The Trump administration indicated it was prepared to work with the Hamas terror group which controls the Gaza Strip if it first recognizes Israel’s right to exist and renounces violence.
US Middle East envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, together with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, wrote in an op-ed published in the Washington Post late Thursday that the US and other countries were prepared to offer humanitarian aid to the beleaguered Strip, but were stymied by Hamas’s commitment to fighting Israel.
On Friday Hamas rejected the offer, dismissing the US envoys as “spokesmen of the Israeli occupation.”
“International donors are conflicted: Should they try to help the people directly, at the certain risk of enriching terrorists, or withhold funding to Hamas and watch the people it is supposed to govern suffer?” the Americans wrote.
“There are engaged, interested parties with resources who are ready to get to work. Yet without real change accompanied by reliable security, progress is impossible,” they said in the opinion piece. “If Hamas demonstrates clear, peaceful intentions — not just by word but, more importantly, by deed — then all manner of new opportunities becomes possible.”
The offer apparently backtracks from previous US demands that the terror group allow the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank from Ramallah, to retake power in the Gaza Strip. Hamas captured the coastal enclave from the PA in a bloody coup in 2007.
The three gave clear guidelines of what Hamas must do in order to gain US support.
“Until governance changes or Hamas recognizes the state of Israel, abides by previous diplomatic agreements and renounces violence, there is no good option,” they wrote.
Israel has long set these three demands as conditions for openly dealing with Hamas.
Hamas quickly rejected the demands.
“Greenblatt and Kushner have adopted the Israeli position,” a spokesman for the terror group said. “Its ongoing attack against Hamas reflects the arrogance of the US administration which has turned the senior officials of the administration into no more than spokesmen for the Israeli occupation.”
Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on the Strip which they say is designed to prevent Hamas from importing weapons and other goods that could be used to build military equipment or cross-border tunnels. Gaza also faces shortages of electricity and drinkable water.
The US envoys laid down other demands to Hamas.
“Hamas must immediately cease provoking or coordinating attacks on Israelis and Egyptians, and on infrastructure projects sponsored by donor nations and organizations,” they wrote. “Hamas should focus its ingenuity on improving the Gazan economy.”
They also demanded that Hamas return the Israeli soldiers and citizens it holds to their families, and said that the group must hand over the control of border crossings to the Palestinian Authority.
These demands echoed those of Israel which has said the humanitarian situation will not improve until Hamas returns the bodies of two IDF soldiers and the two civilian captives it holds. It blames Hamas for the dire reality, charging the terror group with diverting millions in aid to purchase weapons, dig tunnels, manufacture rockets and train its military wing, instead of using it for the welfare of the people.
Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman argued that Hamas had destroyed the Gazan economy and misused donor funds to target Israel instead of improving the lives of the people who live in the Strip.
“Despite the billions of dollars invested for the benefit of Palestinians in Gaza over the past 70 years, 53 percent of the people there live below the poverty level , and the unemployment rate is a crippling 49%. The Palestinians of Gaza are stuck in a vicious cycle where corrupt and hateful leadership has provoked conflicts leading to reduced opportunities and the poverty and hopelessness that follow.”
In veiled criticism of the United Nations and the international community, Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman wrote: “The international community also bears some blame. More countries want to simply talk and condemn than are willing to confront reality, propose realistic solutions and write meaningful checks.”
The US has significantly cut its aid to the Palestinians in recent months.
The Trump administration has been working on a peace plan it says it hopes to present to the sides at a future date. The Palestinians have rejected the plan, and ceased cooperating with the US administration after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December and moved the American embassy there in May.