RAMALLAH, West Bank—As Western and Arab leaders look beyond Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip, most agree they want some form of Palestinian government running the enclave, but they can’t agree on who it should include.One emerging point of consensus is that the Palestinian Authority—as it now operates and oversees the West Bank—isn’t up to the job. But there is no easy alternative.Discussions in Washington, Jerusalem and elsewhere in the Middle East are focused on reforming the authority or pushing it aside for something better to govern roughly 2.2 million Gazans upended by a devastating war.

Israel has said it doesn’t want to govern the strip once its offensive ends, potentially months from now, but wants to maintain security to ensure Gaza isn’t used to attack Israelis. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also has said he opposes the Palestinian Authority in its current form governing there.

The authority’s 88-year-old leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has said he would return to Gaza only as part of broader Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations toward a two-state solution. Yet few envisage a quick peace agreement so soon after the Oct. 7 attacks by militant group Hamas that killed more than 1,200 people in Israel, prompting Israel’s assault on Gaza in response.

Brett McGurk, the White House’s top Middle East official, and Barbara Leaf, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, visited Brussels and the Middle East in recent days, seeking a coordinated approach to the conflict. The U.S. and its allies are unsure whether they can transform the authority or find another solution before Israel finishes its military operation against Hamas.

“Everyone sees the problems,” said Ghaith al-Omari, a former official in the Palestinian Authority now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “No one seems to have a good idea what to do about it.”

The U.S. and European countries agree on what they don’t want. They reject displacing Palestinians from Gaza in the long term, Israel reoccupying the area, or Hamas returning in a way that threatens Israel. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Gaza and the West Bank should be unified under the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian Authority officials told EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Friday that it can help govern Gaza, using thousands of its own civil servants.

Complicating the situation is a view from some Arab states, such as Egypt, which believe Hamas should play a role in Palestinian politics—a prospect Israel and many Western countries oppose. The Arab leaders argue that while Israel might be able to destroy Hamas’s military capabilities in Gaza, it won’t eliminate the group as a political movement, and Hamas leaders must be engaged to promote stability.

Israel also still faces the challenge of defeating Hamas’s military, which isn’t a foregone conclusion. The Israeli military has largely taken control of northern Gaza above ground, but Hamas militants remain fortified in a tunnel network and hold hostages, complicating the offensive’s next stage.

For now, Abbas is focused more on pushing for a cease-fire than what comes next. In a meeting with McGurk and Leaf this week, the Palestinian leader asked the U.S. to pressure Israel to halt the continuing war in Gaza, accelerate deliveries of humanitarian aid and halt assaults by settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank, according to Mahmoud Habbash, an adviser to Abbas.

Blinken on Friday asked Israel to take urgent steps to stop violence being carried out by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank.

As a compromise, U.S. officials have suggested publicly in recent weeks that an international force, with troops from neighboring Arab allies, could enter Gaza. Some Israelis also embrace the idea, arguing the Palestinian Authority hasn’t proven to be a good partner for promoting long-term peace with Israel.

Officials from Germany and some other European countries have also suggested a role for a United Nations peacekeeping force or a U.N.-mandated presence to help with governance and security.

Still, when Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi met with Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns on Nov. 7, he rejected a proposal for the North African country to manage security in the Gaza Strip until the Palestinian Authority can take over after Hamas’s defeat, according to senior Egyptian officials.

The Egyptian president said his government wouldn’t play a role in eliminating Hamas, as Egypt needs the militant group to help maintain security at the country’s border with the Gaza Strip. No other Arab country has suggested it would be willing to help manage security in Gaza.
“There will be no Arab troops going to Gaza. None. We’re not going to be seen as the enemy,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said at a security conference in Bahrain on Saturday.

The Palestinian Authority, too, has said it would oppose an international force, and some Israeli security officials have warned that such an arrangement wouldn’t work, pointing to a United Nations peacekeeping mission on its border with Lebanon that has watched as Hezbollah and Palestinian militias have regularly exchanged fire with Israel.

An Israeli military official said the Palestinian Authority was also nowhere near the level of competence in maintaining security that Israel would require to prevent another attack out of Gaza. Even those who have served in the Palestinian Authority say it is ill-equipped to run the Palestinian enclave, and is unpopular.

“Even if the PA sought that role, it would be unable to perform it, especially given that its already-diminished legitimacy is fast vanishing under the pressure of the continuing war,” said Salam Fayyad, who was the authority’s prime minister for six years until 2013.

The Palestinian Authority under Abbas is based in a relatively quiet compound in Ramallah, in the West Bank, and guarded by security forces with red berets and rifles. It was formed in 1994 after the Palestine Liberation Organization, under longstanding leader Yasser Arafat, sealed a peace accord with Israel that gave Palestinians self-rule in parts of the West Bank and Gaza.

The PLO at the time was dominated by a Palestinian political faction, Fatah, which helped set up the authority to govern on an interim basis. The PLO had to shift overnight from being a political movement based outside the Palestinian territories to a government providing education, healthcare and other services to millions.

The first years of its rule were marred by corruption and violence by Hamas, a rival faction that aimed to disrupt the peace process. At the same time, Israel expanded Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the army limited Palestinian freedom of movement.

Failed peace talks in 2000 helped spark a Palestinian uprising that made Israelis wary of a long-term peace agreement. Israel walled off the West Bank and, in 2005, dismantled Jewish settlements in Gaza.

Two years later, Hamas fought Fatah for the enclave, taking over control, but the authority continued to direct a large part of its budget for civil servants in Gaza.

Since then, Palestinian officials have accused Netanyahu—in power during most of the period since 2009—of boosting Hamas in Gaza at the expense of the authority to divide the Palestinian leadership, make a peace deal harder and appease Israel’s right wing, which doesn’t want to cede the West Bank in a future agreement.

Netanyahu has said the Palestinian Authority can’t be considered a partner for peace because, while it recognizes Israel, the Israeli government says it promotes incitement against its citizens and pays the families of prisoners detained for terrorism offenses.

Palestinian Authority officials said Israeli policies—including mounting restrictions on movements through checkpoints—are undermining its ability to secure the West Bank. This month, the authority was unable to pay its security forces after Israel blocked the transfer of close to $200 million in Palestinian tax payments, said General Talal Dweikat, a commander in the force.

“Netanyahu has made a deliberate effort to weaken the PA from a security perspective,” said Dweikat. “It is becoming very difficult to maintain law and order.”
The U.S. is now pressing Israel to unfreeze the money, according to Western officials. A State Department spokesperson said that “this is Palestinian money. The secretary made clear that those revenues, those funds, ought to be released to the Palestinian people.”

The authority’s standing also has been tainted among Palestinians by its cooperation with Israel on security in the West Bank. Ahead of the war, Abbas’s approval rating among Palestinians was at about 20% and has likely fallen further, said Khalil Shikaki, head of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

He estimates the only way the Palestinian Authority can return to Gaza is to extract concessions from Israel, such as movement toward a Palestinian state, which Israelis are currently unwilling to accept.

“Israel will find essentially no one willing to step in to replace the Israeli army, including the Palestinian Authority,” Shikaki said. “In the short term…Israel will have no choice but to run the affairs of 2.2 million Palestinians living in Gaza. I can’t see any other alternative.”

—Fatima Abdulkarim, Stephen Kalin, Laurence Norman, Rory Jones and Vivian Salama contributed to this article.