Blinken seeks Palestinian governance reform for postwar Gaza as deadly Israeli strikes continue

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, walks with Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa during his visit on Wednesday in Manama, Bahrain. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool Photo via AP)

TEL AVIV, Israel — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed the Palestinian president Wednesday to reform his government, seeking to rally the region behind postwar plans for Gaza that include concrete steps toward a Palestinian state.

The U.S. wants a reformed Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza once the war is over. Getting President Mahmoud Abbas on board, as well as other Arab countries the U.S. hopes will help rebuild Gaza, depends on promising movement toward a Palestinian state after years of a defunct peace process.


But the vision outlined by Blinken faces serious obstacles.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has so far rejected Palestinian Authority control in Gaza and adamantly opposes the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The autocratic, Western-backed Palestinian leadership, whose forces were driven from Gaza when Hamas took over in 2007, lacks legitimacy in the view of many Palestinians.

The war in Gaza is still raging with no end in sight, fueling a humanitarian catastrophe in the tiny coastal enclave. Israeli strikes on Wednesday hit an ambulance and a building near a hospital in central Gaza, killing some two dozen people, health officials said.

The fighting has also stoked escalating violence between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militants that has raised fears of a wider conflict.

Blinken pressures both sides on whirlwind trip

On his fourth visit to the region since the war began three months ago, Blinken has met in recent days with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey. He says they have agreed to help rebuild the territory and that wider Israeli-Arab normalization is still possible, but only if there is “a pathway to a Palestinian state.”

The Saudi ambassador to the U.K. went even further Tuesday, telling the BBC that the kingdom is still interested in a landmark normalization agreement with Israel, but that it must include “nothing less than an independent state of Palestine.”

“One doesn’t come without the other,” Prince Khalid bin Bandar said.

In their meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Blinken told Palestinian President Abbas that the U.S. supports “tangible steps” toward a Palestinian state, according to State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

Blinken said later that they discussed reforming the Palestinian Authority so “it can effectively take responsibility for Gaza.” Abbas appeared ready to “engage in all of these efforts,” Blinken said at his next stop, the Bahraini capital of Manama.

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said they heard “good statements” from the Americans. “But nothing has happened,” he said. “The priority now is to stop the war on Gaza.”

The 88-year-old Abbas has not stood for election since 2005 and lacks support among his own people.

His Palestinian Authority governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank under interim peace deals reached in the 1990s and cooperates with Israel on security matters. But it has been powerless to prevent the expansion of Israeli settlements in occupied territory it wants for a future state, and there have been no serious or substantive peace talks since Netanyahu returned to office in 2009.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has been unable to get Israel to make even relatively minor concessions to the Palestinians, like turning over all the tax revenue it collects on their behalf or allowing the reopening of a U.S. Consulate to serve Palestinians in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

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