March 5, 2024

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said that his country must retain security control over the Gaza Strip “for as long as necessary” and hinted that he saw no future administrative role there for the Western-backed Palestinian Authority — at least in its current form.

Speaking at a televised news conference on Saturday night, Mr. Netanyahu went further than he had before in publicly laying out his vision for Gaza after Israel’s military campaign there against Hamas, which controls the enclave, ends. He said that the Palestinian enclave must be “demilitarized” and that Israel must have the ability to enter Gaza at will to deal with perceived threats there.

His remarks appeared to be somewhat at odds with the Biden administration, which last week made it clear that there should be no Israeli “re-occupation” of Gaza. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken left open the possibility of a “transition period” after the war, but said that eventually Gaza’s administration “must include Palestinian-led governance and Gaza unified with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.”

Israel has been vague on who might administer Gaza if and when Hamas is ousted, even as it comes under increasing international criticism for the humanitarian crisis and spiraling death toll from its airstrikes and subsequent ground invasion of the enclave. More than 11,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Oct. 7, according to Gazan health officials.

The war was prompted by a cross-border assault by Hamas on Oct. 7 in which an estimated 1,200 people were killed and about 240 more were taken as hostages to Gaza, according to Israeli officials. Israel’s stated goals for the war are to dismantle Hamas’s military capabilities and ability to rule Gaza, as well as to bring the hostages back home.

But on Saturday, Mr. Netanyahu hinted that the Western-backed Palestinian Authority would not handle civilian affairs in Gaza unless it changes some of its conduct and unless its leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, forthrightly condemns the Oct. 7 assault against Israel — something Mr. Abbas has refrained from doing so far.

Mr. Netanyahu did not mention the authority by name but said there would be no civil role for an administration that teaches hatred of Israel to children, pays money to assailants convicted of attacks against Israelis and has not condemned the Hamas assault — all common Israeli accusations against the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the occupied West Bank.

“The massacre of Oct. 7 proved once and for all that in every place that Israel does not have security control, terrorism entrenches itself,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “In the end it comes back to hit us, and that is also true of Judea and Samaria,” he added, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.

That, he said, is why he will not agree to give up security control of Gaza “under any circumstances.”

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Mr. Abbas, emphasized on Sunday that any Israeli attempt to separate Gaza from the West Bank was destined to fail. In an apparent response to Mr. Netanyahu’s remarks, Mr. Abu Rudeineh said in comments carried by Wafa, the official Palestinian Authority news agency, that “the consolidation of Israel’s occupation in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem would not bring security to anyone.”

Mr. Abu Rudeineh added that stability would only be achieved by ending the Israeli occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state in those areas.

Mr. Netanyahu, a conservative and Israel’s longest serving prime minister, has been prosecuting the war amid plummeting approval ratings. The ultranationalist parties that make up a key part of his governing coalition do not see the Palestinian Authority as a partner, and after the Oct. 7 attacks, there is a broad consensus among Israelis that Hamas must be ousted from Gaza — even though its complete elimination will most likely prove impossible.

The view in the Israeli government is that so long as Mr. Abbas has not directly condemned Hamas for the Oct. 7 attacks, any agreement to install his authority in Gaza as a replacement for the group would make Mr. Netanyahu look weak in the eyes of many Israelis, according to an Israeli government official who was not authorized to speak openly about internal discussions.

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