Palestinians in Gaza say life has become a cruel choice between death and displacement. What lies ahead for the besieged enclave remains the subject of much debate

Gaza is in ruins, with Israeli forces laying siege to the entire strip and leveling swaths of the enclave. An estimated 80% of its population of 2.2 million has been displaced — the majority now trapped in the south, increasingly pressed toward the Rafah border with Egypt.

Palestinians in Gaza say life has become a cruel choice between death and displacement. Yet an urgent question persists: What will Gaza’s future be after this war ends?

Several experts told NBC News that options being discussed by diplomats and officials range from workaround solutions, which ignore long-standing failures, to the catastrophic.

In one scenario, the Palestinian Authority, which runs the occupied West Bank and is increasingly unpopular, would reassume control of the territory. In another, Arab Gulf countries would fund efforts to rebuild Gaza and an international peacekeeping force would retain oversight. In a third, Palestinians would be displaced to Egypt or other countries — a path raised by Israeli lawmakers even though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the war in Gaza is aimed at crushing Hamas, not expelling Palestinians.

In the shorter term, it is unclear whether the estimated 1.9 million Palestinians who fled to southern parts of Gaza will ever be able to return to learn if their homes are now rubble. Humanitarian relief groups will probably be the only entities providing basic necessities in a decimated landscape that will require decades of rebuilding.

“They will live in tents, that’s how they will be,” said Randa Slim, director of conflict resolution at the Middle East Institute, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. “There will be no water, no electricity, no health care delivery. Gaza becomes a tent city.”

Regional experts are wary of forecasting Gaza’s future, given the volatile situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, making the exercise all the more unpredictable.

What is Israel hoping to achieve in Gaza?

Predicting outcomes of this war are challenging because “Israel’s goals are still vaguely defined,” said Nathan Brown, a nonresident senior fellow of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

What is clear, Brown said, is that “they are defined in such a way that they suggest that Israel will have an ongoing security presence in Gaza. So this isn’t about designing how Gaza will be governed when the Israelis withdraw — because they’re not talking about withdrawing,” he said.

There has been mixed messaging on the global stage. While some Israeli officials have said they have “no desire to govern” Gaza, other former Israeli officials have told NBC News of their intentions of carving out a heavily fortified “buffer zone” in northern Gaza to protect Israel from any future attacks.

Brown said that Israeli officials are being “slightly diplomatic” with messaging that focuses on guaranteeing Israel’s security, but he believes there are no legitimate alternatives that would be acceptable to Israel that don’t entail their boots on the ground.

“So you’re really talking about an Israeli occupation,” he said, adding that this would likely be less intrusive than that of the West Bank.

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