Report: Netanyahu sought US pressure on Egypt to absorb Gaza refugees, was rebuffed

Israeli official denies Washington Post article, which claims ‘stark differences’ between DC and Jerusalem over what should happen in Gaza after the war against Hamas

US President Joe Biden is greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport, October 18, 2023, in Tel Aviv. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Joe Biden is greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport, October 18, 2023, in Tel Aviv. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

At the start of the war in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked US President Joe Biden whether he could pressure Egypt to accept some of the Strip’s population into its territory for the duration of the conflict, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.

Biden told Netanyahu that Cairo did not view this as an option, the report said, without citing sources.

The report, however, also quoted an unnamed Israeli official outright denying the request had been made. “The assertion that Israel is trying to push Gazans out and into Egypt is false,” the official was quoted as saying.

Earlier this month Axios reported that Egypt has warned Israel and the US not to allow a situation in which displaced Palestinians flee from the Strip into the Sinai Peninsula. Such an eventuality could cause a “rupture” in Egypt-Israel relations, Cairo was said to warn.

Egypt’s concern, according to the Axios report, was that as the IDF operation expands, Israel would “push Palestinians from Gaza to Egypt — and not allow them to return after the war.”

The reported request from Netanyahu, according to The Washington Post, underscores “the stark differences between the United States and Israel over what should happen in Gaza in the near and long term after Israel completes its military campaign there.”

A picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on December 21, 2023, shows smoke billowing following IDF air strikes. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

War erupted between Israel and Hamas after the terror group’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 240 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.

In response, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas, and launched a wide-scale attack aiming to destroy the terror group’s military and governance capabilities. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry claims more than 20,000 people have been killed in the Strip during the war, though this figure cannot be verified, while Israel says it has killed some 8,000 Hamas operatives.

As international pressure builds for Israel to wrap up the campaign, the US has been pushing for a “revamped” PA to take over control of Gaza should Israel successfully remove the Hamas terror group from power there, while also saying the PA must undergo anti-corruption reforms and take steps to foster free expression and engage civil society.

“The Palestinian Authority needs to be revamped and revitalized, needs to be updated in terms of its method of governance, its representation of Palestinian people,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said last week, adding, “That will require a lot of work by everybody who is engaged in the Palestinian Authority, starting with the president, Mahmoud Abbas.”

Netanyahu has said the PA is unfit to take control of the Strip, citing its refusal to condemn Hamas terrorism as well as its ongoing payments to the families of jailed Palestinian terrorists and slain assailants.

The Washington Post quoted Martin Indyk, who represented the US in failed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks under former US president Barack Obama, as saying that the Palestinian Authority is the only real option for a solution “under Palestinian rule in a way that connects governance in the West Bank with Gaza.”

However, the veteran US diplomat said Netanyahu “rejects this idea out of hand, because his coalition partners are intent on doing away with the Palestinian Authority. They want to annex the West Bank rather than have the Palestinian Authority govern there, so they don’t want it resurrected via a new role in governing Gaza.”

Netanyahu, Obama and Abbas during a meeting in New York in 2009 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)
FILE – From left to right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Barack Obama and PA President Mahmoud Abbas during a trilateral meeting in New York, September 22, 2009 (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

Last week, Netanyahu said that he was “proud” he prevented the establishment of a Palestinian state and took credit for “putting the brakes” on the Oslo peace process, reiterating his opposition to the Palestinian Authority taking control of Gaza after the war with Hamas ends.

But this week, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi appeared to signal that the government may be softening its resistance to having the Palestinian Authority control Gaza after the war.

“Beyond ensuring the security of our citizens, which we will not compromise on, Israel has no interest in controlling civil affairs in Gaza, and there will need to be a moderate Palestinian governing body that enjoys broad support and legitimacy,” Hanegbi wrote in an op-ed published Wednesday by the Saudi-owned Elaph news site. “It’s not for us to decide who this will be.”

Hanegbi noted the push by the international community for the PA to take over Gaza’s affairs, but said that would be impossible without reforms to the organization, specifically ending incitement to violence against Israel.

The column broadly echoed Washington’s stance, and marked a sharp shift from Netanyahu’s avowed refusal to consider PA rule an option. It was unclear what input Netanyahu had on the column, but Hanegbi is considered a close ally of the premier and would be unlikely to go behind his boss’s back.

However, a senior Israeli official told reporters the next day during a briefing that Hanegbi’s comments were “misunderstood,” and that the PA cannot rule Gaza following the war.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report. 

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