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New Palestinian leaders needed after Gaza war: opposition figure

Nasser al-Kidwa, a nephew of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in a file picture from September 24, 2022
— Jerusalem (AFP)

After the Gaza war ends, new Palestinian leaders are needed who could helm a future independent state, opposition figure Nasser al-Kidwa, the nephew of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, told AFP.

They should also seek a "peaceful divorce" with 88-year-old Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who should assume a purely ceremonial role, argued Kidwa, a former Palestinian foreign minister.

Kidwa, 70, said talks involving Gulf states and Western powers are seeking not just a pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas and the return of hostages, but also addressing day-after scenarios.

Smoke billows over Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip during Israeli bombardment on February 21, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas

Behind the scenes they are touching on wider post-war issues such as security, leadership reform, the creation of an independent Palestinian state and normalising Israeli-Saudi relations, he said.

"How do we put all these pieces together? What comes first, what comes second, et cetera?" said Kidwa, who was kicked out of Abbas's Fatah movement after challenging the president in 2021.

"It may seem confusing but in reality, the positions of the parties are getting closer and closer, not divergent -- with the exception of Israel."

Talks are aiming to secure a ceasefire of about six weeks starting between now and Ramadan, which is expected to begin on March 10 or 11, to allow for exchanges of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel with hostages.

During the pause, there can be an "intensification of efforts in regards to the other elements," Kidwa added.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at his headquarters in the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on February 5, 2024

Kidwa is active behind the scenes with his ally Mohammed Dahlan, a former Fatah security chief in Gaza, to convince Arab and Western powers of the plan.

Dahlan, 62, originally from Gaza's Khan Yunis refugee camp, has the ear of Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nayhan, the powerful president of the United Arab Emirates which is one of the few Arab nations to have normalised relations with Israel.

Among many Palestinians, the UAE-based Dahlan is a controversial figure because of the wealth and influence he has accumulated abroad.

- 'Divorce' with Abbas -

A file picture shows Mohammed Dahlan, a former Fatah security chief in Gaza, in Abu Dhabi on September 2015

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Dahlan called for new leadership of the Palestinian Authority and argued that Arab states should send troops to help keep order in post-war Gaza, where Saudi and UAE money could help fund reconstruction.

Kidwa said there should be "a peaceful divorce with Mr Abbas", the head of the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank, leaving him as president but in a ceremonial capacity.

A prime minister and government would be responsible for the West Bank and Gaza Strip at the same time, he added.

"Hamas is not going to be annihilated as the Israelis have advocated at the beginning. This is not possible," he argued.

"But it (Hamas) is going to be weakened and it's not going to govern Gaza after the war. That will most probably lead to a different Hamas.

Israeli army vehicles inside Gaza City amid fighting between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas

"What exactly? I can't say because it depends on the members of Hamas to decide what are their preferences, but we should be there to help and encourage this transformation."

Since the start of the Gaza war, Kidwa has met Hamas leaders at the group's political office in Qatar.

"I was very honest with them and I told them really what I think, including the fact that Hamas will not stay in power and will not govern Gaza at all," he said.

"It was not easy to swallow but I think they do understand that reality now."

Israel maintains that after the war it will retain security control over Gaza and the West Bank but not seek to be in charge in Gaza, which would instead be governed by "Palestinian entities".

- 'More of the same' -

Among Western powers, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called for "reform" of the Palestinian Authority.

Israel and the Palestinian territories

Kidwa said change was the main priority "of more than 90 percent of Palestinians".

"Even I have doubts about the two-state solution," Kidwa said. "I mean that the term is linked to a failed so-called peace process that led to nothing."

The Oslo Accords of the 1990s, which created a limited degree of Palestinian self-rule, were designed to be an interim measure that would eventually lead to resolving the conflict.

"I think that basically what the Palestinian youth is not accepting is the idea of more negotiations," added Kidwa.

"They don't want to see more of the same. They are right."

To him, "we should stop talking about a process, a horizon, and it should be a commitment and an acceptance right at the beginning of the final outcome."

"We should define an end result with a time limit for this end result to happen," he said.

"In that sense, there is no other solution except the notion of splitting the land into two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace."