As he toured the Middle East this week, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken sounded optimistic on the prospect of Arab governments joining together to plan for Gaza’s future after the war, saying that he found them willing “to do important things to help Gaza stabilize and revitalize,” as he put it on Monday, during a stop in Saudi Arabia.
But, at least in public, Arab officials have been eager to distance themselves from discussions about how to rebuild and govern Gaza — particularly while Israeli bombs are still falling on more than two million Palestinians who are trapped in the besieged enclave.
Instead, they have stressed that Israel and the United States must implement a cease-fire, and then take steps toward a goal Arab states have pursued for decades: a serious pathway toward creating a Palestinian state.
“Without a stable, independent sovereign nation for the Palestinians, nothing else matters, because it will not come up with a long-term solution for the conflict that we’re seeing,” Prince Khalid bin Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the United Kingdom, told the BBC on Tuesday.
And on Sunday, during a news conference with Mr. Blinken in Qatar, Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman said, “Gaza is part of Palestinian occupied territory, which needs to be under Palestinian rule and leadership.” He added, “There is no peace in the region without a comprehensive and just settlement.”
Mr. Blinken, who since beginning his latest diplomatic mission on Friday has visited Turkey, Greece, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Saudi Arabia and Israel, has also stressed the importance of a pathway toward a Palestinian state.
Officially, Arab governments have mostly dismissed the notion that they could participate in postwar planning before a cease-fire, arguing that this would be akin to helping Israel clean up its mess. And they are reluctant to be seen participating in Israeli visions for Gaza’s future.
Mahmoud al-Habbash, a close adviser to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, said that recent high-level meetings held by Mr. Abbas were narrowly focused on ending the war and addressing humanitarian concerns. He forcefully denied that they had touched on Gaza’s future.
“All of these meetings, consultations, and efforts are aiming to cease the aggression,” he said.
But behind the scenes, Arab officials have engaged in more pragmatic discussions, in which they assert that the Palestinian Authority — which had long pursued a Palestinian state while being sidelined by successive Israeli governments — is the natural candidate to govern postwar Gaza. That stance has not changed despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu all but ruling out any governing role for the Palestinian Authority in Gaza.
On Monday, when Mr. Abbas met with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, it was partly to coordinate positions on Gaza, a Palestinian official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The official noted that Mr. Abbas was pressing for a united Arab position that supports a solution to the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rather than dealing with Gaza in isolation.
And on Wednesday, Mr. Abbas plans to travel to Jordan to participate in a summit with Mr. Sisi and King Abdullah of Jordan to discuss the situation in Gaza, Jordan’s state news agency reported.
Mr. Abbas also hopes that a five-member committee — including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinians — will convene in the future to further coordinate diplomatic efforts, the Palestinian official said.
“What’s taking place is consensus-building on the different pathways to the day after,” said Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House, a London-based research organization, referring to how Gaza will be governed when fighting ends.
Arab countries themselves have different views about what a future government in Gaza should look like, and how capable the Palestinian Authority is of taking over the enclave. Before the war, Gaza had been ruled for years by Hamas, the armed group that carried out the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel.
Palestinian analysts say that the Palestinian Authority’s ability to govern Gaza would hinge on achieving unity with Hamas, which they predicted would remain a critical part of Palestinian politics following the war — though Israel has repeatedly said it will not stop fighting until Hamas is destroyed.
In 2005, when Israel withdrew all its troops and citizens from Gaza, it handed over power there to the Palestinian Authority. But Fatah, the political faction that controls the Palestinian Authority, lost a legislative election the next year to Hamas. In 2007, Hamas seized power in Gaza in a short and brutal civil war, dividing the Palestinians not only territorially, but politically.
“Abbas and the Palestinian Authority want to bring Gaza back under their administration — they believe the war has created a major opportunity for them,” said Jehad Harb, a Ramallah-based analyst. “But without reconciling with Hamas, they will struggle to govern there. Hamas is a powerful force that will remain in Gaza.”
For some Arab states, mixed messaging on Gaza’s future “reflects their fluid thinking, and for others, the desperation of choices,” said Bader Al-Saif, a professor at Kuwait University.
“There are no easy options there,” he said.
Arab public opinion — deeply hostile toward Israel and the United States, especially since the war began — is important, Mr. Al-Saif added.
“Any day-after scenario that doesn’t meet the masses’ quest for dignity and justice for Palestinians will eventually bite the different states of the region,” he said. “I’d keep that in mind if I were a policymaker.”