During his tour of the Middle East this week, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken sounded optimistic about the prospect of Arab governments coming together to plan the future of Gaza after the war, saying he found them willing to “do things important to help stabilize Gaza.” and revitalize,” as he said on Monday, during a stop in Saudi Arabia.
But, at least in public, Arab officials have been eager to distance themselves from discussions about how to rebuild and govern Gaza, particularly as Israeli bombs continue to fall on more than two million Palestinians who are trapped in the besieged enclave.
Instead, they have emphasized that Israel and the United States must implement a ceasefire and then take steps toward a goal that Arab states have pursued for decades: a serious path toward creating a Palestinian state.
“Without a sovereign, stable and independent nation for the Palestinians, nothing else matters, because a long-term solution to the conflict we are seeing will not be found,” said Prince Khalid bin Bandar, Saudi ambassador to the United Kingdom. , said the BBC on Tuesday.
And on Sunday, during a news conference with Blinken in Qatar, Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman said: “Gaza is part of the occupied Palestinian territory, which must be under Palestinian government and leadership.” And he added: “There is no peace in the region without a comprehensive and just solution.”
Blinken, who since beginning his latest diplomatic mission on Friday visited Turkey, Greece, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Saudi Arabia and Israel, has also stressed the importance of a path to a Palestinian state.
Officially, Arab governments have mostly dismissed the idea that they could engage in post-war planning ahead of a ceasefire, arguing that this would be akin to helping Israel clean up its mess. And they are reluctant to be seen participating in Israeli visions for the future of Gaza.
Mahmoud al-Habbash, a close adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said recent high-level meetings held by Abbas focused strictly on ending the war and addressing humanitarian concerns. He strongly denied that they had touched the future of Gaza.
“All these meetings, consultations and efforts are aimed at ending the aggression,” he said.
But behind the scenes, Arab officials have engaged in more pragmatic discussions, asserting that the Palestinian Authority (which had long sought a Palestinian state while being sidelined by successive Israeli governments) is the natural candidate to govern postwar Gaza. . That stance has not changed despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu all but ruling out any governing role for the Palestinian Authority in Gaza.
On Monday, when Abbas met with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, it was partly to coordinate positions in Gaza, a Palestinian official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official noted that Abbas was pushing for a united Arab position that supports a solution to the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rather than dealing with Gaza in isolation.
And on Wednesday, Abbas plans to travel to Jordan to participate in a summit with Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah to discuss the situation in Gaza, Jordan’s state news agency reported.
Abbas also hopes that a five-member committee, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinians, will meet in the future to further coordinate diplomatic efforts, the Palestinian official said.
“What’s happening is consensus building about different paths to the day after,” said Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House, a London-based research organization, referring to how Gaza will be governed when the fighting ends.
Arab countries themselves have different opinions about what a future government in Gaza should look like and how capable the Palestinian Authority is of taking over the enclave. Before the war, Gaza had been ruled for years by Hamas, the armed group that carried out the October 7 attacks in Israel.
Palestinian analysts say the PA’s ability to govern Gaza would depend on achieving unity with Hamas, which they predicted would remain a critical part of Palestinian politics after the war, although Israel has repeatedly said it will not stop. fight until Hamas is destroyed.
In 2005, when Israel withdrew all its troops and citizens from Gaza, it handed power there to the Palestinian Authority. But Fatah, the political faction that controls the Palestinian Authority, lost legislative elections the following year to Hamas. In 2007, Hamas seized power in Gaza in a brief and brutal civil war, which divided Palestinians not only territorially but also politically.
“Abbas and the Palestinian Authority want to bring Gaza back under their administration; they believe the war has created a great opportunity for them,” said Jehad Harb, a Ramallah-based analyst. “But if they do not reconcile with Hamas, they will have difficulties governing there. Hamas is a powerful force that will remain in Gaza.”
For some Arab states, the conflicting messages about Gaza’s future “reflect their fluid thinking, and for others, desperation to choose,” Bader Al-Saif said., professor at Kuwait University.
“There are no easy options there,” he said.
Arab public opinion, deeply hostile toward Israel and the United States, especially since the war began, is important, Al-Saif added.
“Any day-after scenario that does not satisfy the masses’ quest for dignity and justice for the Palestinians will eventually affect the different states in the region,” he said. “I would take that into account if I were a policymaker.”