US officials discuss post-war Gaza governance plans with the Palestinian Authority and Arab countries

Washington – US officials are discussing post-war Gaza governance plans with the Palestinian Authority and US regional allies – making it a key focus as they try to look beyond the current conflict.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet Friday afternoon with a delegation of Arab partners from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority, where the topic of Gaza after the Israeli offensive is expected to be a topic of discussion.

US officials say they ultimately envision Gaza and the West Bank will be ruled by a unity government led by a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who initially rejected the idea of the Palestinian Authority taking control of Gaza after the Israeli offensive, has changed his stance. However, many questions remain about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends. State Department spokesman Matt Miller said Wednesday that the US understands that there will be “some kind of transition period” in which Israeli troops remain in Gaza after combat operations end, but that it cannot be permanent.

A Western diplomat told CNN that in previous conversations the Arab delegation had made it clear that they did not want to engage with international forces to provide security in Gaza after the war. The ministers also said that if the world wants Arab countries to play a role in reconstruction and support the Palestinian Authority, then there must be a path towards a Palestinian state.

A senior administration official said that privately there was concern within the administration over the reluctance of US Arab allies to play any role in the postwar international peacekeeping force, as they had been among the most vocal in condemning Israel’s attacks on Gaza. An Arab ambassador told CNN that their country would “absolutely not” have troops in Gaza after the war. This is partly because Arab countries do not want to be seen subjugating Palestine, the ambassador explained.

The Biden administration has consistently advocated a two-state solution. Last month, Blinken outlined the administration’s conditions for “long-term peace and security” in Gaza after the war, which include no reoccupation by Israel and no reduction of territory. Therefore, the US opposed the establishment of an Israeli security buffer zone in Gaza after the war.

Vice President Kamala Harris also raised the issue of post-conflict Gaza in several meetings and phone calls with Arab leaders last weekend while in Dubai, telling reporters that she shared the hopes the US has regarding post-conflict planning.

“Specifically, I propose three areas of focus,” Harris said, citing reconstructing infrastructure in Gaza, strengthening Palestinian Authority security and revitalizing Palestinian Authority governance. Harris also reiterated that a two-state solution is the best way forward.

Blinken met with Abbas in Ramallah last week. Harris’ national security adviser, Phil Gordon, held additional meetings in the West Bank this week.

“He underscored our commitment to the creation of a future Palestinian state and explained that the Palestinian people must have a political horizon full of hope. To achieve this goal, Dr. Gordon discussed revitalizing the Palestinian Authority,” according to a White House readout.

This is an extension of what has been telegraphed by US national security officials regarding Gaza and the Palestinian Authority.

“The choice of leadership – of course, depends on the Palestinian people and the Palestinian people themselves. “But there are a number of things that we think are important to ensure that, once again, the Palestinian Authority can be effective in helping advance the aspirations and needs of its people,” Blinken said last week.

Deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said last month that the Palestinian Authority “must be part” of any future governance solution in both the West Bank and Gaza following the current conflict – a prospect explicitly opposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

A senior administration official told CNN that disagreements between the US and Israel over the PA’s future role were overblown. The US agrees that the Palestinian Authority in its current weak state will not be able to govern Gaza, but a “revitalized” PA – including the possibility of new leadership – is a reasonable solution.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told Bloomberg that he sees a role for Hamas in Gaza’s future government – a prospect that would also be firmly rejected by Israel, which says its goal is to eliminate the group. US officials say a return to the “status quo” before October 7 is unlikely. The Western diplomat told CNN that privately, many of his Arab partners also do not want Hamas to remain in control in Gaza.

It is unclear whether such an arrangement is possible, given the long history of hostility between Hamas in Gaza and its political rival Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. The two sides have tried – and failed – repeatedly to reach an agreement to unite the two separate Palestinian territories under one governing structure.

Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement in Cairo in October 2017 under pressure from Arab countries, led by Egypt. Under the deal, the new unity government was supposed to take administrative control of Gaza two months later, ending a decade of rivalry that began when Hamas violently expelled the Palestinian Authority from Gaza in 2007.

But the treaty’s lofty aspirations quickly collapsed. When Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah visited Gaza in March 2018, he was the target of an assassination attempt when a bomb exploded near his convoy. Hamdallah’s Fatah Party immediately blamed Hamas for the attack.