Echoing White House calls for a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority to take over a post-Hamas Gaza Strip, Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi wrote on Thursday of the possibility of a “moderate Palestinian governing body” running the coastal enclave.
“Israel is aware of the desire of the international community and the countries of the region to integrate the Palestinian Authority the day after Hamas,” Hanegbi wrote in the London-based Arabic-language Elaph online daily, in an op-ed titled “The Iron Swords War and the Day That Follows.”
The P.A. would require “a fundamental reform,” he said, and would need to raise a generation “on the values of moderation and tolerance, without incitement to violence against Israel.” (The P.A. is notorious for its anti-Israel and anti-Jewish curriculum.)
Hanegbi acknowledged that “in its current form, the Authority finds it difficult to do this, and it will require a great effort and assistance from the international community as well as from the countries of the region, and we are ready for this effort.”
The National Security Council head’s remarks suggest a softening of Israel’s position as presented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on numerous occasions, most recently in a Dec. 16 press conference, that “Hamastan will not become Fatahstan.”
“As of this moment, the Palestinian Authority senior leadership simply refuses to condemn the [Oct. 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.
Fatah, the P.A.’s ruling party that is led by P.A. and PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas, boasted that its members took part in the attack, distributing images of Palestinian Arab terrorists on Oct. 7 wearing Fatah’s yellow headband.
“The debate between Hamas and Fatah is not ‘whether’ to eliminate the State of Israel but ‘how’ to do it,” Netanyahu said. “According to a poll that was carried out a few days ago, 82% of the Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria justifies the horrific massacre of Oct. 7.”
Netanyahu’s position put his administration at odds with the White House, which favors a P.A.-ruled Gaza Strip, seeing it as a necessary first step towards a two-state solution.
Should Israel change course and lean into the U.S. plan for a transformed P.A., it may find its work an uphill battle given recent reports that it is in talks to integrate Hamas, a process that would likely radicalize the P.A. still more.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the “political” wing of the Hamas terrorist group was holding secret talks in Doha with its Fatah rival about forming an alliance after the war in Gaza ends.
The negotiations reportedly include Doha-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and former chief Khaled Mashaal, as well as top PLO official Hussein al-Sheikh, considered a possible successor to Abbas.
After apparent criticism of Hamas in a Reuters interview on Sunday, al-Sheikh back-tracked, praising Abbas for not condemning Hamas and calling the “Israeli occupation the real terrorism.”
Senior Hamas officials have declared their willingness to consider becoming part of the P.A. “We are open to sit with [Abbas] … in order to rearrange the Palestinian home, in order to have one political system, one Palestinian authority,” Hamas’s Ghazi Hamad told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.
Hanegbi’s column sparked criticism from some members of Israel’s government coalition.
In a tweet that included a screenshot of the NSC adviser’s op-ed, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich wrote, “There are people here who still live in 10/6 [the day before the Hamas attack]. This position does not represent the position of the Israeli government and the prime minister should call [Hanegbi] to order. The Palestinian Authority is not the solution, it is a significant part of the problem.”
Queried by JNS about the op-ed, the Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment.
However, a senior Israeli official clarified to press late Thursday that Hanegbi’s op-ed did not signify a change in government policy and had been misinterpreted.
“We cannot envision a situation where the P.A. the way it is now will be able to have a relevant status or responsibility in Gaza,” he said.
“Everybody really would like the P.A. to be part of any future solution in the Gaza Strip, or ‘the day after Hamas’ in Gaza, but it’s not possible as long as the P.A. is what it is,” the senior official stressed.
“The policy of the prime minister is very, very clear. The P.A. is paying terrorists’ families—pay for slay. The P.A. is educating its kids to be murderers. … They’re not going to de-radicalize Gaza. Somebody else has to do it,” the official said.
“We have this vision of a new Gaza headed by people who are sane, and not hateful,” he said.