newsIsrael at War

Israeli left pushing PA control of Gaza and future Palestinian state

In the wake of Oct. 7, far-left NGO Mitvim started strategizing so as not to miss a "historic" opportunity.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting in the Samaria city of Ramallah, March 10, 2019. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting in the Samaria city of Ramallah, March 10, 2019. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.

While for most Israelis, Oct. 7 was a wake-up call to the dangers of a Palestinian state (a Jan. 10 poll found 74% opposed to the idea), within weeks of the massacre a New Israel Fund (NIF)-supported think tank started working to shape Israeli policy for the “day after.”

In their vision, the “day after” means a two-state solution in which the Palestinian Authority would become the government of the new country.

Mitvim (its full title is The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies) partnered in October with the Berl Katznelson Foundation, another NIF-funded organization, to form a working group composed of “Israel-Palestinian experts from various disciplines, research institutes, academia and civil society organizations.”

Aware that public opinion has soured on a Palestinian state, the Mitvim-Katznelson task force nevertheless argued that it would be missing a “historic” opportunity if matters were to be swept along by public opinion rather than trying to shape them.   

Documents on Mitvim’s website, first brought to light by Israeli news site HaKol HaYehudi, describe the working group’s main goal as the creation of “a stable political-regional order, based on the two-state solution, and on a regional defense alliance, led by the United States with inter-Arab involvement.” This would lead to what Mitvim terms “deep security.”

To achieve this goal, the group will present the Palestinian Authority as the “only alternative” to Hamas. According to the documents, the group will work to create a distinction in the minds of Israelis between Hamas—pro-terrorist and against any kind of settlement with Israel—and the P.A., portrayed as opposing terrorism and in favor of agreement.

Worse than Hamas

Lt. Col. (res) Maurice Hirsch, director of the Initiative for Palestinian Authority Accountability and Reform in the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the former director of the Military Prosecution for Judea and Samaria, told JNS that it’s staggering that anyone would be pushing for P.A. control of the Gaza Strip.

“Unfortunately, groups like Mitvim are among those responsible for the willful blindness that brought about the October 7 massacre,” he said, arguing that in many ways the P.A. “is much worse than Hamas.”

The P.A. holds a lot of firsts, Hirsch said. It was the first to turn all its energies to delegitimizing and demonizing Israel, the first to come up with “pay-for-slay”—rewarding terrorists financially for carrying out attacks against Jews—and the first to educate the murderers of Oct. 7.

“The people coming across the border [from Gaza] were not 16-year-olds, i.e. those who grew up solely under the rule of Hamas. These were people who grew up and were educated in P.A. schools, even before Hamas took control,” he said.

The P.A. also was behind the genocide case brought by South Africa at the International Court of Justice in the Hague, part of its ongoing lawfare against Israel, Hirsch said.

“The P.A. is driving global antisemitism. It’s the P.A. and its embassies that are undermining and spreading libels about Israel. The P.A. invented, ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’—the genocidal call parroted around the world. That Palestinian rhetoric gave birth to this violent Jew-hatred we’re now seeing,” Hirsch said. “This is the organization that you want there?”

With the exception of former Labor Party member of Knesset Colette Avital, who served as consul general in New York in the 1990s, the organization hasn’t attracted well-known figures to its board. The board does include such people as Nadav Tamir, executive director of J Street Israel.

Mitvim’s working group documents advise using American pressure to force Israel’s hand. It suggests U.S. President Joe Biden appoint a senior American envoy to the Mideast to highlight “American commitment to promoting the two-state solution.”

As the Biden administration is already pushing Israel to accept P.A. control over the Gaza Strip with a two-state solution as the end game, it’s not clear what effort Mitvim needs to make to encourage U.S. pressure.

The framework of Oslo

“The administration has made it clear that their objective, their policy view, is for the Palestinian Authority to unify its control between the West Bank and Gaza in a ‘day after’ scenario,” said Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), describing it as a spillover from Obama-era policy.

It was a “dream” of Obama officials, now part of the Biden administration, to reconcile Hamas and Fatah and unify the P.A., Goldberg said, even though doing so “would not be helpful to either Israeli or U.S. national security interests.”

Explaining why the U.S. administration is so wedded to the P.A., Goldberg said that there’s a “cottage industry” among the left in Washington that seeks to keep the framework of the Oslo Accords alive, “regardless of facts on the ground.

“They don’t believe any other framework is possible and, therefore, they don’t allow any other ideas to come into their minds. And there is no other institution that exists to facilitate their vision of Oslo coming to fruition except the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

There is also “a Western naïveté,” he added. “Hamas is the bad guy. The Palestinian Authority is the good guy. This, of course, ignores the entire Yasser Arafat era and the existence of the Fatah terrorist organization, the existence of terror cells throughout the West Bank, the incitement that goes on in Jerusalem. So that might be their framing, but the facts don’t match up.”

Goldberg has developed his own framework for addressing the Gaza issue, starting from the premise that policymakers should be looking at the problem from what cannot be, rather than what they would like to be.

Goldberg laid out his parameters in this month’s Commentary magazine. One of them was “No political party or governing authority that pledges to destroy Israel, promotes terrorism against Israel, or pushes economic warfare against Israel can be part of a post-Hamas Gaza.”

“Most reasonable people in Washington are probably nodding their heads in agreement reading that last statement. But they’d be shocked to learn that this principle excludes the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) from any role in Gaza,” he wrote.

“Palestinian security forces have actually battled the IDF in large numbers over the last two years,” Goldberg told JNS. “It raises questions whether the Palestinian security services are unified in wanting a Palestinian state, or actually moonlighting as members of designated terrorist organizations.”

Given the low opinion of the P.A. among Israelis, for an Israeli politician to promote a P.A. takeover of Gaza would be crossing a red line, Goldberg said, a reality Washington doesn’t understand.

“The psychological disconnect between people in the White House and the State Department and the overwhelming majority of the citizens of Israel is as wide as it’s ever been in history,” he said.

It should be noted that Yesh Atid Party Chairman and former Prime Minister Yair Lapid recently attended a Mitvim conference and believes Israel should support the creation of a Palestinian state.

While acknowledging that American commitment to the two-state solution goes back decades, Goldberg sees signs of change. The conversation already started to shift during the Trump administration, he said, adding that in the current Republican presidential campaign, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis rejected the two-state solution outright and Nikki Haley was highly critical of the P.A.

Mitvim declined to comment for this article.

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