Senior national security officials from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan held a secret conference in Riyadh with Palestinian Authority General Intelligence Service head Majed Faraj earlier this month to discuss the P.A.’s return to the Gaza Strip, Axios reported on Monday.
According to the outlet, which cited three sources with knowledge of the meeting, Saudi National Security Adviser Musaed bin Mohammed al-Aiban hosted the summit to explore ways a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority could play a role after the war with Hamas ends.
The Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians reportedly stressed that administrative reforms are needed for the Ramallah-based P.A. to return to governing the coastal enclave following a transition period.
Among other proposals, the officials asked that if a new Palestinian governing body is formed, its prime minister will receive some of the powers that have been centralized under Mahmoud Abbas since he was elected P.A. president more than 19 years ago.
The Axios report came two days after The New York Times reported that international mediators are urging Abbas to take a more ceremonial role and transfer his executive powers to a new prime minister.
Al-Aiban reportedly also told his Arab counterparts that the Saudis are still seeking to normalize ties with the Jewish state in return for “practical and irrevocable steps” towards the creation of a Palestinian state, even if such a state would not be established immediately.
U.S. and Israeli officials were briefed about the Riyadh meeting and its contents by some of the participants, Axios said.
On Saturday, a P.A. spokesman told Al Arabiya television that Abbas is prepared to hand over the reins to Hamas after Israel’s operation in Gaza concludes.
Ramallah is “prepared to hold general elections, and if Hamas wins, the president will hand over the [Palestinian] Authority,” spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh told the Saudi state-owned television network.
Hamas’s popularity has surged in the wake of its massacre of some 1,200 people during its Oct. 7 attacks in the northwestern Negev. According to recent polls, most Palestinians believe that Hamas is “the most deserving of representing and leading the Palestinian people today.”
In a presidential runoff between Abbas and Doha-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, the latter would receive 78% of the vote, with 51% saying they would vote for Hamas candidates if Abbas called a parliamentary election.
The Palestinian Authority’s preferred outcome of Israel’s defensive war against Hamas in Gaza would be for the terrorist organization to join a P.A.-led governing body as a junior partner, Bloomberg quoted P.A. Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh as saying last month.
Hamas is an “essential part of the Palestinian political mosaic,” Shtayyeh told world leaders gathered in Qatar on Dec. 10, adding that Jerusalem’s goal of eliminating the Islamist terror group is “unacceptable.”
The Biden administration has insisted that Gaza must be handed over to the P.A. once Israel’s military operation ends. However, Israel opposes the restoration of P.A. rule over the Strip because of Ramallah’s overt support for terrorism.
The U.S. State Department has refused to rule out the possibility of Hamas retaining power or joining the P.A., telling JNS on Dec. 15 that the future of the P.A. is “a question for the Palestinian people” to decide.