PA’s premier says Ramallah won’t take over Gaza without plan that includes West Bank

Mohammad Shtayyeh tells UK newspaper that US, Europe should seize opportunity for a comprehensive peace proposal to end fighting; says Arab states fed up with Palestinian issue

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh attends a cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, October 16, 2023. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/Pool Photo via AP)
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh attends a cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, October 16, 2023. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/Pool Photo via AP)

If Israel topples the Hamas terror group’s regime in the Gaza Strip, as it has vowed to do, the Palestinian Authority will not go back to governing the territory unless there’s a “comprehensive” solution involving the West Bank as well, the PA’s prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said Sunday.

The PA, he explained, would not sweep into the Palestinian coastal enclave on the wave of an Israeli military victory.

“To have the Palestinian Authority go to Gaza and run the affairs of Gaza without a political solution for the West Bank, as if this Palestinian Authority is going aboard an F-16 or an Israeli tank? I don’t accept it. Our president [Mahmoud Abbas] does not accept it. None of us will accept it,” Shtayyeh told the UK’s Guardian newspaper in an interview in his office in Ramallah published Sunday.

Israel’s military campaign against Hamas came after the terror group carried out a devastating attack on October 7, murdering over 1,400 people, mostly civilians. Led by Hamas, over 2,500 terrorists burst through the border with Gaza and rampaged through southern areas, overrunning communities and slaughtering those they found, including 260 at a music festival. Until the IDF could counter the attack, which came under the cover of thousands of rockets fired at Israel, the terrorists also abducted at least 243 people of all ages and took them captive in Gaza.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas and remove it from power in Gaza, where the Islamist group — which openly seeks Israel’s destruction — has ruled since 2007 after seizing power from the PA in a coup.

“I think what we need is a comprehensive, peaceful vision,” said Shtayyeh, who has been PA prime minister since 2019. “The West Bank needs a solution, and then link Gaza to it within the framework of a two-state solution.”

IDF tanks on the coast of the northern Gaza Strip, October 29, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Guardian cited unnamed Israeli military and civilian sources as saying the plan is to install a transitional authority after Hamas is ousted, possibly run by Arab states, and then eventually hand over the rule to the PA.

Israel began its campaign with intense strikes on Gaza, saying it is targeting terror infrastructure while striving to avoid hitting civilians. Troops have been operating inside the coastal enclave since Friday ahead of an expected major ground incursion.

“The question for us – the Israelis, the Americans, the Europeans, everybody – is, how can we make out of this disaster an opportunity for peace?” Shtayyeh said.

“I think now is the moment for the American president, for Europe to resume leadership and say: ‘We are ready for the day after and a comprehensive solution and not a partial solution,’” he said.

Shtayyeh envisioned Palestinian elections in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as East Jerusalem, as part of the process toward a peace solution. The PA has refused for almost two decades to hold national elections, citing Israel’s refusal to allow East Jerusalem to be included.

However, Stayyeh said any peace process would not include Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as he “is not our partner and he doesn’t see us as partners.”

He complained about the policies of US President Joe Biden, saying he entered office without a Middle East peace plan and has not appointed a peace envoy for the issue.

US President Joe Biden (left) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Haim Zach / GPO)

Biden, Shtayyeh said, has not fulfilled promises he made such as opposing Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank or reopening the American consulate in Jerusalem.

“And it’s created anger,” he said.

The West Bank is “boiling,” Shtayyeh said, and becoming “seriously dangerous,” with the PA pressured from both sides by anger on the streets and the Israeli government.

“We are caught between the rock and the hammer,” he said.

Shtayyeh acknowledged that the PA has flagging support in the West Bank but insisted it will continue to take a nonviolent approach regarding Israel, even though that goes against public opinion.

Abbas, he said, “can be popular in one minute” by ordering “Palestinian security forces to shoot at the Israelis. But he is a realistic man.”

Protesters march with Palestinian flags during a rally in support with people in the Gaza Strip, in the city of Ramallah in the West Bank on October 25, 2023. (Photo by Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

The governing body in the West Bank has been plagued by corruption, lost face among Palestinians for cooperating with Israel, and seen international support shrink over its rejection of past peace offers and its continued stipends to Palestinian terror detainees held in Israel and relatives of dead assailants, decried as an incentive for terrorism.

Biden, who has fully backed Israel’s right to defend itself and made a lightning solidarity visit to Israel this month, has indicated he takes a similar view to Shtayyeh, saying last week that Israel cannot return to the prewar status quo after fighting against Hamas and should work toward a two-state solution with the Palestinians when it ends.

With that aim in mind, US officials have begun inquiring into possible scenarios and have asked Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his aides whether the PA would be willing to once again rule the coastal enclave, a Palestinian official told The Times of Israel last week.

Abbas has told Biden administration officials since the outbreak of Israel’s war with Hamas that the PA will only consider returning to rule Gaza if it is part of a broader peace initiative with Israel, the Palestinian official said.

Shtayyeh said the PA has called for an emergency Arab summit, aiming for November 10, and hopes it will create a united vision for the creation of a Palestinian state.

He asserted that neighboring Arab countries are realizing that there cannot be regional peace without a political solution for the Palestinians.

“With all frankness, the Arabs are really sick of us,” Shtayyeh said. “They want to see a solution for the Palestine question because we are a pain for them.”

A picture taken from Israel’s southern city of Sderot shows rockets fired from northern Gaza towards Israel on October 30, 2023 (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry has said that more than 8,300 people have been killed in the war, many of them children. The figures issued by the terror group cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include its own members killed in Gaza and Israel, as well as the victims of what Israel says are hundreds of errant Palestinian rockets aimed at Israel that have landed inside the Strip since the war began.

Terror groups led by Hamas have continued to barrage southern and central Israel with rocket fire, causing further deaths and injuries. There has also been sporadic rocket fire in the north from the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group and its allies. Over 200,000 people in Israel have been displaced from their homes.

There has also been surging violence in the West Bank. Shtayyeh told the Guardian that since the war began, 110 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or Israeli settlers in the territory.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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