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The US’s top diplomat has provided Washington’s most detailed plan for the postwar future of Gaza, saying the enclave should be politically unified with the West Bank under the administration of the Palestinian Authority.
Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, reiterated the Biden administration’s position that Israel should not reoccupy Gaza after its war with Hamas, but left open the possibility that the Jewish state could play a role in a “transition period”.
“It must include Palestinian-led governance and Gaza unified with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority,” Blinken said after a meeting of G7 foreign ministers in Japan on Wednesday. “It must include a sustained mechanism for reconstruction in Gaza and a pathway to Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in states of their own, with equal measures of security, freedom, opportunity and dignity.”
Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007 after it fought rival Palestinian faction Fatah in the strip.
The PA, which is dominated by Fatah, administers parts of the West Bank, but it is weak and lacks credibility among many Palestinians. Arab officials have cautioned it is unrealistic to expect the PA to easily move into Gaza and replace Hamas — if Israel succeeds in defeating the Islamist group, which is deeply embedded in Palestinian society.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week said Israel would have “overall security responsibility” in Gaza for an indefinite period.
Blinken said that from what he had heard from Israeli leaders, the Jewish state had no intent to reoccupy Gaza, which is home to 2.3mn Palestinians.
“The only question is, is there some transition period that might be necessary and what might be the mechanisms that you could put in place for that to make sure that there is security.”
Blinken said it was “key” that there was no postwar reoccupation of Gaza, no forcible displacement of Palestinians, no use of the enclave as a platform for terrorism, no attempt to blockade or besiege Gaza and no reduction in its territory.
Blinken visited Israeli and Palestinian leaders this week, including PA president Mahmoud Abbas.
He pressed Israel to accept humanitarian pauses to allow more aid to be delivered to Gaza and to help create the conditions to secure the release of more than 240 hostages being held by Hamas.
Blinken proposed that Israel agree to 12-hour pauses in the fighting in an effort to secure the release of civilian hostages, after Netanyahu’s government rejected a demand by Hamas for a five-day truce to allow fuel and other aid into Gaza, according to a person briefed on the discussions.
Under Blinken’s plan, the warring parties would agree to take certain steps towards the hostages’ release and if met, the pause would be extended by another 12 hours, the person said.
Qatar, which is mediating negotiations, hopes to be able to secure the release of 10 to 15 of the civilians held by Hamas if the proposal is accepted, the person said.
The war between Israel and Hamas erupted after the militant group launched a deadly attack on Israeli towns and military checkpoints bordering Gaza on October 7, killing more than 1,400 people, according to Israeli officials, and seizing the hostages, including civilians and soldiers.
Israel-Hamas war: 2-minute briefing
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Israel has responded with a ferocious bombardment on Gaza that has killed more than 10,500 people, according to Palestinian officials. Its forces are fighting inside Gaza City, the heart of Hamas’s political and military operations.
The US and its Arab allies would have to make considerable effort to revitalise the PA into a body with credibility among the Palestinian public, analysts said.
“It’s an interesting gambit,” former CIA officer Bruce Riedel said of Blinken’s goals. “But it doesn’t answer the question, ‘how do we get a Palestinian Authority that has the strength to govern and the legitimacy to govern?’ That means first and foremost a change in leadership.”
Palestinians are particularly frustrated with Abbas, 87, who is in the 18th year of what was meant to be a four-year term. Riedel said that while the US could pressure Abbas to step aside, ultimately a change in leadership must come from the Palestinians.