WASHINGTON — Palestinians should govern Gaza once Israel ends its war against Hamas, the United States (US) said on Wednesday, pushing back against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s idea that Israel would be responsible for security indefinitely.
Hamas gunmen from Gaza burst through the border to Israel on Oct. 7 and killed 1,400 people, Israel says. Now a month later, Washington has begun discussing with Israeli and Arab leaders a future for the Gaza Strip without Hamas rule.
While a plan has yet to emerge, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday outlined in the most comprehensive comments on the issue to date Washington’s red lines and expectations for the besieged coastal territory.
“No reoccupation of Gaza after the conflict ends. No attempt to blockade or besiege Gaza. No reduction in the territory of Gaza,” Mr. Blinken said at a press conference in Tokyo.
Mr. Blinken said there may be a need for “some transition period” at the end of the conflict, but that post-crisis governance in Gaza must include Palestinian voices.
“It must include Palestinian-led governance and Gaza unified with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.”
On Monday, Mr. Netanyahu told ABC News that Israel will “for an indefinite period” have security responsibility of the enclave after the war. His comments appeared at odds with US officials who say Israel does not want to administer Gaza post-Hamas.
“I think Israel will, for an indefinite period, will have the overall security responsibility because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t have that security responsibility,” Mr. Netanyahu said.
Israeli officials have since tried to clarify they do not intend to occupy Gaza after the war, but they have yet to articulate how they might ensure security without maintaining a military presence. Israel withdrew its forces from Gaza in 2005.
The Palestinian Authority (PA), which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, says Gaza, where Hamas has ruled since 2007, is an integral part of what it envisions for a future Palestinian state.
But top officials including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas say a PA return to Gaza must be accompanied by a political solution that ends Israel’s occupation of territory it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
“(We) are not going to go to Gaza on an Israeli military tank,” PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told PBS this week. “We are going to go to Gaza as part of a solution that deals with the question of Palestine, that deals with occupation.”
Hamas took over Gaza after a brief civil war in 2007 with Mr. Abbas’ Fatah party. Years of reconciliation talks between the rivals failed to reach a breakthrough for resuming PA administration of Gaza. The PA still pays for electricity, water and some civil servant salaries in Gaza.
Since Oct. 7, more than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed in a relentless bombardment of the Gaza Strip — home to 2.3 million — by Israeli forces, say Palestinian health officials in Gaza. About 40% of those killed are children, they say.
Arab states, which provide the PA with financial aid, have advocated for an immediate ceasefire but have shown reluctance to discuss a post-war status for Gaza. They say the focus should remain on stopping hostilities.
But Mr. Blinken said the conversation about the future should take place now.
“Because identifying the longer-term objectives and a pathway to get there will help shape our approach to addressing immediate needs,” he said.
Since conflict broke out, the Biden administration has reasserted its support for a solution based on Israeli and Palestinian states side by side but has yet to outline a path to reviving long-stalled peace talks, the last round of which broke down in 2014.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday said the “best-case scenario” would be a “hopefully re-invigorated” Palestinian Authority assuming some political control over Gaza.
White House spokesperson John Kirby said Washington and its partners were still discussing what a Gaza governance structure might look like.
“We believe that the Palestinians should be in charge of their future, and they should be the determining voice and factor in their future,” he said. — Reuters