If Israel succeeds in dismantling Hamas within the next few months, we will need to not only talk about the ongoing war, but we will also need to talk about what the future holds for the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian population residing there after Hamas is gone. Otherwise, the cycle will only continue. Indeed, if we do not come up with a vision for Gaza and its people going forward, many innocent Palestinians will find themselves in an even worse humanitarian crisis and Israelis will find themselves in an even worse security situation.
Based on my reading thus far, expert analysts have identified five possible scenarios for Gaza the day after Hamas:
- A complete depopulation of Gaza.
- An indefinite Israeli military presence in Gaza.
- A coalition of regional Arab states ruling over Gaza.
- A new Palestinian leadership rises in Gaza.
- The return of the Palestinian Authority (PA).
You can read a more detailed analysis on some of these possibilities in Michael Koplow’s article here.
Most expert analysts seem to suggest that the return of the PA is the most feasible and least bad of the five options presented above, so it may be worth going over the advantages, obstacles, and potential solutions for the return of the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership to the Gaza Strip.
Despite its flaws, there are a few noteworthy advantages for the return of the Palestinian Authority to the Gaza Strip.
For one, it may promote Palestinian unity. If the PA establishes itself in Gaza, it may enable more Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank to reconnect with each other. Moreover, we may see a united Palestinian leadership to represent the Palestinians in future negotiations with Israel. One of the many factors that has hindered negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians over the years – and something the far right in Israel has exploited – has been the division between Palestinian leaderships in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, if we saw one united Palestinian entity in control of both territories, that would give them more of an ability to speak on behalf of the Palestinians at the negotiating table.
A couple of other benefits to the PA’s return may be both an improved security situation for Israelis in southern Israel and the lifting of the Israeli siege over Gaza. Many high-ranking Israeli security officials have acknowledged that the Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF) have done a good job in committing to security cooperation with Israel in the West Bank. Thus, if we saw a similar form of security cooperation in Gaza, we may see a significantly more secure situation for Israelis in the south and may finally see the lifting of the Israeli siege, which would grant the Palestinians in Gaza the rehabilitation process they have longed for.
However, there are also a few challenges to the Palestinian Authority’s return that will need to be realistically addressed and they may not have easy answers.
Like all other candidates to rule over the Gaza Strip, the PA likely does not want to take on the burdens of the humanitarian situation. Ruling over a territory in such a dire status would be a significantly difficult task that very few want to take on, and the PA is no exception, unfortunately. Furthermore, it may also struggle to rule over Gaza given how incompetent it already is. Indeed, the PA is still a relatively corrupt and authoritarian government that is barely surviving in the West Bank, so it is hard to imagine they would be able to rule over the Gaza Strip too, especially considering the humanitarian crisis it is in.
On top of that, the PA is also deeply unpopular. One of the many reasons why it lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinian public is because many see it as an arm of Israel’s occupation. And if they return to the Gaza Strip on the backs of Israeli forces, it will only reinforce that image and further undermine their legitimacy as the leadership of the Palestinians.
Last and certainly not least in preventing the return of the PA to Gaza is their traumas from civil war in 2007. Some officials within the Palestinian Authority may still hold onto the traumas of when they were ousted during the civil war in Gaza where Hamas committed some seriously horrific acts of violence, such as throwing some PA officials off buildings. For many PA officials, those were their last memories in Gaza, so they may fear to return immediately.
Nevertheless, there are some ideas people are discussing that may serve as potential solutions to overcome the barriers described above.
Some analysts have proposed establishing a United Nations interim government in Gaza once the war has concluded. Due to the obstacles listed above, the PA likely cannot return to Gaza overnight. However, if you had an interim UN peacekeeping force running Gaza, that may enable for a more feasible and gradual transition of the PA’s return.
A UN interim government may not only allow time for the local Gazan community and the PA to ease themselves into a new situation, but it may also grant the PA some time to undergo some needed reforms.
Although the Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF) have done a relatively decent job in maintaining the security situation in the West Bank, they will need to take a step up if they hope to secure the Gaza Strip as well. Aaron Weinberg has argued that America can help the PA’s security forces take that step up by expanding the United States Security Coordinator (USSC) for Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinian Authority will also need to implement certain economic, educational, and democratic reforms. Indeed, the PA will produce neither sufficient stability in the Palestinian Territories nor security vis-a-vis Israel unless it cracks down on corruption, eliminates incitement in their textbooks, and implements democratic reforms. America, Saudi Arabia, and other relevant regional actors can leverage the PA to take on these necessary reforms as it gradually transitions itself back into Gaza.
Everything described here is clearly easier said than done, but it is likely the best option we have going forward for both Palestinians and Israelis. It is within the self-interest of Israelis, Palestinians, and their supporters to be talking about how we can create a sustainable future after this war has concluded. If we do not, Palestinians within the Gaza Strip will continue to suffer in one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world and Israelis may find themselves having to deal with a Hamas 2.0.