The United States is currently debating what a postwar Gaza Strip could look like, including who would govern the territory, should Israel be successful in its military objective to eliminate Hamas.
According to a senior U.S. official, the White House could consider reactivating Palestinian security forces to govern the Gaza Strip. Palestinian security forces previously governed in Gaza but were driven out by Hamas during its rise to power and eventual takeover of the territory.
The proposal, floated as one of several, was the first specific indicator of Washington’s vision for who could govern in Gaza after the Israel-Hamas war comes to an end. It is not clear to what extent the U.S. and Israel differ on the timetable and both sides have agreed fighting could continue for several more months, according to National security adviser Jake Sullivan.
‘The Israeli government has indicated that it does not have a long-term plan to occupy Gaza and that, ultimately, the control of Gaza, the administration of Gaza and the security of Gaza has to transition to the Palestinians. Now, the question of how that transition occurs over what timetable, that is also something that we are having intensive discussions about,’ Sullivan said in Tel Aviv Friday. ‘But the U.S. position on this is clear. We do not believe that it makes sense for Israel or is right for Israel to occupy Gaza, reoccupy Gaza over the long term, and that we would like to see ultimately that transition take place.’
Sullivan is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday to discuss postwar arrangements for Gaza.
‘We do believe that the Palestinian Authority needs to be revamped and revitalized, needs to be updated in terms of its method of governance, its representation of the Palestinian people. And that will require a lot of work by everybody who is engaged in the Palestinian Authority, starting with the president, Mahmoud Abbas, who I will go see,’ Sullivan said in Tel Aviv ahead of the meeting with Abbas. ‘Ultimately, it’s going to be up to the Palestinian people to work through their representation. And it will be up to those leaders of the Palestinian Authority to work through the types of steps that they need to take to reform and update the authority for the situation we face today.’
A senior U.S. official said that Sullivan and others have discussed the prospect of having those associated with the Palestinian Authority security forces before the Hamas takeover serve as the ‘nucleus’ of postwar peacekeeping in Gaza.
It was one idea of many being considered for establishing security in Gaza, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with White House ground rules. He said such talks were taking place with Israel, the Palestinian Authority and regional partners.
Any role for Palestinian security forces in Gaza is bound to elicit strong opposition from Israel, which has said it won’t allow a postwar foothold for the internationally backed Palestinian Authority, the Abbas-led government that currently governs the West Bank.
Abbas lost control of Gaza when Hamas drove out his security forces in 2007. The takeover came a year after Hamas defeated Abbas’ Fatah party in parliament elections.
While Israel has consistently maintained its objective in the war is to eliminate Hamas’ operational control of Gaza, it has yet to indicate who should govern in its absence.
Israeli leaders initially said the Israeli military would not remain in the territory for an extended period of time after the war but have since expressed support for maintaining an open-ended security presence there.
Sullivan’s meeting with Abbas comes a day after Sullivan met with Israeli leaders about a timetable for winding down the intense combat phase of the war.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told Sullivan that it would take months to destroy Hamas, but did not say whether his estimate included consistent heavy combat.
The West Bank and Gaza falling under a unified Palestinian government would serve as a precursor to Palestinian statehood — a proposal soundly rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but supported by President Biden and other world leaders.
The current Israel-Hamas war, triggered by the unprecedented Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, has become the bloodiest contest in Israel’s history, with thousands of casualties. Fighting has also displaced approximately 80% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million from their homes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.