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Biden may spearhead effort to revive Gaza, in part to gain leverage on Hamas

Multi-billion plan, reportedly to be coordinated through the UN, would seek to give Hamas a lot to lose were it to resume attacks on Israel

President Joe Biden speaks about a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, in the Cross Hall of the White House, May 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Joe Biden speaks about a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, in the Cross Hall of the White House, May 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

As the ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas terror group took effect on Friday, the United States was planning to head a multi-billion dollar international effort to assist in rebuilding the Gaza Strip following 11 days of fighting, The New York Times reported. The goal, it said, is partly to “bring pressure, through promises of financial support, on Hamas not to resume fighting.”

The reported aid plan, likely to be coordinated through the United Nations, would depend on Hamas not resuming its rocket fire toward Israel, the report said.

The planned response is said to include billions of dollars worth of aid for health and education services and other reconstruction.

“The administration is also considering how to foster relations and coordination among rival Palestinian political factions in Gaza and the West Bank, as outlined in an analysis co-written in 2018 by Hady Amr, now a deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian issues,” the Times reported. “Rebuilding Gaza is a necessary part of the diplomacy — and not only as what some officials see as a moral imperative to help residents.”

The paper said officials and experts also see it as a point of potential “leverage with Hamas.”

“In a sense, you need to put Hamas in a position where they have to choose between their rockets and the well-being of Gaza,” it quoted Dennis Ross, a veteran American negotiator, as saying.

Hamas and other Gaza terror groups launched over 4,000 projectiles at Israel since May 10, at times forcing people living near Gaza into bomb shelters around the clock. Israel, in response, carried out an extensive bombing campaign in the Strip.

US President Joe Biden spoke shortly before the ceasefire went into effect, saying he saw a “genuine opportunity” to move toward the larger goal of building lasting peace in the Middle East.

He also pledged that humanitarian aid would quickly flow through the Palestinian Authority, rather than Hamas. “We will do this in full partnership with the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas … and in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal,” Biden said.

Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, in Gaza City, May 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Biden credited the Egyptian government with playing a crucial role in brokering the ceasefire and said he and top White House aides were intensely involved in an “hour by hour” effort to stop the bloodletting.

Before Operation Guardian of the Walls commenced, the State Department had been critical of Israel’s actions in Jerusalem, including the looming eviction of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and the police crackdown on protesters there as well as at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound.

But that criticism was largely tabled once the rocket fire began on May 10, with US officials repeatedly defending Israel’s right to defend itself and stressing that there was no equivalency between Hamas firing rockets indiscriminately firing rockets at civilians and Israel’s response in which it sought to avoid civilian casualties.

The destroyed building housing the offices of The Associated Press and other media, after it was hit last week by an Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, May 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Biden said the US “remains committed to working with the United Nations” in providing humanitarian assistance to Gaza and in reconstruction efforts in the enclave.

“We will do this in full partnership with the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas, the Authority, in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal,” he emphasized, referring to a challenge that Israel and international donors have had a hard time meeting in the past.

“I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy,” he said, adding that his administration will continue its “quiet and relentless diplomacy toward that end,” he said.

The president stopped short of saying the US would push for Israelis and Palestinians to enter diplomatic talks aimed at a two-state solution as many countries were pushing this week at the UN. The Biden administration has maintained that the sides are currently too far apart for such intensive efforts to be effective and that smaller steps toward that eventual goal of two states are preferred in the interim while unilateral steps by either side should be prevented.

Agencies contributed to this report

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