Middle East

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

By Jennifer Hansler, Priscilla Alvarez and Natasha Bertrand, CNN

Washington CNN  — 

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

Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Friday afternoon with a delegation of Arab counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority, where the topic of Gaza after the Israeli offensive was expected to be a main point of discussion.

Shortly before the meeting began, the US vetoed a UN resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

A draft version of the resolution, presented by the United Arab Emirates, had called for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire,” as well as “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages” and “ensuring humanitarian access,” according to a draft copy.

The US was the lone veto. The UK abstained because the resolution did not condemn the October 7 Hamas attack.

When the war is over, US officials have said they ultimately envision both Gaza and the West Bank being ruled by a unified government led by a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who initially rebuffed the idea of the PA ruling Gaza on the heels of the Israeli offensive, has shifted his position. Still, many questions remain about the immediate “day after” for Gaza once the war ends. State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said Wednesday that the US understands that there will be “some kind of transition period” in which Israeli forces remain in Gaza after the end of combat operations, but that cannot be permanent.

A Western diplomat told CNN that in past conversations the Arab delegation has made clear that they are not eager to be involved with an international force to provide security in Gaza after the war. The ministers have also said that if the world wants Arab states to play a role in reconstruction and support of the PA, there must be a path towards a Palestinian state.

At a press conference in Washington, DC, Friday, the delegation underscored that they were not willing to discuss the “day after” solely in the context of Gaza, but rather in the context of a Palestinian state.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi suggested on CNN they would not play a role in an international peacekeeping force, and condemned Israel’s offensive.

“All of us are losing our credibility,” he told Jim Sciutto on “CNN Newsroom” on Max.

“We are losing credibility in front of our people because our own people are looking at us and saying, ‘Okay, you’re demanding that Israel stop. It’s not. The whole international community has failed to act in any meaningful manner to stop the massacre,’” he said. “So. Everybody’s losing credibility. Moderation is losing credibility. The camp of peace is losing credibility. So that is a danger with which we we’re going to have to reckon at some point or the other.”

The delegation reiterated their call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and cast aspersions on members of the international community – like the US – for failing to advocate for one.

A senior administration official said that privately there is some consternation within the administration over the US’ Arab allies’ reluctance to play any role in a post-war international peacekeeping force, since they have been among the loudest in condemning Israel’s assault on Gaza. One Arab ambassador told CNN that their country would “absolutely not” place any of its own forces in Gaza after the war. Part of that is because the Arab states do not want to be seen as subjugating the Palestinians, the ambassador explained.

The Biden administration has consistently advocated for a two-state solution. Last month, Blinken laid out the administration’s terms for “durable peace and security” in Gaza after the war, which include no Israeli re-occupation and no reduction in territory. As such, the US is opposed to the establishment of an Israeli security buffer zone within Gaza after the war.

Vice President Kamala Harris also raised post-conflict Gaza in multiple meetings and calls with Arab leaders last weekend when in Dubai, telling reporters that she shared what expectations the US will have with regard to post-conflict planning.

“Specifically, I proposed three areas of focus,” Harris said, citing reconstruction of infrastructure in Gaza, reinforcing Palestinian Authority security and revitalizing PA governance. Harris also reiterated that a two-state solution is the best path 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 future establishment of a Palestinian state and made clear that the Palestinian people must have a hopeful political horizon. To that end, Dr. Gordon discussed the revitalization of the Palestinian Authority,” according to a White House readout.

It’s an extension of what US national security officials have telegraphed as it relates to Gaza and the PA.

“Leadership choices – these are, of course, up to the Palestinian people and Palestinians themselves. But there are a number of things that we think would be critical to making sure that, again, the Palestinian Authority can be effective in helping to advance the aspirations and the needs of its people,” Blinken said last week.

Deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said last month that the PA will “have to be part” of any future governing solution in both the West Bank and Gaza following the current hostilities – a prospect that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has explicitly opposed.

The senior administration official told CNN that the apparent disagreement between the US and Israel over a future role for the PA is overstated. The US agrees that the Palestinian Authority in its current, weakened state would be unlikely to be able to govern Gaza, but that a “revitalized” PA – including potentially with new leadership entirely – is a plausible solution.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told Bloomberg that he sees a role for Hamas in future Gaza governance – a prospect that would also be firmly rejected by Israel, whose stated goal is to eliminate the group. US officials have said there cannot be a return to the “status quo” before October 7. The Western diplomat told CNN that privately, many of the Arab partners also do not want Hamas to remain in control in Gaza.

It’s not clear that such an arrangement is even possible, given the long history of enmity between Hamas in Gaza and its bitter political rival Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. The two sides have tried – and failed – multiple times to reach an agreement to unite the two separate Palestinian territories under one governance structure.

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

But the deal’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 detonated near his convoy. Hamdallah’s Fatah party immediately blamed Hamas for the attack.

CNN’s Oren Liebermann contributed to this report.

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