Ramallah is working with US President Joe Biden’s administration on a plan for running the Gaza Strip after the Israel-Hamas war ends, even as the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister expressed hope that Hamas will be a partner in the process, according to a Bloomberg report.
Citing a senior Palestinian official, the news outlet reported that US officials recently met with PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh on a plan for post-war Gaza.
“We’re not going to go there on an Israeli military plan,” Shtayyeh told Bloomberg. “Our people are there. We need to put together a mechanism, something we’re working on with the international community.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has on several occasions rebuffed the notion of the PA running Gaza after the war, accusing it of supporting terrorism through education, payment of stipends to terrorists and a failure to condemn Hamas’s October 7 atrocities.
Israel vowed to eliminate the terror group after its grisly attacks on southern Israel on October 7, when 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from Gaza, killing some 1,200 people and seizing some 240 hostages, mostly civilians.
Shtayyeh argued that Israel cannot eliminate Hamas. “Hamas is not in Gaza only. Hamas is in Lebanon, everybody knows Hamas leadership is in Qatar and they are here in the West Bank,” he told Bloomberg.
“Hamas before October 7 is one thing and after it is another thing,” the PA prime minister further asserted. “If they are ready to come to an agreement and accept the political platform of the PLO, then there will be room for talk. Palestinians should not be divided.”
Shtayyeh refused to condemn the group when asked, saying that the conflict did not start when Hamas attacked. “What Israel is doing in Gaza is an act of revenge,” he said. “This is not going to take them anywhere.”
Responding on Friday afternoon to Shtayyeh’s remarks, Netanyahu tweeted that firstly, “there will not be a Hamas — we will destroy them,” and then that “the fact that this is the suggestion of the Palestinian Authority only strengthens my policy that the PA is not the solution.”
A top adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told The Times of Israel Tuesday that the PA leader has been condemning Hamas in “every call and meeting” with world leaders since the group’s shock attack on Israel, but won’t do so publicly while the war in Gaza is ongoing.
“If Israel didn’t launch its aggression against Gaza, President Abbas would have publicly condemned Hamas repeatedly, but once the aggression began and has continued, asking him or any Palestinian leader to publicly condemn Hamas is nonsense,” Mahmoud Habbash said.
Israel responded to the October 7 assault with a massive bombing campaign throughout the Strip, followed by a ground incursion that began in northern Gaza before slowly expanding to the south. Over 17,000 Palestinians have been killed in the IDF campaign according to the Hamas-run health ministry. The figures cannot be verified, but the total number is largely in line with an assessment by Israel, which said it believes more than 5,000 of those killed are Hamas operatives.
The Biden administration has supported Israel’s goal of eliminating Hamas, but insists that the PA eventually fill the vacuum in order to reunite the West Bank and Gaza under a single political entity and to pave a path toward an eventual two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The US concedes that the PA — which hasn’t held elections in 17 years and whose popularity continues to plummet amid longstanding allegations of corruption and an ever-expanding Israeli presence in the West Bank — will need to be “rejuvenated” before it can take responsibility for the Gaza Strip.
In line with the Bloomberg report, the Biden administration on Thursday stressed that the Palestinian Authority would have to be “revitalized” after the war in order for it to be capable of returning to govern Gaza.
Asked if this means that Abbas, who is serving the 18th year of a four-year term, would have to step down, US Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer told the Aspen Security Forum, “not necessarily.”
“There is no other game in town right now, in terms of an organized, institutionalized Palestinian political entity,” Finer stressed.
However, Finer pointed out that Ramallah was “cooperating very closely with the IDF” to maintain security in the West Bank, even though it is extremely unpopular internally.
Israeli troops have arrested over 2,000 wanted Palestinians across the West Bank since October 7, including more than 1,100 affiliated with Hamas. According to the Palestinian Authority health ministry, some 200 West Bank Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, and in a few cases settlers.
For his part, Netanyahu all but shut the door to a PA return to Gaza on Wednesday. “Those who educate their children in terrorism, finance terrorism and support the families of terrorists will not be allowed to rule Gaza after Hamas is eliminated,” he tweeted, referring to the PA’s welfare payments, which include stipends to Palestinian terror inmates and their families.
But Finer didn’t appear phased by Netanyahu’s comments.
“I would caution… against taking an initial pronouncement… as the definitive, final statement or else we would not be getting any humanitarian assistance into Gaza, any foreign passport holders out of Gaza or any pauses related to the negotiations of the hostages,” he said of successful US efforts to move the parties from initial rejectionist positions.
Moreover, Finer said he understood Netanyahu’s comments on the PA to mean he opposes the PA returning to Gaza “exactly as currently constituted.” The US opposes this as well, which is why it has called for Ramallah to be “revitalized,” he said.
Still, he insisted that “the PA is going to have to play an important role, not just in the West Bank, but ultimately in Gaza as well.”
Jacob Magid contributed to this report.