Palestinian Authority Open to Gaza Role if U.S. Backs 2-State Solution


Even if Israeli troops eradicate Hamas, the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority as the group’s successor in Gaza is far from assured. Hamas militants ousted it from power in the enclave in 2007, and in the years since, the Authority has languished in the West Bank, dogged by charges of corruption, weakness and a lack of accountability.

Mr. al-Sheikh personifies such problems. Despite being viewed as a potential successor to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority’s 87-year-old president, he is not popular with the public in his job overseeing day-to-day relations between Palestinians and the Israeli military, which have become increasingly fractious since the war broke out.

In his interview with The Times, Mr. al-Sheikh acknowledged the combustible nature of the region after last month’s attacks and the Israeli military response, a war that has killed 10,000 Palestinians, according to the Gazan health authorities.

“Without a comprehensive political initiative from the U.S.,” he said, a postwar Gaza would be “a fertile soil for radicalism.”

For his part, Mr. Biden has publicly embraced a Palestinian state as a remedy for the crisis. “There has to be a vision of what comes next,” he said recently of the war between Israel and Hamas. “In our view, it has to be a two-state solution.”

But he has yet to lay out a road map for getting there and, until now, has done little to suggest that his administration will invest in such a project.

Mr. Biden did not follow through on a campaign pledge to reopen the Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which his predecessor, Donald J. Trump, ordered closed. He did not reopen the American consulate in Jerusalem, which served Palestinians and was also closed by Mr. Trump. And unlike several of Mr. Biden’s predecessors, he has not named a Middle East envoy.

Until the Hamas attacks, the Middle East peace process ranked comparatively low on the list of White House foreign-policy priorities, after geopolitical rivalries like China and Russia. But the explosion of war between Israel and Hamas has catapulted the issue back to the top of the list.

On his tour of the region in the past week, Mr. Blinken, who had flown from Israel to Jordan, doubled back to meet with Mr. Abbas and Mr. al-Sheikh. He praised the Palestinian Authority for trying to keep order in the West Bank, where tensions have soared between Palestinians and Israeli settlers, some of whom are armed and have attacked their neighbors.

On Wednesday, at a meeting of foreign ministers in Tokyo, Mr. Blinken described what he called “elements to get a sustained peace,” chiefly the unification of Gaza with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.

“These must include the Palestinian people’s voices and aspirations at the center of post-crisis governance in Gaza,” he said. “It must include Palestinian-led governance and Gaza unified with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.”

But Israel may fall out with the United States on that approach. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested this week that his country would maintain a security role in Gaza even after the war ends, because “we’ve seen what happens when we don’t have it.”

Mr. al-Sheikh said he did not believe that any peace deal was possible with Mr. Netanyahu, or his government, which includes far-right and ultranationalist ministers who favor Israel’s annexation of the West Bank.

Mr. Netanyahu, he said, was seizing on the Hamas attacks to drive Palestinians out of Gaza, likening the situation to what the Palestinians call the “nakba,” or catastrophe, the mass displacement of Palestinians before and after Israel’s creation in 1948.

“The strategic goal of this war is to displace the Palestinian people,” he said. “They want to separate Gaza entirely from the West Bank.”

In today’s inflamed atmosphere, Mr. al-Sheikh said, the Palestinian Authority’s plea for calm is unpopular with its people, who are enraged by the deaths of thousands of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza war and yearn for vengeance.

“Palestinians do not accept this stance right now,” he said. “People may not understand my position today, but they will tomorrow.”

“I’m not Hamas,” Mr. al-Sheikh concluded. “I represent the Palestinian people.”


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