US peace envoys visiting Israel recently were chiefly focused on efforts to improve the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, a high-ranking Israel official told Channel 10 news Friday.
The unnamed official said Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner and US President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt did not share details of their long-touted peace proposal with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting with him in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu said of the meeting that Gaza was high on Kushner and Greenblatt’s agenda, the official related. The two were said to be working closely with UN Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov to find international funding to rehabilitate the impoverished territory.
However, the official noted that Washington and the UN were finding it difficult to raise funds, and a summit in Cairo was recently canceled due to those difficulties.
A major problem in finding financial backers is Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s reluctance to take part in the efforts — being disinclined to assist Gaza while it remains under Hamas rule, as well as having halted all contacts with the US following its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December.
The US envoys are now weighing whether to act without the support and cooperation of the PA, the Israeli official said.
Aides to Abbas, whose Fatah party has been at loggerheads with Hamas since the terror group violently took over Gaza in 2007, have spoken out against aid drives, claiming they are an attempt to divide the Strip from the West Bank, where the internationally recognized PA is based.
Adding to the myriad problems in Gaza, which include a lack of electricity, clean water and proper sewage treatment, Abbas has taken punitive steps toward the enclave as part of his feud with Hamas, among them the freezing of salaries for PA employees in the Strip.
Israel too is concerned by the situation in Gaza. It recently held talks with Cyprus on construction of a seaport to allow shipments to Gaza which would not have to go through Israel first. Israel is also said planning to build a new solar field to end the electricity crisis in the coastal enclave.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday took aim at Abbas, accusing the Palestinian Authority leader of exacerbating the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip by starving the enclave of funds.
“Abu Mazen is the problem,” Liberman wrote on Twitter, using the PA leader’s Arabic nickname.
“As he prevents the [payment of] salaries for thousands of officials in Gaza during the month of Ramadan and blocks every international attempt to inject money that would ease the situation in Gaza, he pays NIS 100 million ($27.4 million) in salaries every month to terrorists and murderers,” Liberman said, referring to the PA’s policy of paying salaries to Palestinian prisoners convicted of terrorism.
Earlier Friday Haaretz reported that Arab leaders asked the White House envoys during their trip to the region not to reveal the details of the administration’s peace plan so as not to destabilize the entire Middle East.
Palestinian officials said the plan’s failure to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state or address the issue of Palestinian refugees would enrage the region’s Arab population.
They said representatives of Arab nations who met with Kushner and Greenblatt all presented the Americans with a united front on any peace deal, saying it had to include the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.
Eric Cortellessa and Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.