of British authority in Palestine—one “capable of preserving law and order.” Truman insisted that his proposed trusteeship was to be temporary—an option of last resort and, he underscored, not a substitute for a political solution to the conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. 

Trusteeship for Palestine failed to garner support in the UN. Instead, the very eventuality Truman sought to forestall through trusteeship—civil war—gripped Palestine and fomented a broader regional confrontation upon the declaration of Israel’s independence in May 1948. Nevertheless, a kernel of the trusteeship idea remained in the text of the UN resolution adopted by the General Assembly on Nov. 29, 1947. Resolution 181, which purported to partition Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, contained a provision for a corpus separatum, or a special international regime for Jerusalem to be administered transitionally by the UN for 10 years. Indeed, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Warren Austin, proposing that the UN directly administer the entire territory upon the termination of the British Mandate, characterized Palestine as a “Non-Self-Governing Territory” falling under Chapter XI of the UN Charter. He noted that while administrative responsibility does not automatically devolve onto the UN upon the dissolution of Britain’s Mandate, in its Resolution 181, the General Assembly had affirmatively voted to “undertake administrative responsibility for the City of Jerusalem” as well to “perform certain functions to effect the transfer of responsibility from the Mandatory Power to the successor governments in Palestine.” Austin thus argued that the direct authority of the UN was inherent in the resolution partitioning Palestine. In fact, he ventured that the “limited responsibilities” of the UN over Jerusalem that the General Assembly had set out in its partition resolution were in fact “inseparable from the balance of the plan.”

It is true that no special regime for Jerusalem was ever instituted. The war ended with Jerusalem divided between Jordanian-controlled territory in the East and Israeli West Jerusalem, with a dangerous no-man’s land in between. Israel occupied the eastern part of the city in 1967 and subsequently annexed East Jerusalem. Nevertheless, Resolution 181 is no mere relic or historical curiosity. It served as a cornerstone of Israel’s international legitimacy. As Israel proclaimed its independence, it rested its case for statehood upon both the Jewish people’s “natural and historic right” and the “strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly”—the same Resolution 181.

The American diplomat who mediated the armistice negotiations that brought to a close the hostilities of the 1948 war was himself the chief architect of the trusteeship concept. Ralphe Bunche served as the acting mediator of the armistice negotiations that took place under UN auspices. Conceptualized and structured by Bunche, the armistice agreement between Israel and neighboring Arab states brought into being the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), one of the UN’s first peace observation missions. This body has remained in existence through successive wars and has been available at short notice to form the nucleus of other peacekeeping operations on a temporary basis. Given its unbroken mandate, with the integration of additional forces from contributing states, this entity, endowed with an expanded mandate under Chapter VII adequate to the task, can serve as the basis for a UN transitional administration in Gaza.

Skepticism of this idea is not unwarranted. However, since Truman’s failed effort to codify a trusteeship for Palestine, the international community has elsewhere demonstrated its capacity to organize a credible, multinational force and to implement a transitional trusteeship regime under the auspices of the UN. In the face of the most violent convulsion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1949, and though not without serious drawbacks and obstacles, compared to available alternatives—direct Israeli occupation and a grinding counterinsurgency, chaos and anarchy, or a return of a semblance of Hamas governance (or some combination thereof)—the advantages of trusteeship are compelling and outweigh the disadvantages of other options.

Advantages of Trusteeship

Trusteeship offers a clear advantage: a political horizon. A transitional administration regime can offer something Israel’s far-right government simply cannot: a credible political endpoint for Palestinians culminating in independence and self-determination. Israeli occupation, by contrast, offers no concrete or credible endpoint and, as history shows, in practice has proved interminable. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has articulated precisely this goal for U.S. diplomacy, reorienting toward a “time-bound, irreversible” path to a Palestinian state. Yet, whatever hopes are being pinned in Western capitals to reviving a peace process toward a two-state solution, given its composition and fundamental ideological commitments, Israel’s far-right government is incapable of taking the reciprocal steps necessary even to preserve that possibility, let alone deliver a credible horizon for its achievement. Yet bringing an end to political violence requires fulfilling the Palestinian right to and basic aspiration for self-government and independence. 

The current Palestinian Authority cannot govern, either. As former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has acknowledged, the Palestinian Authority has been weakened and is deeply distrusted among Palestinians. Bestowing the task of administering Gaza onto the only internationally legitimate Palestinian governing authority, the Palestinian Authority, makes a great deal of sense at the surface. But while the Biden administration has proposed that a “revitalized Palestinian Authority should eventually govern there,” in its current form, the Palestinian Authority lacks the capacity and the resources to meet this task. At the same time, any transitional arrangement cannot come at the expense of the Palestinian Authority. Instead, it must offer a bridge to self-determination for Palestine. A model of governance in which the administrators of Gaza are granted a mandate to act in furtherance of self-government and independence and guided by respect for human rights and equal administration of justice is precisely what the architects of the UN Charter envisioned to bring non-self-governing territories into full independence. These qualities have been glaringly absent from Hamas’s iron rule—and from Israel’s control of Palestinian lives.

Understandably, Palestinians might be distrustful of an international scheme that falls short of direct and immediate Palestinian self-rule. The legacy of interim arrangements that calcify into permanence rather than reach their intended destination render such skepticism reasonable. Yet international trusteeship offers an alternative to Israeli occupation, and the advantage of circumscribing the authority of the occupier and imposing transparency and accountability through UN oversight, where Palestinians have formal representation if not yet full sovereign equality. Such external accountability can ensure a structured transition to Palestinian self-rule and compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law, while appropriately integrating the Palestinian Authority in decision-making.

The UN is best positioned to fulfill this difficult role. The UN has experience building transitional administrations in similar postconflict situations, including in disarming and demobilizing armed insurgent groups. As an institution, it has built credibility among Palestinians through its decades of providing vital essential services to Palestinian populations across the occupied territories. The UN and associated bodies have formed critical infrastructure supporting the Palestinian people in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza and across many domains since the outset of the conflict in 1949. Equipped with capacity and legitimacy, the UN is perhaps the sole body that might coalesce a multinational transitional regime that might also gain Palestinian support. Proving a potent political challenge to UN leadership, however, are apparently credible allegations that 12 of UNRWA’s 13,000 employees in Gaza took part in the Oct. 7 attack and its aftermath. Additionally, Israel disclosed the existence of a tunnel system it has characterized as a Hamas command center co-located 20 meters below the UNRWA Gaza City headquarters, alleging UNRWA’s staff was aware of it. Yet, even as the U.S. and other donor nations have suspended funding to the relief agency, the prospect of an impending collapse of the main international agency struggling to meet Gazans’ basic needs for food, shelter, and water only underscores the broader question of who will be responsible for meeting the population’s compounding needs going forward. Does Israel plan to assume the financial burden currently borne by the international community? Will it rebuild and staff Gaza’s decimated hospitals and schools? By all measures, Israel appears unprepared to do so. 

Learning From East Timor

A trusteeship-type governance model need not be invented from thin air. In the post-Cold War era, the UN Security Council has authorized direct administration and co-administration in numerous instances. (It did so in Cambodia, Somalia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Eastern Slavonia, Kosovo, and East Timor. It further authorized the occupation of Iraq by the Coalition Provisional Authority following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.) The UN’s experience building a successful transitional administration in East Timor (and previously in Kosovo) offers a compelling paradigm, as well as lessons for improvement. 

First, the factual similarities between the current desperate and deteriorating situation in Gaza and that which preceded the institution of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) are striking. Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor began in December 1975, with the goal of annexing the territory as its 27th province and suppressing the independence movement that had overthrown Portugal’s authoritarian colonial regime, leaving between 60,000 and 100,000 Timorese dead in the first year and the displacement of 300,000 East Timorese. By 1980, Indonesia’s occupation, which would endure until the arrival of UN peacekeepers in 1999, left an estimated 100,000-230,000 dead from “military action, starvation or disease.” 

Hardly a building survived” Indonesia’s “violent rampage,” according to Cedric de Coning, a former political affairs officer in UNTAET. Paulo Gorjão describes the conditions preceding UNTAET’s assumption of administrative control in East Timor as characterized by a “massive destruction of infrastructure, … a high death toll, and a political power vacuum.” The conditions that UNTAET encountered in East Timor serve as a potent, if bitter, parallel.

UNTAET was established by a UN Security Council resolution on Oct. 25, 1999, “to administer East Timor for an interim period until the structures are in place that will enable the East Timorese to govern themselves.” In service of that mission, “it was endowed with overall responsibility for the administration of the territory and empowered to exercise all legislative and executive authority, including the administration of justice … until formal independence.” The scope of its responsibilities and wide-ranging mandate were without precedent in the history of the UN, constituting the first instance of direct UN control over a trust territory. In this regard, a similar act of the Security Council would be the most preferable, though not exclusive, legal basis upon which to rest a transitional trusteeship regime for Gaza, since a Chapter VII resolution would be accompanied by the necessary authorization for the use of force. Such a regime may also be established on a voluntary basis under Article 77 (c) of the UN Charter, which provides for “territories voluntarily placed under the system by states responsible for their administration.” 

The task of transitional administration is enormously complex, and UNTAET’s legacy in East Timor is admittedly mixed. UNTAET did not completely fulfill the mandate set out by the Security Council. Yet overall it is characterized by significant achievements, including restoring security, establishing an administration, and delivering critical delivery of humanitarian aid while beginning a process of rehabilitation and development. A number of themes emerge from this experience that may be incorporated into an approach toward direct UN administration of Gaza. 

First, many of the East Timor trusteeship’s successes were enabled by the creation of an Australian-led multinational force, the International Force East Timor (INTERFET). INTERFET was empowered to respond forcefully and effectively to the security crisis so that the UN could “concentrate on the humanitarian and administrative aspects.” With an end to direct Israeli military operations in Gaza, establishing a similar multinational force of contributing countries with sufficient capability, political will, and legal authority will be vital to ensuring the success of a civilian administration. The East Timor experience shows that a multilateral fighting force answerable to a single country command is not mutually exclusive with an international trusteeship regime under the auspices of the United Nations. Proposals already advanced have included a U.S.-led multinational force (with its multinational operation to secure shipping routes in the Red Sea offering a useful proof of concept), as well as a force constituted by regional Arab states, an idea whose feasibility proponents should have been forcefully disabused of by leaders’ comments in Doha.

Second, it is essential that a transitional administration have a clear political endpoint, yet not set an arbitrary expiration date that evacuates its authority prematurely. Compared with the relative success of the UN mission in East Timor, which set out clear strategic objectives, scholars chalk up the failure of its predecessor in Kosovo in part to its failure to clearly indicate Kosovo’s final status. A transitional administration for Gaza may only derive its legitimacy from an explicit commitment to eventual Palestinian self-determination. Even with such a commitment in place, however, the UN need not abruptly pack its bags upon the emergence of independent Palestinian governance. Instead, it can continue to support the emergence of a stable transition to good governance and rule of law.

Similarly, learning from the UNTAET success means the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian assistance in Gaza. Any future trusteeship arrangement must not only stanch the bleeding but also establish better living standards for Gazans than that which prevailed prior to the fighting. In East Timor, failures to produce economic progress undermined the legitimacy of the democratic transition in East Timor. This cannot be repeated in Gaza. In addition to contributions from the United States and other donor nations, maritime gas fields off the coast of Gaza (Gaza Marine) can be brought online, promising an estimated $700-800 million per year in revenue to support Gaza’s reconstruction and economic development.

How and when to incorporate Palestinian control will be another delicate test. Whatever international legal legitimacy might be derived from multilateralism, trusteeship by nature suffers from a democratic deficit. This can be overcome only by delivering tangibly to satisfy Gazans’ immediate needs for adequate food, water, shelter, medicine, and other basic necessities as well as the needs for massive postconflict rehabilitation and effective public administration. Whereas in the UN experience in East Timor, foreign administrators came in without possessing any local expertise, drawing personnel largely from the Kosovo mission, this experience need not be replicated in Gaza. In East Timor, sidelining meaningful political participation hampered the transitional administration’s ability to establish crucial legitimacy and led to an increasing demand for local control. Yet East Timor had no prior experience in self-governance, having gone directly from Portuguese colonial rule to Indonesian occupation to UN rule. In the Palestinian context, a UN transitional administration benefits from the existence of parallel governance infrastructure in the West Bank in the Palestinian Authority, the Oslo process’s major achievement of the creation of a Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority bureaucracy and technocratic administrators can serve as legitimate and effective interlocutors, as they themselves benefit directly from capacity-building investments toward an eventual transition into an integrated and independent Palestinian government over the entirety of the occupied territories. 

Such an endeavor will be doomed to fail without allocating adequate resources to the task. It is essential to appropriately staff and resource a transitional administration to maximize its efficiency. Underfunding rehabilitation and reconstruction is a recipe for failure, yet in the past, “parsimony of treasure” has more often been the rule than the exception. 

Finally, the largest obstacle to instituting such a scheme is Israeli reticence to accept any form of international intervention. Here, the pitfall of inaction in the face of violence, evidenced by the biggest failures of UN peacekeeping in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Rwanda, justifies some of Israel’s skepticism. The case of Rwanda in 1994 is a cautionary tale. There, the UN peacekeepers responsible for protecting civilians became “bystanders to genocide.” Accordingly, any imposition of UN legal authority over Gaza cannot be allowed to serve as a shield for a Hamas insurgency. Israeli military planners and legal advisers also maintain a bitter memory of the UN’s refusal to provide a supervisory force to oversee the limitation of forces agreement in the Sinai as provided for in the Egypt-Israel peace treaty signed in 1979.

For Israelis, the chief symbol of UN ineffectualness in meaningfully fulfilling its peacekeeping mandate and restraining Israel’s adversaries lies to its north in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Israel credibly points to UNIFIL’s failure to prevent the massive buildup of Hezbollah’s missile arsenal or its tunneling below the Blue Line, “literally below the noses of the U.N.’s Blue Helmets.” Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. ambassador to Lebanon during the negotiation of the UN Security Council resolution that authorized an expanded role for UNIFIL in the midst of the Second Israel-Lebanon War in 2006, attests that the U.S. failed to secure Lebanon’s assent to giving UNIFIL “explicit Chapter VII authorities—which would have given UNIFIL enforcement powers.” Resolution 1701 expanded UNIFIL’s mandate, increased its size up to 15,000, and tasked the force with assisting the Lebanese army in creating a buffer zone between Israel and Lebanon “free of any armed personnel.” But without Lebanon’s assent, UNIFIL lacked the mandate and capacity to fulfill this commitment. Despite its apparent shortcomings, as documented in the UN Secretary-General’s 2020 report, “physically disarming Hezbollah was never going to make it into a mandate.” 

One key difference between UNIFIL and the proposed trusteeship regime for Gaza is that UNIFIL’s limited role is circumscribed by deference to Lebanon’s sovereign authority. Many of the limitations evident in UNIFIL’s failures stem from Lebanon’s limited capacity or political will to fulfill its part in diminishing the presence of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. A multinational force effectuating a security mission preceding or in conjunction with a neo-trusteeship model akin to East Timor would not have to contend with this particular challenge of relying on such an unstable or unwilling sovereign local partner. 

Even so, despite its failures to fulfill the purpose to which the drafters of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 aspired, the point is not whether UNIFIL is perfect. Instead, the pertinent question is whether the situation has been improved or worsened by the presence of UNIFIL. According to Feltman, due to its “sheer size,” UNIFIL “essentially  saturates” southern Lebanon, and though Hezbollah can at times “evade UNIFIL scrutiny,” its presence means the militia “does not have the almost complete freedom of movement in the south that it enjoyed” prior to 2006. Despite fierce critiques of UNIFIL for being ineffectual, Israel welcomed the renewal of its mandate in 2023, saying that the force “aids in maintaining stability in southern Lebanon.” 

A critique leveled from other quarters is that the mode of governance imposed in East Timor, and here contemplated for Gaza, is akin to neo-imperialism, with peacekeepers serving as a mere tool of Western domination. In the eyes of detractors, neo-trusteeship offers few distinctions from imperialism of yesteryear, other than the fact that the former are multilateral and time bound. Even if couched in the language of human rights, they say, neo-trusteeship is at base subjugation to alien rule. Such critiques sting and should sound a cautionary alarm about the potential for abuse attendant to any form of rule unaccountable to the constituency it is meant to serve. Yet any future path must be selected in light of available alternatives only. In Gaza, these include the continuation of Hamas misrule, which suffers from the same deficits of democratic legitimacy—and worse—alongside a real prospect of anarchy, Somali-style, following an Israeli withdrawal. The most likely alternative to international administration, however, is a grinding and indefinite Israeli military occupation and counterinsurgency campaign. In light of these unattractive options, neo-trusteeship offers the most credible path to security and self-determination. 

– Harry Reis is a third-year J.D. candidate at Columbia Law School, where he is a James Kent scholar. Harry is a Max Berger ’71 Public Interest/Public Service Fellow, 2024 Salzburg Cutler Fellow, a student scholar in Columbia’s Institute for Global Politics. Before law school, he served as policy director at the New Israel Fund. Published courtesy of Lawfare

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