Gallant says having PA-linked locals rule Gaza is least bad alternative to Hamas

Remarks to security cabinet anger fellow Likud members; defense minister reportedly responds by saying ‘the ones paying the price for the lack of decision-making are IDF soldiers’

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, right, with IDF Chief Herzi Halevi at a meeting with top army brass on March 11, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni / Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, right, with IDF Chief Herzi Halevi at a meeting with top army brass on March 11, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni / Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said during a security cabinet meeting on Friday that having local Palestinians affiliated with the Palestinian Authority rule Gaza would be the most tolerable post-war outcome for Israel, prompting an angry exchange with fellow Likud ministers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who heads Likud — has all but rejected the idea, instead trying to promote clans unaffiliated with Hamas or the PA, though the idea has been met with deep skepticism.

According to near-identical Hebrew media reports, Gallant told security cabinet ministers there were “four bad alternatives” for Gaza’s governance once the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 onslaught is over, the worst being continued Hamas rule if Israel fails to completely dismantle the terror group’s military infrastructure.

The next slightly less bad option would be permanent Israeli occupation of Gaza, which Gallant warned “will cost us in soldiers’ lives” and divert significant military resources from the West Bank and northern border.

Another potential scenario would be chaos in Gaza — potentially of the kind that led to last month’s aid convoy incident in which dozens were killed. This would lead to significant pressure from the international community and Israel would still have to devote a significant amount of energy to Gaza, Gallant said.

The defense minister argued the least bad option would be having local Palestinians govern the Strip. But because this body won’t be Hamas, it means that “once in a while it will look at what is being said in Ramallah,” he was quoted as saying in the reports, referring to the rival Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority’s seat of government in the West Bank.

A displaced Palestinian man along with his belongings sits on a donkey cart amid the rubble of houses destroyed by Israeli bombardment in Hamad Town, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 14, 2024. (AFP)

That stance infuriated Transportation Minister Miri Regev and Justice Minister Yariv Levin, also of Likud, who called it unacceptable and accused Gallant of “promoting the Palestinian Authority,” the Hebrew media reports said.

Gallant then fired back at the ministers, in comments seen as a swipe at Netanyahu.

“Whoever says we won’t develop an alternative, is choosing one of the three options of non-local rule,” he reportedly said.

“The ones paying the price for the lack of decision-making are IDF soldiers,” Gallant continued. “The most senior officers,” he added, had reported that “forces raid some neighborhood, leave, [and] meanwhile, instead of introducing a local [governing] entity, Hamas re-establishes itself.”

“This is not how we dismantle the organization.”

Incoming transportation minister Miri Regev, right, and incoming Justice Minister Yariv Levin attend a Knesset session on forming the government, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Security officials have floated the idea of local governance for Gaza since at least January, when it was reported that the heads of both the IDF and Shin Bet favored empowering local clans to administer humanitarian in the embattled Strip. In February, Netanyahu presented the cabinet with a post-war Gaza plan roughly along those lines.

For over five months, Netanyahu has held off holding security cabinet discussions regarding the so-called “day after” the war, fearing this could lead to fractures in his mainly right-wing coalition. Some of his far-right ministers aim to use such meetings to push for the re-establishment of Israeli settlements in Gaza and the permanent Israeli control of the Strip — policies the premier says he opposes and would surely lead to the dissipation of Israel’s remaining support in the West.

Netanyahu has sufficed with saying that he will not allow the Palestinian Authority to return to govern Gaza. He has sometimes qualified this assertion by saying that Israel won’t allow the PA in its current form to return to the Palestinian enclave, indicating that Israel could live with a reformed PA of the kind that the Biden administration has been pushing. Other times, though, Netanyahu has given a more blanket rejection of allowing Gaza to become “Fatahstan” — referring to the political party headed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

However, a document of principles he presented to the security cabinet last month did not explicitly name the PA or rule out its participation in the post-war governance of Gaza.

Instead, it says that civil affairs in Gaza will be run by “local officials” who have “administrative experience” and who are not tied to “countries or entities that support terrorism.”

Analysts have cast serious doubt on Netanyahu’s goal to anoint unaffiliated Palestinian clan leaders, noting the likelihood that any Palestinian community leaders seen openly and unilaterally cooperating with Israel will quickly be delegitimized and possibly find their lives at risk. They say a similar effort was advanced by the United States after it invaded Iraq two decades ago only to backfire.

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