Israeli officials have said repeatedly that they don't intend to occupy Gaza.
U.S. and Israeli officials looking to the future of the Gaza Strip after dislodging Hamas have begun discussing possibilities, including potentially installing an interim government backed by the United Nations and with the involvement of Arab governments, people familiar with US government deliberations said.
The discussions are still at an early stage and hinge on developments yet to unfold, not least of which would be success in an Israeli ground assault, according to the people, who asked not to be identified detailing private deliberations. And any such possibility would need buy-in from Arab nations around the region, which is by no means certain.
Israeli officials have said repeatedly that they don't intend to occupy Gaza, but they've also said that continued rule by Hamas is unacceptable after the Oct. 7 attack in which the group killed 1,400 Israelis and took 200 people hostage.
The challenge of achieving both of those objectives has helped fuel US worries that Israel hasn't given sufficient thought to what comes after a ground assault. The US is also worried that a Gaza attack with no clear objective beyond ousting Hamas could fan the conflict into a regional war.
A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said the focus at the moment is uniting the world against terrorists and on delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza as soon as possible. Hamas has been designated a terrorist group by the US and the European Union.
At the same time, the fate of Gaza after the likely ground invasion has become one of the most pressing worries for American officials. In the two weeks since the Hamas attack took place, President Joe Biden's team has sought to balance support for Israel with concerns about an unfolding humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
As part of the ongoing conversations, the US and its allies have sought to slow the timing of the invasion to buy time for more people to flee northern Gaza and for secret talks mediated by Qatar to win the release of hostages held by Hamas, according to people familiar with the efforts. Two US citizens - a mother and daughter from Illinois - were released on Friday.
Establishing an interim government would be incredibly difficult, and getting Arab governments' acquiescence would be even more of a challenge, according to William Usher, a former senior Middle East analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency.
"A plan that involved Arab governments would require a major shift in how Arab states accept risk and work with one another," Usher said. "It would also require a leap of trust by Jerusalem - a commodity in short supply."
On Friday, Israel's defense minister suggested that the country has no intention of running the territory after its military operations wind down. Israel aims to disentangle itself from Gaza and to create a "new security reality" in the region, Yoav Gallant said to the parliamentary foreign affairs and defense committee in Tel Aviv.
Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid has suggested handing control of Gaza back to the Palestinian Authority, which was defeated by Hamas in elections there in 2006.
"I think in the end the best thing is that the Palestinian Authority goes back into Gaza," Lapid said at a media briefing in Tel Aviv on Thursday.
The Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, and the Palestinian diaspora in countries such as Jordan and Lebanon wouldn't provide viable alternatives, according to Ted Singer, a former senior intelligence officer at the Central Intelligence Agency who specialized in the Middle East.
"Routed out of Gaza in 2006, the Palestinian Authority lacks credibility and barely governs the West Bank," Singer said. "The Palestinian diaspora has lost meaningful ties to Gaza."
Biden administration officials have so far avoided broaching possible governance arrangements for Gaza in public.
The Palestinian people in Gaza deserve a leadership that allows them to live in peace and security, Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said on CBS on Sunday.
"What that exactly looks like going forward, I'm not in a position to say today," Sullivan said, "But it is the right question to be asking now, as this unfolds, because we have to think not just about the immediate term, but about the long-term, too."
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