White House to convene Gaza ‘stakeholders’ for summit on saving Strip

White House to convene Gaza ‘stakeholders’ for summit on saving Strip

Administration mum on guest list for brainstorming session devoted to solving humanitarian crisis in enclave, announced by Greenblatt

Palestinian boys ride bicycles in Gaza City on March 8, 2018. (AFP/ MOHAMMED ABED)
Palestinian boys ride bicycles in Gaza City on March 8, 2018. (AFP/ MOHAMMED ABED)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The White House will convene a meeting next week of “stakeholders” to improve life in the Gaza Strip, a top Trump administration Middle East peace negotiator said Thursday.

“In response to the burgeoning humanitarian situation in Gaza, key countries and stakeholders are preparing to act: There was a meeting in Cairo on Thursday, and there will be a brainstorming session at the White House next week to find real solutions to the problems that Hamas has caused,” Jason Greenblatt wrote Thursday in an op-ed in The Washington Post.

The op-ed was the first announcement of the meeting.

A spokesman for Greenblatt declined to say who the stakeholders and countries are. It’s not clear who took part in the Cairo meeting, although Hamas officials were recently in the Egyptian capital to discuss reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority.

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 'Poly' 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)

However, there are a number of possible players who might balk at participating in the talks should they be public. Additionally, there are potential parties whose participation could embarrass the Trump administration.

The Palestinian Authority, for instance, has formally retreated from efforts by the Trump administration to reconvene peace talks, citing President Donald Trump’s recognition in December of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Hamas, the group controlling the Gaza Strip, is designated by the US State Department as a terrorist group.

Qatar, a country that has been involved in attempts to better the lives of Palestinians in Gaza, is being shunned by a key US ally, Saudi Arabia. And Turkey, which also has been deeply involved in Gaza in the past, currently has tense relations with the United States over US backing for Kurds in Syria’s civil war.

The United Nations’ top official for Israel and the Palestinian territories says Gaza is facing a “full collapse.”

Palestinians who are unable to pay off their debts, sit in a cell in a Hamas jail in Gaza City on February 20, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

The head of the Israeli army also reportedly warned the cabinet recently that a conflict could break out if humanitarian conditions continue to worsen in the Strip.

With the help of Egypt, Israel has maintained a blockade of Gaza since 2007, which it says is necessary to isolate Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since 2008. Hamas — the Islamist terror group which seized control of Gaza in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew its entire military and civilian presence from the Strip — is openly committed to the destruction of Israel.

Israel says it maintains the blockade in order to prevent Gaza’s Hamas terrorist rulers from importing weaponry.

Palestinian women shout as Gazans wait for permission to cross into Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip after it was opened by Egyptian authorities for humanitarian cases on February 7, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

But rights groups and UN officials say the blockade amounts to collective punishment and strangles the economy in the enclave, where unemployment is around 40 percent.

The US recently cut over $100 million from funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency, which aids Palestinian refugees in the Strip. The body has launched urgent fundraising drives to make up the difference.

The Palestinian Authority has also sought in recent months to harm Hamas by damaging Gaza’s economy, including by cutting the salaries it still pays to civil servants there despite Hamas taking over the territory in 2007.

Members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, take part in a rally in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 5, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Hamas has also largely stopped paying civil servants after an attempted reconciliation with the Fatah movement of president Mahmoud Abbas stalled.

Greenblatt’s op-ed mostly blasted Hamas for neglecting the population in the territory with its perpetuation of terrorism, but also held out the possibility that Hamas could come into the fold should it take the requisite steps.

“Hamas must not be permitted to participate in any future government until it adheres to the conditions of the Middle East Quartet — the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations — including by explicitly committing to nonviolence, recognizing the state of Israel, and accepting previous agreements and obligations between the parties,” Greenblatt wrote.

“It must disarm and commit to peaceful negotiations. Hamas must also address another humanitarian issue and return missing Israel Defense Forces soldiers who were taken by Hamas, as well as Israeli civilians,” he wrote. “There is a way out for Gaza, if only Hamas has the courage to admit failure and chart a new course.”

AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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