US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority should retake control of Gaza if Israel succeeds in its goal of toppling Hamas, but that regional partners and international agencies could play an interim role.
The stance given in testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee is the first time that the Biden administration has publicly declared its desire for the PA to return to Gaza after privately raising the idea with regional partners since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.
Hamas ousted the PA from Gaza in 2007 after winning a plurality of the vote in the enclave’s last election a year before.
“At some point, what would make the most sense would be for an effective and revitalized Palestinian Authority to have governance and ultimately security responsibility for Gaza,” Blinken tells the Senate hearing.
“Whether you can get there in one step is a big question that we have to look at. And if you can’t, then there are other temporary arrangements that may involve a number of other countries in the region,” he says. “It may involve international agencies that would help provide for both security and governance.”
Blinken says that there cannot be a “reversion of the status quo with Hamas running Gaza.”
“We also can’t have — and the Israelis start with this proposition themselves — Israel running or controlling Gaza,” he says.
But returning the PA to Gaza would be highly difficult to implement, given the historically weak state of the PA. The governing body in the West Bank has been plagued by corruption, has lost face among Palestinians for cooperating with Israel and has seen international support shrink with rejected peace offers and continued stipends to Palestinian security prisoners.
Critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have accused him of strengthening Hamas over the past 15 years in order to divide the Palestinian factions and weaken the more moderate PA, which recognizes Israel and supports a two-state solution.
Netanyahu’s office insists that it is not currently holding formal talks regarding its “day-after” strategy and is solely focused on toppling Hamas. “All talk of decisions to hand over the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority or any other party is a lie,” his office said in a statement on October 20.
More recently, the Likud-run Intelligence Ministry drafted a policy paper arguing that restoring the PA in Gaza would amount to a victory for the Palestinian national movement that would pose a danger to Israel.
For its part, Ramallah has asserted that it has no interest in returning to Gaza unless it is part of a diplomatic initiative that unites the enclave with the West Bank and revamps the peace process with Israel — something that the US supports but that hasn’t drawn Israel’s interest.