Inside storyOfficial: 'Local Palestinians' is PM's code for 'PA-affiliated'

Netanyahu privately showing openness to PA involvement in postwar Gaza — officials

Premier still publicly opposes Palestinian Authority rule over enclave, but his office no longer rejects role for lower-level PA employees in managing Strip once fighting ends

Jacob Magid

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enters the Knesset plenum on June 24, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enters the Knesset plenum on June 24, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office in recent weeks has privately been walking back its opposition to the involvement of individuals linked to the Palestinian Authority in managing Gaza after the war against Hamas, three officials familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel.

The development comes after Netanyahu’s office for months directed the security establishment to not include the PA in any of its plans for the postwar management of Gaza, according to two Israeli officials who said the order significantly hampered efforts to craft realistic proposals for what has become known as “the day after.”

Publicly, Netanyahu continues to reject the idea of PA rule over the Gaza Strip, telling Channel 14 last week that he will not allow a Palestinian state to be established in the coastal territory and stressing he was “not prepared to give [Gaza] to the PA.”

Instead, Netanyahu told the right-wing network that he would like to establish a “civil administration — if possible with local Palestinians and hopefully with support from countries in the region.”

Privately, however, Netanyahu’s top aides have concluded that individuals with links to the PA are the only viable option Israel has if it wants to rely on “local Palestinians” to manage civilian affairs in Gaza after the war, two Israeli and one US official confirmed over the past week.

“‘Local Palestinians’ is code for PA-affiliated individuals,” an Israeli security official said.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (C) recites a prayer during a meeting with members of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the West Bank city of Ramallah on June 24, 2024. (Thaer Ghanaim/PPO/AFP)

Two Israeli officials explained that the individuals in question are Gazans on the PA’s payroll who managed civilian affairs in the Strip until Hamas’s violent takeover in 2007, and are now being vetted by Israel.

A second Israeli official said Netanyahu’s office has begun to differentiate between the PA leadership led by President Mahmoud Abbas, who has yet to publicly condemn Hamas’s October 7 onslaught that started the war, and “lower level” Palestinian Authority employees who are part of already-established institutions in Gaza that are better suited to run the enclave’s administrative affairs.

However, the likelihood that Abbas would authorize these officials and institutions to manage Gaza without an Israeli commitment to establish a political horizon that leads to a two-state solution remains exceedingly low. The same goes for the involvement of neighboring Arab countries in the postwar governance or securing of Gaza, given that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan and others have conditioned their assistance on a viable path to a two-state solution.

The second Israeli official explained that Netanyahu’s opposition to handing control of Gaza to the “current PA” remains in place, but that he could be more flexible if Ramallah implements significant reforms to better address incitement and terrorism in the West Bank.

Two sources familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel in March that Netanyahu’s office was dragging its feet in getting on board with a major revamp of the PA, which would include an end to the welfare payments it doles out to families of Palestinian terror convicts based on the length of their prison sentences — a policy criticized as “pay-to-slay.”

The White House has for months sought to receive a nod of approval from Israel before the proposed reform of the PA is rolled out, worried that Jerusalem’s rejection of the plan could lead Republicans and some Democrats in Congress to follow suit, thereby undercutting the effort’s legitimacy in Washington, the sources said.

Palestinians displaced by Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip walk through a street market in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip Saturday, June 29, 2024. (AP/Jehad Alshrafi)

Pressed for comment on this story, a spokesperson for Netanyahu’s office referred The Times of Israel to the premier’s public comments regarding the PA.

Netanyahu has repeatedly pledged not to replace Gaza’s “Hamastan with Fatahstan” — a reference to the Abbas-led party that dominates the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The premier’s far-right governing partners, whose support he needs to maintain his coalition, are significantly more hostile toward the PA, and have been pursuing steps to bring about its collapse despite repeated warnings from the Israeli security establishment.

Netanyahu, however, opposes such an outcome — at least in the short term — with his office last week seeming to have leaked remarks he made during a cabinet meeting last week in which he noted Ramallah’s “considerable advantages” for Israel and warned that “the collapse of the PA is not in Israel’s interest at this time.”

On Monday, the Financial Times reported that the IDF is set to roll out a pilot program creating “humanitarian bubbles” for Gazan civilians unaffiliated with Hamas in two northern Gaza cities.

The scheme would see aspects of Gaza’s control handed to Ramallah and moderate Arab states, the report said, appearing to further confirm Israel’s willingness to work with the PA, despite repeated public statements to the contrary. However, the plan has been met with skepticism by anonymous former officials and others familiar with the plans who spoke with FT.

The report came less than a week after National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi told a conference that Israel’s plan for the “day after” Hamas would start to be implemented in northern Gaza in the coming days.

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