Solving Gaza ‘essential’ for peace, US envoy says at White House confab
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Solving Gaza ‘essential’ for peace, US envoy says at White House confab

At conference boycotted by PA, Jason Greenblatt urges participants to visit Hamas terror tunnels to better appreciate Egyptian and Israeli security challenges

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

US President Donald Trump's peace envoy Jason Greenblatt (L) tours a Hamas terror tunnel near the Gaza Strip with Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories Yoav Mordechai, on August 30, 2017. (COGAT Spokesperson's Office)
US President Donald Trump's peace envoy Jason Greenblatt (L) tours a Hamas terror tunnel near the Gaza Strip with Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories Yoav Mordechai, on August 30, 2017. (COGAT Spokesperson's Office)

Alleviating the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza is a key requisite for reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump’s special envoy to the peace process, said Tuesday, hours after Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah survived an apparent assassination attempt during a rare visit to the coastal enclave.

At a White House conference dedicated to improving conditions for civilians in the strip, Greenblatt also called on members of the international community to visit the Israel-Egypt-Gaza border area and to inspect Hamas’s terror tunnels, in order to get a better impression of the security challenges facing Israel and Egypt.

“There are no excuses for inaction. Inaction not only leads to more suffering for the Palestinians in Gaza, but also creates more security challenges for Israelis and Egyptians, and pushes the prospects for a comprehensive peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians further and further away,” Greenblatt said during his opening remarks.

“An essential part of achieving a comprehensive peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, including those in the West Bank and Gaza, will be resolving the situation in Gaza.”

The conference, described by White House officials as a “brainstorming session,” was boycotted by the PA due to the administration’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“We regret that the Palestinian Authority is not here with us today. This is not about politics. This is about the health, safety, and happiness of the people of Gaza, and of all Palestinians, Israelis, and Egyptians,” Greenblatt said.

The deteriorating humanitarian situation in the strip has been on the “forefront of all of our minds,” he went on, issuing a plea to the gathered representatives to think about concrete steps that can be taken to alleviate the suffering of ordinary Gazans.

Many homes and businesses have less than four hours of electricity, and contaminated water is the single largest cause of illness and disease for infants in Gaza, he lamented. Poverty and food insecurity are growing and the strip’s unemployment rate “remains the highest in the world,” he said.

“We asked you here because we believe we can do much better — we must do much better. I am sure we all believe that. But, doing better will require fresh thinking and a commitment to action,” he said.

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner (L) meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on August 24, 2017. (courtesy, WAFA)

Jared Kushner, who heads Trump’s peace team, and National Security Council staff were expected to make “specific proposals for consideration to help the people of Gaza,” according to White House officials.

“We all know that none of this will be easy. And everything we do must be done in a way that ensures we do not put the security of Israelis and Egyptians at risk – and that we do not inadvertently empower Hamas, which bears responsibility for Gaza’s suffering,” Greenblatt said. “But the situation today in Gaza is unacceptable, and spiraling downwards.”

Tuesday’s conference was attended by officials from Israel — represented by the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories, Yoav Mordechai — and various Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman, along with other countries and organizations such as the European Union, the United Nations, and the Office of the Middle East Quartet.

Earlier on Tuesday, a bomb went off next to Hamdallah’s convoy as he was was on his way to inaugurate a wastewater treatment plant financed by the international community. Several people were wounded, though the PA prime minister remained unharmed. The PA blamed Hamas for the attack, though the terrorist group ruling the strip denied such claims, and condemned the attack as an attempt to disrupt intra-Palestinian reconciliation efforts.

“As today’s terrible attack on the convoy of Prime Minister Hamdallah demonstrates, there will always be real risks associated with this endeavor,” Greenblatt said. “But the risks justify the potential benefits.”

A bodyguard for Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (C) and a Hamas member (R) escort the PM’s convoy as he leaves Gaza City on March 13, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

The blast “once again, demonstrates that Hamas is profoundly unfit to govern Gaza,” he went on. “But we cannot be deterred, and the Palestinian Authority should not be deterred. The PA has a legitimate role to play in Gaza, as does the international community.”

Toward the end of his speech, Greenblatt recalled his visits to the Gaza border area, where he also saw Hamas’s terror tunnels and remnants of rockets launched at Israeli civilians.

“It is essential to tour these areas,” he told the conference.

“I would like to suggest that we visit the border between Gaza and Israel and Gaza and Egypt together, and take a tour given by the Israelis and Egyptians to see the significant challenges that Egypt and Israel face, including the attack tunnels built by Hamas.”

He went on: “Perhaps, after understanding those challenges, we can come up with other realistic ideas. For those of you who have not yet taken these tours, I urge you to do to.”

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