After Gaza summit, White House says ready to pursue projects there without PA
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Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in rare joint sit-down

After Gaza summit, White House says ready to pursue projects there without PA

Washington confab features unusual meeting of Israeli representatives and envoys of Arab countries with which Jerusalem has no formal relations

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Palestinian children stand next to bags of food aid provided by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on January 24, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)
Palestinian children stand next to bags of food aid provided by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on January 24, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

WASHINGTON — While the White House would like to work with the Palestinian Authority on its initiatives in Gaza, it will move on without the PA if Mahmoud Abbas’s authority remains unwilling to cooperate with the Trump administration, senior administration officials said Tuesday shortly after completing a conference with Israeli, Arab and European officials on the battered coastal enclave.

While claiming that many of the projects discussed earlier in a six-hour summit could be easily carried out without the PA governing the Gaza Strip, a US official said that would not be “the ideal situation.”

“Our goal is to get the PA in control of Gaza, if that’s possible,” the official said in a media briefing. “If the PA is unwilling to, or unable to, implement the projects, then we would have to proceed without them.”

The summit featured an unusual meetup of representatives from Israel and Arab nations with which the Jewish state does not have formal relations.

Jerusalem was represented by the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai. Also present were envoys for Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and — notably — Qatar, which has close ties to Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

Egyptian and Jordanian officials were in attendance as well.

Notably missing from Tuesday’s conference was the Palestinian governing body, which has refused to work with the US since President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced plans to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.

US President Donald Trump signing a proclamation that the US government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, at the White House in Washington, DC, December 6, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images via JTA)

“Most countries expressed their regret the Palestinian Authority was not in the room,” an official said. “A great deal of time was spent discussing Hamas’s failures in Gaza and the need for the Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza.”

The tête-à-tête with reporters came after representatives from dozens of countries discussed strategies to alleviate suffering in Gaza in the Indian Treaty Room of the White House’s Executive Office Building.

In his remarks at the confab, Trump’s Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt said improving the situation in the Strip was “essential” for solving the conflict.

While officials would not detail with any specificity the proposals that were deliberated upon, they said they were aimed at electricity, water, sewage and health issues.

“There were a lot of concrete ideas. I wouldn’t say there are concrete steps yet,” one official said. “There are many steps to go through. Hopefully some of these steps can be implemented right away, some will take longer, and some we may never be able to implement, given the complexity of the situation there.”

Also missing from the conversation was anyone from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), the UN agency that provides various social services to Gazans. The organization’s leaders had complained that they were excluded from the discussion.

Citing the “on-the-ground experience that we could help bring to any conversation about Gaza,” UNWRA’s director of its Washington office, Elizabeth Campbell, lamented that, “We were not able to provide that wealth of information.”

A White House official told The Times of Israel this was was because the meeting was for “Gaza’s donors and neighbors to discuss steps to create immediate and meaningful improvements for economic development in Gaza. It was not targeted at project implementers like UNRWA.”

Another official said that the subject of UNRWA — and the massive funding cuts the Trump administration imposed on it earlier this year — came up, but that it did not occupy a major part of the dialogue.

“One or two speakers mentioned UNRWA in passing but it was not the focus of the conversation nor the goal of this conference,” the official said.

Jared Kushner speaks at a White House meeting in Washington, June 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

The president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner delivered remarks detailing proposals for the strip, which included short-term, medium-term, and aspirational proposals, which could only be implemented in the context of a peace agreement.

“I can’t say that everyone walked away from the room happy. I think they did,” one official said.” I think that they realized the importance of the discussion and how we need more of this in order to solve the conflict.”

That same official said the Trump team’s long-awaited peace plan, which it is preparing to unveil soon, was not discussed in any substantial way.

“Because we asked people to leave politics at the door, the peace plan was not discussed other than a stray reference or two, just reminding people that we will reveal the peace plan when it’s ready,” the official said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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