Dec 17, 2023 - World

Inside U.S.-Palestinian talks about post-war Gaza

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas (R) shake hands with the US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (L) during his official visit in Ramallah, West Bank on December 15, 2023. (Photo by Palestinian Presidency / Handout/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan in Ramallah, West Bank on Dec. 15, 2023. Photo: Palestinian Presidency / Handout/Anadolu via Getty Images

The Biden administration is proposing the Palestinian Authority re-activate members of its security forces in Gaza to prepare a local security and police force for the enclave after the conflict, U.S. officials say.

Why it matters: The move is part of the administration's stated goal to "revitalize" the unpopular and weak Palestinian Authority so it could once again play a role in governing the Gaza Strip in the coming months.

Driving the news: White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan met on Friday in Ramallah with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and discussed with him how the Palestinian Authority could be involved in governing Gaza after the war ends.

  • "They absolutely talked about post-conflict Gaza and governance issues and about a revamped and revitalized Palestinian Authority that has the responsibility and accountability for how the future of the Palestinian people is managed," White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said in a briefing with reporters.
  • Kirby said Sullivan and Abbas discussed the steps needed so the Palestinian Authority would be "more credible, more authentic, and more accountable."

Behind the scenes: U.S. officials say the Biden administration wants the 87-year-old Abbas to conduct wide-ranging reforms, including injecting "new blood" into the Palestinian Authority's leadership. Abbas is in the 18th year of a four-year term and has continued to delay elections.

  • The administration has encouraged Abbas and his aides to bring into decision-making positions people who are younger, highly capable, have credibility among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and are respected and trusted by the international community, a source familiar with the issue told Axios.

Zoom in: One issue discussed in recent weeks between Biden administration officials and Abbas' aides is how the Palestinian Authority can play a role in a post-Hamas security force in Gaza, U.S. officials say.

  • Biden administration officials say the Palestinian Authority's security forces in the West Bank, which the U.S. trains, are effective and have prevented attacks against Israel.
  • The administration has been discussing with the Palestinian Authority re-activating some of the members of its security forces who live in Gaza and were on active duty until Hamas took over the enclave in a military coup in June 2007.
  • "There are a number of Gazans who have been part of the Palestinian Authority Security Forces in the past and that might be able to serve as a nucleus for a future force ... in the many months that follow the overall military campaign … but I want to stress that this is one idea of many," a senior U.S. official said in a briefing with reporters ahead of Sullivan's meeting with Abbas.
  • In recent days, the Palestinian Authority reached out to some of those still at an eligible age for service to see if they were potentially interested in returning to service, a source with direct knowledge of the issue said.
  • Palestinian officials declined to comment.

Yes, but: Biden administration officials admit it will be difficult to move forward with resuming the Palestinian Authority's role in Gaza without Israel's consent.

  • The Israeli government currently opposes any return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has turned the issue into a domestic political campaign as the likelihood of an early election increases.
  • "As of this moment, the Palestinian Authority senior leadership simply refuses to condemn the October 7 massacre and some of them even praise it openly. They will control Gaza on 'the day after'? Haven't we learned anything? As the Prime Minister of Israel, I will not allow that to happen," Netanyahu said on Saturday.
  • He added he does not want to "foster illusions" among Israel's friends, including the U.S., and stressed that after the elimination of Hamas, the Gaza Strip will be under Israeli security control, "and no element in it will either threaten us or educate its children to destroy us."
  • A senior Israeli official said Sullivan didn't raise the idea of re-activating Palestinian Authority security forces in his talks in Israel last Thursday.
  • Israeli officials admit the Palestinian Authority's security forces contribute to preventing attacks in the West Bank but at the same time stress they have lost control in parts of the West Bank.

Background: Before Hamas took control of Gaza, there were 18,000 members of the Palestinian security forces on active duty in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority continued to pay them after 2007 even though they didn't work.

  • Since returning to power in 2009, Netanyahu has systematically weakened the Palestinian Authority and led a policy of widening the division between the West Bank and Gaza as Hamas strengthened its hold over the enclave.
  • Netanyahu encouraged Qatar to send billions of dollars to Gaza beginning in 2018, which resulted in stabilizing Hamas' rule.
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