What comes after the war in Gaza?
Already there has been much discussion of the postwar arrangements. President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, embracing conventional wisdom with both arms, are pushing for a takeover of Gaza by Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority. Far more realistic, however, is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for Gaza to be “demilitarized, deradicalized, and rebuilt.”
Before anything can happen, of course, Israel must win the war. Its immediate goal is to wipe out Hamas as a force in the Gaza Strip, and weeks of intense urban warfare are still to come before that goal is achieved. Hamas gunmen and kidnappers are entrenched in a massive tunnel network — a lethal subterranean complex larger than the London Underground. It will take time for Israel to neutralize those terror nests, not least because Hamas embeds its operations amid civilian facilities. For Israel and its allies, there is no ambiguity at this stage about what must be done. As House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries declared on Tuesday, it is vital that Israel “decisively defeat Hamas and make sure that this brutal terrorist regime can never rise again.”
But then what?
Speaking at the G-7 summit in Tokyo this month, Blinken declared that there can be “no reoccupation of Gaza after the conflict ends” and that there should instead be “governance . . . under the Palestinian Authority.” That is a dreadful idea for almost too many reasons to count.
To begin with, the Palestinian Authority is thoroughly loathed by ordinary Palestinians, who routinely express their contempt for Abbas and his henchmen. It has been deeply corrupt for as long as it has existed and is notorious for its incompetence. Like the Hamas regime in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority rules its West Bank fiefdom with brutality, torture, and arbitrary arrests. In a report last year, Human Rights Watch concluded that “systematic abuse by the PA and Hamas forms a critical part of the repression of the Palestinian people.”
The Palestinian Authority has ruled in Gaza, with hideous results. In 2005, when Israel voluntarily withdrew from the territory, dismantling every Jewish community and evacuating the nearly 10,000 Jews who lived in them, it was the Palestinian Authority that took over.
A year later, Hamas soundly defeated Abbas’s Fatah party in the last free elections ever held in the Palestinian territories. In 2007 Hamas staged a bloody coup against the PA, throwing its supporters to their deaths from the tops of buildings and seizing control of the entire Gaza Strip. Any attempt to reimpose the Palestinian Authority on Gaza is unlikely to produce a better result.
It’s a fallacy to believe that Fatah, the largest faction of the Palestinian Authority, is a force for moderation or compromise. It is in every significant respect as homicidal as Hamas, with an “armed wing” — the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades — that has carried out innumerable atrocities and has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada, and the European Union. After the Oct. 7 slaughter in southern Israel, Fatah released a video bragging that its killers, too, had taken part in the massacre and showing images of a Fatah terrorist stomping on the head of a murdered Israeli. On the official Palestinian Authority TV channel, a Fatah official cheered the Oct. 7 savagery as “a morning of victory, a morning of joy, a morning of pride.” Abbas himself endorsed the butchery as “self-defense” against “Israeli escalation.”
For 30 years, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority — first under Yasser Arafat, then under Abbas — have made it clear that they are as hostile to peaceful coexistence with a Jewish state as Hamas is. Again and again, beginning with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 and culminating in Israel’s Gaza withdrawal in 2005, Israel and the West have provided the existing Palestinian leadership with land, political power, money, and recognition in a futile effort to end the conflict. That is the strategy that led to the murderous second intifada in the early 2000s, to the waves of rocket and terror attacks from Gaza since 2005, and to the ghastly bloodbath of Oct. 7. The call by the White House for the Palestinian Authority to return to Gaza is a call for more of the same.
Gaza wasn’t always a terrorist hellhole. When I first visited the territory in 1977, just a decade after Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, Gaza was under Israeli military administration. Neither Hamas nor the Palestinian Authority existed, and the idea of setting up Arafat as the district’s ruler would have been regarded as too preposterous for words.
Back then — back before the wishful delusions of the “peace process” had taken hold — tens of thousands of Palestinians crossed daily into Israel to go to work and Gaza was so safe that Jewish visitors on tour buses could enter without hindrance or fear, strolling around Gaza City, taking pictures, and haggling with souvenir sellers.
Gaza then may not have been an Eden. But neither was it ruled by a harsh Palestinian dictatorship rooted in an infamous terrorist organization — the Palestine Liberation Organization — that deflected attention from its thuggishness and failures by relentlessly promoting a message of genocidal fury against Israel. What Gaza desperately needs is decent Palestinian governance. And the only way to nurture leaders who can provide such governance is from the ground up, by methodically detoxifying Gaza society, overhauling its educational and media networks, and steadily, patiently undoing the culture of hatred in which a generation of young Palestinians has been raised.
Israel, encouraged by the international community, made a fateful blunder in 1993 when it agreed that the Palestinians should be ruled by the likes of Arafat, his lieutenant Abbas, and their loyalists. The result, 30 years later, was the worst day of antisemitic killing since the Holocaust. The terrible war that Israel is now engaged in — terrible for Palestinians and Israelis alike — offers a chance to set Gaza on a new course. A new Israeli administration in the territory, explicitly committed to nourishing a healthy civil society, is the best option for paving a path to effective and peaceful self-rule. Countless Palestinians, chafing under Hamas autocracy in Gaza, have long yearned for a better and freer life. Now there is a chance for them to achieve it. Once Israel has won its war, they and their Palestinian neighbors together can win the peace.