A Palestinian political perspective on Gaza's future

Illustration - Analysis - Palestinian politics
9 min read
31 January, 2024

Within the first month of Israel’s devastating war, the Biden administration began efforts to plan for the future governance of Gaza, assuming Israel’s potential success in defeating Hamas and gaining control of the besieged territory.

In line with these efforts, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, was dispatched to meet with representatives from both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

During his meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas in December, Sullivan conveyed that the PA in its current structure lacks the capacity and leadership to govern the Gaza Strip and must be “revamped and revitalized” to do so. Sullivan’s position implied that the PA would serve as the administrative body governing Gaza the ‘day after’ the war.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly expressed Israel's intention to destroy Hamas and maintain complete security control over Gaza, rejecting any Palestinian sovereignty or a two-state solution. This has prompted President Biden to assert that any new occupation of Gaza would be a “mistake”.

The US has actively sought regional backing for its post-war efforts in Gaza through Secretary of State Antony Blinken's shuttle visits since the start of the war. But throughout these efforts, the US administration has engaged solely with the Palestinian Authority, overlooking the voices of Gazans themselves and other Palestinian political parties.

These factions, some of whom are key players wielding considerable power on the ground, hold distinct positions. They not only reject the US-proposed future for Gaza but also have their own comprehensive vision, encompassing both Gaza and broader Palestinian political issues.

"The US administration has engaged solely with the Palestinian Authority, overlooking the voices of Gazans themselves and other Palestinian political parties"

Gaza, and Palestine's, future

Most Palestinian political parties view the future of the Gaza Strip after the war through two primary aspects. Firstly, they consider Gaza an internal Palestinian issue that requires resolution among various Palestinian political powers and must be endorsed by the Palestinian people.

Secondly, they emphasise that Gaza is inseparable from the broader objectives of the Palestinian political cause, which include a sustained struggle for the right of return and national self-determination.

In a televised address in early January marking the 88th day of Israel’s war, Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas's political bureau, declared that "the future of the Gaza Strip is intrinsically linked to the future of the West Bank, including Jerusalem”.

The group, according to Haniyeh, is willing to participate in a national government to oversee the occupied Palestinian territory in both Gaza and the West Bank, but until a unity government is formed the “existing governing apparatus” would continue to administer Gaza.

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The Hamas leader also called for rebuilding the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) based on “democratic principles that truly reflect the voices of all Palestinians" and emphasised that a unified national leadership within the PLO would be rooted in the aims of self-determination, statehood, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Later in January, Haniyeh restated his call for Palestinian political unity and a reorganised PLO that would “include everyone” during a speech addressing the Freedom for Palestine conference in Istanbul.

Since the first temporary truce ended in December, Hamas has reiterated that a permanent ceasefire would be a precondition to any future negotiations.

An end to Israel's war

Speaking to The New Arab, Ihsan Ataya, a senior member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Lebanon, and Osama Hamdan, Hamas’s top representative in Lebanon, both emphasised that the primary objective at present was to halt Israel’s war in Gaza and achieve a permanent cessation to hostilities rather than a temporary truce.

"We are open to discussing any proposal aligned with Hamas and the resistance factions’ declared objectives, particularly a comprehensive cessation of the war on Gaza," Hamdan told The New Arab

"As of now, there are no serious proposals that match the sacrifices and capabilities of the Palestinian resistance.”

The group recently reiterated this call ahead of the ICJ’s ruling on South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, saying that if the court ordered a ceasefire, then Hamas would implement the resolution if Israel also adhered to it. In the end, the ICJ stopped short of calling for a ceasefire.

Israeli separation wall
For political parties, Gaza is an inseparable part of the wider Palestinian struggle for self-determination. [Getty]

"There will be no negotiation regarding the release of Israeli captives before a complete cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of Israeli occupation forces from the Gaza Strip borders," Hamdan added, rejecting Israeli plans for a buffer zone.

Ihsan Ataya from the Islamic Jihad said the PIJ demands a “complete cessation of aggression, not just any temporary truce".

In December, Egypt put forward a proposal for ending the war, including the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, the release of all Israeli hostages in return for an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners, and a technocratic Palestinian government installed in Gaza.

Ataya said the proposal had contained “general ideas and principles for discussions," but it was never formally released by Egypt and has now reportedly been shelved without its details being published.

"Most political parties view Gaza as inseparable from the broader objectives of the Palestinian cause, including  the right of return and national self-determination"

Palestinian consensus

In a statement issued after a meeting in Beirut on 28 December by the Central Leadership of the Alliance of Palestinian Factions - which includes Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah al-Intifada, As-Sa'iqa and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) - the coalition said it was unified in its position on the war.

This included ending Israel’s military operation, withdrawing Israeli forces from Gaza, allowing in humanitarian aid, and an exchange deal on the basis of “all for all” – all Israeli hostages for all Palestinian prisoners.

The factions also held the US responsible for its role in supporting Israel militarily and politically.

“The future of the Gaza Strip is inseparable from the future of Palestine. The current priority is to halt the ongoing Israeli war, which is perceived as an attempt to eliminate the Palestinian cause,” Leila Khaled, a leader from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), told The New Arab.

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Palestinian factions will continue to resist militarily until Israel withdraws from Gaza and an exchange deal based on the al-Qassam Brigades’ formula ‘all for all’ is implemented, she added.

When asked about proposals for Gaza’s future circulating in the media, Khaled said the PFLP rejected the imposition of any “security and administrative arrangements by imperial powers and their collaborators”.

The administration of Gaza will be determined by Palestinian factions and endorsed by the Palestinian people, she added.

"The PFLP, in partnership with the other Palestinian resisting factions, sees the future of the Gaza Strip as part of the broader struggle for Palestinian national self-determination and the realisation of the right of return for Palestinian refugees to their homeland from which they were expelled."

The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) emphasised in a statement to The New Arab that the future of Gaza will be a solely Palestinian matter, calling on the US and other countries to refrain from contemplating post-war scenarios. The armed Palestinian resistance would fight against the recapture or occupation of any part of Gaza by Israel, the group added.

The DFLP emphasised that the ‘second day’ after the war should be an opportunity for the Palestinian people to rebuild its political system based on Palestinian national unity and reconciliation within the PLO, which it said is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Nearly all parties agree on the importance of rebuilding Palestinian politics based on unity and consensus. [Getty]

The PA's position

While the PA is also calling for an end to Israel’s war, it has engaged in discussions about Gaza’s future administration with the US, European countries, and Arab states.

In December, Hussein al-Sheikh, the head of the PA’s General Authority of Civil Affairs, told Reuters following a meeting with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan that the PA is ready to administer the Gaza Strip after the war, emphasising the necessity for a single government to govern the Palestinian homeland.

He acknowledged that there is a need for the PA to assess its conduct and indicated that everyone should be held accountable after the war. “It is not acceptable for some to believe that their method and approach in managing the conflict with Israel was the ideal and the best,” he added, in comments seen as directed at Hamas and other factions.

This, in turn, led Hamas leader and spokesperson Osama Hamdan to criticise the comments. Addressing al-Sheikh’s remarks, Ramzi Rabah, a leader from the DFLP, told TNA, “Al-Sheikh has no right to say what he said as a representative of the PLO, and his position does not reflect the PLO positions”.

"Israel's post-war vision amounts to little more than security arrangements and civil administration, resembling a 'Greater Israel' or apartheid state"

Al-Sheikh reiterated PA President Abbas's call for an international conference to chart a new path for peace, stressing diplomatic efforts to persuade Israel to agree to a two-state solution that includes the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

While indicating that the US had expressed verbal support for a Palestinian state in meetings, there had been no concrete measures or political initiatives to enable it, he added.

In the past, Hamas has hinted at its willingness to accept a two-state solution but has indicated that it will not recognise Israel's right to exist. The PIJ refuses outright any political settlement with Israel, while the DFLP, which originally proposed the idea of a two-state solution in 1974, has reiterated its acceptance of it.

The PFLP, meanwhile, regards the two-state solution as a temporary political settlement.

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As part of Israel’s vision for after the war, Netanyahu has said that there will be only one state between the river and the sea, asserting that there is no possibility for an independent Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution.

He reiterated this position after recent reports emerged of a three-phase proposal to end the war which could include a phased truce and the exchange of Israeli and Palestinian prisoners, calling instead for Israel’s “total victory”. Hamas said they are studying the proposal.

The Israeli PM also restated that Israeli forces will not leave Gaza and ruled out the release of Palestinian prisoners, repeating the objective of eliminating Hamas.

This would suggest that Israel’s post-war vision amounts to little more than security arrangements and civil administration, resembling a ‘Greater Israel’ or apartheid state with national and civil rights for only one ethnic group.

Any such outcome would not only apply to Gaza, but to all Palestinians from the river to the sea. 

Samer Jaber is a political activist and researcher from Jerusalem.

He is currently a PhD researcher specialising in political economy at Royal Holloway, University of London, and is also a fellow with the Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA). He focuses on the Arab world and the Middle East region.

Follow him on Twitter: @AhlainAhlain