Biden administration officials believe that the Palestinian Authority (PA), headed by Mahmoud Abbas, should be brought back to the Gaza Strip after the Iran-backed Hamas terrorist group is removed from power.
The officials, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, appear convinced that the Gaza Strip and the West Bank should be unified in the post-Hamas era. On November 9, Blinken was quoted as saying that after the current Israel-Hamas war, the solution must "include Palestinian-led governance and Gaza unified with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority."
Days later, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also floated the idea that the Gaza Strip and West Bank be unified under the control of the PA:
"Secretary Blinken also said that ultimately, we do want to see the reconnection, the reunification of control between the West Bank and Gaza under Palestinian leadership.
"The Palestinian Authority is the current leadership on the West Bank. But ultimately, it's gonna [sic] be up to the Palestinian people to decide their future, who governs them, and the United States will support a process."
These two ideas – reinstating the PA in the Gaza Strip and unifying the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – show that the Biden administration is utterly clueless about the reality on the ground and equally oblivious to the security threats facing Israel.
The Palestinian Authority was in control of large parts of the Gaza Strip between 1994 and 2007.
In 2005, Israel withdrew from the entire Gaza Strip after evacuating thousands of Jews from their homes and destroying more than 25 Jewish communities there. The Israeli pullout, known as the "Gaza disengagement," saw Israel go back to the 1949 armistice line, leaving the entire Gaza Strip under the full security and civilian control of Abbas's PA. Less than two years later, Hamas staged a coup against the PA and seized control of the Gaza Strip. The PA security forces were unable to prevent the coup and many of its officers quickly surrendered.
During the years that it ruled the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority, first under Yasser Arafat and Abbas later, failed to stop Hamas and other Palestinian groups from carrying out terrorist attacks against Israelis. These attacks included a wave of suicide bombings and firing rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians and soldiers.
There were times when the PA, under pressure from the US and Western donors, did crack down on Hamas members in the Gaza Strip. That, however, was not done out of concern for Israel's security, but because the PA viewed Hamas as a threat to its own rule over the Gaza Strip. Additionally, the crackdown was aimed at showing American and European donors that the PA was fighting terrorism.
Both Arafat and Abbas employed the revolving door policy: shortly after arresting terrorists, they would release them. An example of the revolving door policy can be seen in a document seized by Israeli security forces in 2002 and analyzed by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, in a bulletin entitled "The Release of 27 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad Detainees." The bulletin deals with the release of terrorist operatives who were detained by the Palestinian Authority, including those who were involved in bombing attacks and the manufacture of explosive devices and rockets. An examination of the names of the released operatives showed that some of them returned to terrorist activities and were involved in the planning, direction and carrying out of mass-casualty terrorist attacks.
In December 2001, after a wave of terrorist attacks against Israelis, then White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and State Department Deputy Spokesman Philip Reeker commented on Arafat's failure to take measures against the terrorists. Fleischer said:
"The President thinks that this is the chance now for Yasser Arafat to demonstrate real leadership that is lasting, that is enduring, that puts people responsible for this away and does so in such a way that they cannot get out again and commit more terror. The President thinks it is very important that the Palestinian jails not only have bars on the front, but no longer have revolving doors at the back."
Reeker, for his part, said that "there has to be sustained action by the Palestinian Authority against those individuals," referring to suicide attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa.
"They need to bring them to justice, but they also need to take action against the infrastructure of those groups that support those individuals. And there's absolutely no excuse for failure to take immediate and thorough action."
Nearly two decades later, the US is still talking about the need for the Palestinian Authority and its current leader, Abbas, to take measures against terrorists – this time in the areas controlled by Abbas's security forces in the West Bank.
Needless to say, Abbas has done almost nothing to disarm the many terrorist groups active in areas controlled by his security forces in the West Bank. Abbas even rejected an American security plan to combat terrorism that was prepared by US Army Lieutenant General Michael Fenzel, who coordinates between the US administration and the PA security forces. Fenzel planned to establish a special force of several thousand PA security personnel who would be stationed in the cities of Nablus and Jenin to fight against the armed terrorist groups and allow the PA to regain security control. Abbas tried to convince the Biden administration that he has a better way to combat terrorism: luring the terrorists with promises of amnesty, salaries and vehicles in exchange for them laying down their weapons.
The Palestinian Authority's refusal for the past two years to go after the numerous terrorist groups operating under its nose in the West Bank has led to a massive upsurge in terrorist attacks against Israelis, and was probably one reason Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got re-elected: to deal with it.
Instead of combating terrorism, Abbas chose to suspend security coordination with Israel. The security coordination is not only important to Israel, but it is what has kept Abbas and the PA in power in the West Bank. Were it not for the security coordination and Israel's presence in the West Bank, the PA would have collapsed long ago and Hamas -- as it did with Gaza -- and would have seized control of Palestinian cities, including Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinians.
The assumption that the Palestinian Authority would fight terrorism in the Gaza Strip is completely incorrect and terribly dangerous. As he has already proven in the West Bank, Abbas has no intention of disarming any Palestinian armed group or arresting any terrorist. His preferred policy has always been to try and win over Hamas and other terrorist groups by offering them jobs and handouts as part of a reconciliation agreement that would result in the formation of a Palestinian unity government -- in addition to being a perfect reason to ask the international community for money.
Abbas's latest attempt to win over Hamas was in late June, when he invited the terrorist group to a "national unity" conference in Cairo, Egypt. If Abbas is allowed to return to the Gaza Strip, he will undoubtedly continue with his policy of appeasement toward Hamas. He is not going to order his security forces to crack down on Hamas: he knows that his people would condemn him to death as a traitor who collaborates with Israel, just as they did with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated in 1981.
If Abbas cannot and does not want to fight Hamas in the West Bank, there is no reason to believe that he will do otherwise in the Gaza Strip, where terrorist groups enjoy widespread support. It is important to remember that it was under both Abbas and Arafat that Hamas flourished and amassed weapons. The two Palestinian leaders never used the thousands of security officers on their payroll to wipe out the terrorists. Abbas and Arafat had the security forces to accomplish this, but chose not to do so.
The idea of unifying the Gaza Strip with the West Bank is every bit as dangerous as the idea of relying on the Palestinian Authority to combat terrorism. Reconnecting the two areas would mean allowing thousands of terrorists and their supporters in the Gaza Strip to move to the West Bank, including the hilltops overlooking Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion International Airport. It would also mean jeopardizing the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis living in different parts of the West Bank. Unifying the two areas would pave the way for Iran and its proxies, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, to turn the West Bank into another base for Jihad (holy war) against Israel.
Has anyone asked the Palestinians in the West Bank whether they would like to see tens of thousands of impoverished Gazans flood into their cities and villages? First, there is not enough room in the West Bank to absorb a large number of Gazans. Second, such a move would be an unbearable burden on the Palestinian economy.
The Biden administration should think very carefully before floating dangerous ideas. Before talking about the day after the Israel-Hamas war, the administration should first allow Israel to finish the job of eradicating Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip. Because of the extreme care that Israel is taking to limit harm to civilians, this mission will probably take months to accomplish. Only then can the question of Gaza's governance be properly discussed.
What is certain is that the Palestinian Authority, which pays salaries to terrorists who murder Jews and engages in anti-Israel incitement day-in and day-out, cannot be entrusted with any role in the Gaza Strip.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.