The October 7 attack by Hamas that started on Gaza’s borderline with Israel and delved into the Israeli soils has already demonstrated its impact on the introduction of a new era for the Israel-Gaza discourse. Israel started an attrition war into the Gazan territories that started from the north and extended to the center and south. Tel Aviv has been reiterating the point that the war continues until the annihilation of Hamas group is achieved.
Whether Israel will be able to achieve that goal or the whens and hows of it is still under question multiple weeks after the outset of the battle. Israel will also face a challenge after the end of the war; the distrust of its civilians and the prospect of their restraint to live near the borderline with Palestinian people. Israel has long miles of borderlines with the Gaza Strip and the trend may pose a blow to the land preservation policies of the country. Besides, it might also impact the West Bank settlers, who have witnessed the threat through the past weeks. It will evidently prove a threat to the expansion policies of Israel and, in the long run, have its ramifications on the integrity and sovereignty of the whole country.
In the face of these challenges, Israel has unofficially revealed a fresh plan to inaugurate a buffer zone in its borderline with Gaza. Avi Dichter, Israeli agriculture minister, was one of the firsts to propose the idea. He suggested that once the war is over, the buffer zone will be enforced. The minister’s remarks, made by a non-security cabinet member, has a precedent and entails a variety of signals.
Buffer Zone in Gaza; 2005
Gaza and its people are not unfamiliar with the nature and functions of buffer zones. Israel introduced buffer zones to Gaza in 2005 after leaving the region, handing it over to Palestinian groups. Two years later, Hamas took over the region, officially announcing the strip at war with Israel. Ever since then, Gaza has been under an incessant blockade by Israel, restricting the shipment of goods and services into the enclave.
In line with the silent and erosive war between Israel and Hamas during the years, the buffer zone has gradually eroded. In the early years of the introduction, farmers around the borderlines were discouraged by herbicides that Israel sprayed across their farmlands, leaving financial and mental damages to the inhabitants. Israeli “no-go zones” changed to “no-grow zones” first and by and by, the restrictions were limited to a 100-meter space away from the borderline. Israel, in effect, failed in imposing its buffer zone policies, letting more activities in the vicinity.
With the shock and awe of October 7 attack that claimed 1200 lives inside Israeli soils, the talks about the buffer zone resurfaced. An Israeli official believes that “Gaza tomorrow will not look anything like it did before October 7” over-toning the fact that Tel Aviv is resolved in changing the Gaza map, especially in the northern regions along the borderline. Israeli foreign minister released the grand plan of decreasing Gaza following the annihilation of Hamas group in the early weeks after the war kicked off.
Buffer Zones; Legality and Possibility
The application and imposition of buffer zones, under various names and specifications, has not been an unprecedented practice. Despite that, the concept is not finely accommodated in international conventions and regulations, leaving the space for debates and disputes. Generally, what is known as “neutral ground” has been a more successful experience with both sides reaching an agreement to consolidate stability through taking hands off a shared region. One of the first and most successful examples was the Gibraltar encampments between the Great Britain and Spain three centuries ago.
A century later, the Concert of Europe made a similar agreement to ensure the European power balance and political integrity. A more recent example is the Egyptian buffer zone along its border with the Gaza Strip, introduced in 2015 as a way to terminate the arms and fighters’ transport from Gaza to Sinai. In most cases through the history, the successful or semi-successful inauguration of buffer zones resulted when the two or more sides reached an understanding.
The imposition of buffer zones without the consent of one or more sides has also had precedents, under various motivations. Whether it means to safeguard the local inhabitants, as a noble aim, promote influence, or manipulate the sovereignty of a foreign nation, the practice may be subject to penalties according to international regulations, leaving limited room for achievement.
Legally, imposing an unwanted buffer zone is the example of violating “territorial integrity or political independence” of a nation and needs to be treated under the United Nations charter’s guarantee of state sovereignty. The international customary law’s protection of private property rights also forbids any manipulation of private properties without the consent of the owner(s). The United States immediate objection to the Israeli plans to build a buffer zone in Gaza may be seen in that light. The failure of maintaining Kosovo’s borders following Operation Allied Force provides one example, among many others, that imposed buffer zone is an impotent practice in securing border peace or preventing potential future conflicts.
Buffer Zone in Gaza; 2024
The Israeli cleansing of Gazan inhabitants from the northern borders to facilitate the imposition of buffer zone may be illegal, not because the buffer zones are illegal as there is no clear and structured buffer zone law in international conventions. Part III of Geneva Conventions clarifies that the warring sides must make a distinction between civilians and military personnel. Besides, Jus ad bellum principles of the UN Charter can provide a structure to form an opinion of the buffer zone legality, and its practice in any region.
Israel might give rise to a grave humanitarian disaster while plowing the Gaza soil to dig out Hamas forces. The post-war era might even prove more catastrophic with the introduction of a buffer zone about whose specifics nothing has been announced yet.