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Palestine attempts to shift axis of discussion over Gaza to Europe due to US support for Israel

The Palestinian prime minister is seeking backing from the EU and Arab countries for a new reform plan to end corruption in the PNA and for his government to manage the post-war Strip

Mohammad Mustafa
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohamed Mustafa in Ramallah, West Bank, in April.Anadolu (Anadolu via Getty Images)

Palestine and the Arab countries are mobilizing to turn the axis of discussion on the war in Gaza towards Europe in the face of U.S. support for Israel. Washington is the most influential partner in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, but it has been much less forceful about the Israeli army’s human rights violations in Gaza and in imposing its demands for containment. With that premise, Mohamed Mustafa — the prime minister of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), a technocratic government with which the U.S. and the European Union aspire to convince Israel to allow him take the reins of the post-war Strip — has presented to several European countries a reform plan to “lead the reconstruction after a permanent ceasefire,” according to a document to which EL PAÍS has had access.

The head of the Palestinian government presented the plan on Sunday to the foreign ministers of several EU member states, representatives of the United Nations and the United Kingdom and Norway, in addition to several Arab countries — Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan — at a meeting of donors and at another to promote a forthcoming peace conference. The ultimate goal of the plan, which includes a timeline for each step of the broad reforms needed, is to reunify West Bank and Gaza institutions under a single administration and reopen the Strip to the world; something that clashes head-on with the future outlined by Netanyahu.

Major donors pledged to intensify support for the PNA — currently paralyzed and discredited — and to push for a Gaza peace conference in the near future. Meanwhile, Israel continues its attacks on Rafah, against the demands of international justice. On Sunday night, as Arab and European ministers met in Brussels with EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell, an Israeli bombing killed 45 people, 23 of them minors, sheltering in a displaced persons camp. They join the more than 36,000 people killed during the Israeli offensive, and the thousands missing in the rubble of Gaza.

Israel’s war in Gaza — in response to the Hamas attacks of October 7 — is dividing EU partners. Some, such as Austria and the Czech Republic, maintain an almost ironclad support for the Jewish state. Others, such as Spain and Ireland, have been protesting from the outset against violations of international humanitarian law and will recognize Palestine as a state on Tuesday. As the Israeli army advances in the Strip, the tone against Netanyahu’s government has risen and Spain’s position is beginning to gain weight.

This hardening of discourse toward Israel and the fact that the EU is one of the biggest donors to the Palestinians is one of the main reasons why Mustafa and his technocratic administration is looking to Europe. The plan he presented in Brussels includes emergency reforms worth $1.311 billion. It received unanimous support and offers of technical and economic support. In addition, they will press Israel to reverse last week’s announcement by ultra-conservative Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich regarding the withholding of taxes it collects on behalf of the PNA and which it is obliged to transfer to it, made in retaliation for the announced recognition of the State of Palestine by Spain, Ireland, and Norway.

The day after the war in Gaza

The idea of the reforms is to turn the PNA into an acceptable alternative to manage the day-to-day life of Gazans, a task that Israel does not want to take on and for which there is a dearth of other volunteers. It is legally entitled to do so, and did so until Hamas forces expelled the PNA from the Strip in 2007, a year after its election victory.

In the plan for the Palestinian state, it has been proposed that the PNA “lead” the reconstruction in two phases after a permanent ceasefire. The first, an emergency response and the beginning of recovery, will cover the initial 36 months after the cessation of hostilities. This would focus on covering the basic needs of the population and start to provide housing in the Strip, where entire neighborhoods have been wiped off the map and more than six in 10 buildings have been damaged or destroyed, the document explains.

The second phase would last at least a decade and would consist of taking advantage of the reconstruction to “transform” Gaza so that it is “fully integrated politically, socially, and economically into the State of Palestine and, through it, with the rest of the world.” This is the exact opposite of what Netanyahu’s government wants. Israel did not technically cease to occupy Gaza after the withdrawal of its soldiers and settlers in 2005 and it now plans to carry out the actions it deems necessary, including controlling the border with Egypt and maintaining a military buffer zone inside the Strip.

Ensuring full judicial transparency and independence; transforming institutions; eliminating duplicities; contemplating a progressive tax system; updating the legal code... The language of the plan sounds good in Brussels. And it displays awareness of disaffection with the PNA by pointing to the need to “gain public trust through an absolute focus on serving citizens.”

According to the most recent poll by the Arab Barometer, conducted before the war, 77% of West Bankers do not trust the government and 94% believe there is corruption in the PNA. However, only 10% cite corruption as their main concern — behind the war in Gaza (50%) and the Israeli military occupation (23%) — in an April poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

As such, the PNA document speaks of “improving governance, transparency and accountability,” as well as “combating corruption at all levels of government,” by adopting a policy of “zero tolerance.” It also talks of “promoting partnerships with civil society, the media and the private sector to detect and expose corruption.”

Joe Biden has spoked of a “revitalized” PNA governing Gaza and the West Bank, while Borrell used the terms “strong” and “functional” on Sunday. Whatever the words used, the idea is to turn around the sclerotic and discredited PNA so that it can assume civilian control of Gaza after the war. It is quite a challenge for the government that was born of the 1993 Oslo Accords; it only exercises limited sovereignty over a third of the West Bank, which is militarily occupied by Israel.

A 69-year-old economist, Mustafa was sworn in last April at the head of a new government of technocrats with the reconstruction of Gaza among its chief priorities. He was chosen because he appeals to both PNA President Mahmoud Abbas and the West, which is seeking to convince Israel that the PNA should manage Gaza. Mustafa is close to the president, under whom he served as deputy prime minister and head of the Investment Fund. At the same time, he was educated in the U.S., has held important positions in the World Bank and maintains contact with official representatives in Washington.

Experts, though, are skeptical of Mustafa’s ability to make a difference because Abbas retains broad powers and because he clashes with Israel’s interests. Only 8% of West Bankers are satisfied with Abbas and 84% want him to resign, according to the April poll.

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