Report: Israel, Hamas to cede control of Gaza to PA-linked force in deal’s 2nd phase

Washington Post, citing American officials, says sides have agreed that a 2,500-strong force trained by US will govern territory with help of moderate Arab states

Relatives of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza sit in cages to protest for their release outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, July 10, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Relatives of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza sit in cages to protest for their release outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, July 10, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel and the Hamas terror group have agreed to hand over control of the Gaza Strip to a new Palestinian force during the crucial second stage of a three-phase proposal for a ceasefire and hostage-prisoner release deal in the war-torn territory, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Citing unnamed US officials, the report by commentator David Ignatius said that a US-trained force of 2,500 supporters of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority would be charged with security in Gaza. Members of the force are to be drawn from those who are already in Gaza and have been vetted by Israel. The force would also be backed by moderate Arab states, the report said.

There was no confirmation of the report from Israel or Hamas. But the report comes a week after two Israelis and one US official told The Times of Israel that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has privately been walking back its opposition to the involvement of individuals linked to the PA in managing Gaza after the war.

Hamas seized control of Gaza from the PA in 2007 in a bloody coup, and the rival Palestinian groups have remained at odds ever since, with Hamas the de facto ruler of Gaza.

The reported development appears to address one of the key elements of the process of transitioning from Hamas rule to an alternative regime in Gaza, which is a declared aim of Israel’s military offensive prompted by Hamas’s devastating October 7 attack.

During that massive cross-border assault, thousands of Hamas-led terrorists killed some 1,200 people in Israel and abducted 251 who were taken as hostages to Gaza. Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas, topple its regime and free the hostages.

US officials told the Post that both Israel and Hamas have shown willingness to accept an “interim governance” plan that would start in the second phase of the deal.

One official told the Post that Hamas has said it is “prepared to relinquish authority to the interim governance arrangement.”

A woman and her children walk past a wall with photographs of hostages who were kidnapped during the October 7, 2023, Hamas cross-border attack in Israel, seen in Jerusalem, February 26, 2024. (Leo Correa/AP)

Months of negotiations via mediators have thus far failed to produce a deal for the release of the hostages held by Hamas and an end to the fighting. The current round of talks — which saw Israeli, American, Qatari and Egyptian representatives convening in Doha on Wednesday — is based on an Israeli proposal outlined by US President Joe Biden in a May 31 speech. The talks stalled in June, but a recent reworking of the agreement’s language opened the door for renewed negotiations.

Talks progressed after Hamas recently dropped its demand that the framework include an upfront commitment from Israel to end the war during the first phase — though the terror group is reportedly demanding a similar commitment from mediators.

The Washington Post reported that the shift in Hamas’s stance came because it had embraced a UN Security Council resolution, backing the current proposal, that stated that “if the negotiations take longer than six weeks for phase one, the ceasefire will still continue as long as negotiations continue.”

American, Qatari and Egyptian mediators would strive to keep the talks going “until all the agreements are reached and phase two is able to begin,” the resolution says.

During the first six-week phase of the truce, Hamas would release 33 hostages, including all female prisoners, all men over the age of 50, and all wounded prisoners, the Post said, reiterating previously reported details.

Israel would release hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners and the Israel Defense Forces would withdraw from heavily populated areas in Gaza and move toward the eastern border with Israel.

During that period, humanitarian aid supplies into Gaza would be ramped up and work could start to repair hospitals and clear rubble.

IDF troops operate in the Gaza Strip, in an image released on July 10, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

In the second phase, Hamas would release the male soldiers it is holding hostage and the two sides would negotiate an agreement on a permanent end to the fighting and a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

The third phase would consist of a multi-year reconstruction plan for Gaza, which has been devastated by the war, and during which the bodies of the remaining dead hostages would be returned to Israel.

The Post report said progress in advancing the proposal was also made possible by support from mediators Qatar and Egypt. Qatar had threatened Hamas’s leaders that they could not remain in Doha if they did not accept the plan, and Egypt accepted a US proposal to prevent new smuggling tunnels under its border with Gaza used to supply Hamas with weapons.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told White House Middle East envoy Brett McGurk during a meeting Tuesday that Israel could withdraw troops from the Philadelphi Corridor if a solution is found to arms smuggling, according to Gallant’s office. The corridor separates Gaza from Egypt, and Israel considers control of it vital to prevent arms smuggling into the Strip.

“A solution is required that will stop smuggling attempts and will cut off potential supply for Hamas, and will enable the withdrawal of IDF troops from the [Philadelphi] Corridor, as part of a framework for the release of hostages,” Gallant told McGurk.

Israel seized the Philadelphi Corridor and the Gaza side of the Rafah Crossing in early May, soon after the army launched its offensive in southern Gaza’s Rafah. Troops have since discovered at least 25 cross-border smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza.

The Post noted that reaching a deal between Israel and Hamas is expected to quieten as well the conflict on the northern border, where Iran-backed Lebanese terror group Hezbollah has been attacking border areas in support of Gaza, bringing the area to the brink of a second war. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said Wednesday that his Iran-backed group would cease its attacks in the event of an Israel-Hamas ceasefire.

Also, Saudi Arabia has shown it is ready to “move forward on normalization” with Israel, one US official told the Post. However, American officials have told The Times of Israel that the window for US President Joe Biden’s administration to approve such a deal before November’s US election has closed.

A view of the Philadelphi Corridor, the Egypt-Gaza border area in Rafah, on June 18, 2024. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Israeli intelligence chiefs visited Doha on Wednesday for a four-way summit with American, Egyptian and Qatari officials mediating the negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

The sides have been reported to differ on core aspects of the transition from the halt in fighting in the first stage to a potential permanent ceasefire. Israel is demanding “an exit point” between the two stages, in line with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence that the war will not end until Hamas is destroyed. Hamas, by contrast, wants the initial ceasefire maintained for as long as is needed until negotiations are finalized on a permanent ceasefire and end to the war, which Jerusalem says could enable Hamas to drag out the talks indefinitely.

Netanyahu faces growing public pressure to reach a deal for the release of the hostages, while far-right members of his coalition have threatened to bring down the government if he agrees to a deal that ends the war before Hamas is destroyed in Gaza.

On Sunday, the prime minister issued a list of four nonnegotiable demands regarding a deal, including the requirement that “Any deal will allow Israel to return to fighting until its war aims are achieved.” Those declared aims include the return of all the hostages and the destruction of Hamas’s military and governance capabilities.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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