Israel is reportedly seeking to recruit new donor countries willing to funnel cash into the Gaza Strip to keep a threatened humanitarian crisis in the enclave from snowballing out of control.
Currently Israel allows Qatar to disburse millions of dollars in the Strip, enabling Hamas to pay for fuel for Gaza’s power plant, pay civil servants and provide aid to tens of thousands of impoverished families. The highly controversial payments are seen as a key pressure valve aimed at keeping tensions with the Strip to a minimum.
According to the Kan public broadcaster, Israel’s new government is keen to expand the list of donor countries beyond Qatar. Among the countries approached are Germany and a second unnamed European country, an Israeli source told the station.
It was unclear if other countries have also been approached.
The report noted that the money would not go to Hamas, considered a terror group by Israel, most of the Persian Gulf and much of the West, but rather directly to Gaza residents. Unlike the Qatari cash handouts, these funds would be dispersed via vouchers redeemable at Gazan banks, though its unclear whether the mechanism would provide sufficient oversight over where the money goes.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has in the past been a harsh critic of Israel allowing the Qatari cash infusions into the Strip, calling it “protection money” in 2018. However, the payments continued while he was defense minister in 2019.
A Palestinian newspaper report Sunday suggested that the United Nations had agreed to take responsibility for the disbursement of Qatari funds in the Gaza Strip.
Quoting unnamed Palestinian sources, the Al-Quds daily said Israel was on board with the move as long as the flow of the money was monitored to ensure it was not diverted to the Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip and openly seeks Israel’s demise.
Sources close to Hamas were quoted saying the terror group had no objections to such a step as long as the cash is distributed.
Tor Wennesland, the UN’s Middle East peace envoy, held recent meetings in Israel and Qatar during which he reportedly said the international body would agree to divvy out the money from the Gulf emirate.
The funds will be routed through the Palestinian Monetary Authority in Ramallah, the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority’s seat of government, and not through banks or post offices controlled by Hamas, according to the Palestinian sources.
The Qatari cash handouts have been frozen since the 11-day military conflict between the Israeli military and Gaza-based terrorists in May, some two weeks before Bennett took office, with Israel refusing to allow the money into the Strip until Hamas releases two civilians and two bodies of IDF soldiers that it has been holding captive.
Israel has also insisted, along with Egypt, that a new mechanism be put in place to ensure the money does not go to Hamas.
Israel last week allowed Qatar-funded gasoline shipments into Gaza for the first time since time since the fighting in May. Some 60 tanker trucks worth of fuel are set to enter the Strip in the coming week, according to the Walla news site.
In a call with Bennett last week, Egyptian President Abdul-Fattah el-Sissi stressed Cairo’s commitment to helping fund rebuilding in Gaza.
However, Bennett said Sunday that the the mechanism for delivering money to Gaza would need to change.
“We are also working on a solution to allow humanitarian assistance to Gaza residents, without suitcases of dollars,” Bennett told the weekly cabinet meeting, referring to the money that Qatar has provided the Strip in recent years.
“The suitcases of dollars are something we inherited and need to stop,” he added.
Bennett also said that Israel will continue to respond forcefully to any further attacks from Gaza, after Israeli fighter jets struck Hamas sites in Gaza late Saturday after a balloon-borne incendiary device launched from the Strip sparked a fire in southern Israel.