Analysis

While Bibi Attacks International Aid to Gaza, Netanyahu Begs to Increase It

The prime minister assiduously seeks funding to help ease the enclave’s plight, despite his hard line against Hamas that so many Israelis enjoy hearing

Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner, US President's daughter Ivanka Trump, US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and US ambassador to Israel David Friedman attend the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018
Mati Stern / U.S. Embassy

From his sickbed, suffering from a throat ailment in recent days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said about the destruction of the two terror tunnels overnight Saturday: “The time has come for the international community to recognize that the aid money for Gaza gets buried underground.” This is clear, harsh criticism of the aid the world is providing to Gaza.

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It can sound like another of the prime minister’s frequent verbal assaults on the funding of Palestinian terror, via the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. But this time it raises eyebrows, to put it mildly.

That’s because for a few months now, Netanyahu has been sending emissaries, headed by Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and the coordinator of government activities in the territories, Yoav Mordechai, urgently seeking international aid in every possible corner to fund a humanitarian rescue plan for Gaza. These officials are working with U.S. envoy Jason Greenblatt, who has enlisted among others Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and senior figures in the Arab world.

>> Destroyed tunnels and border bombs: Hamas and Israel are dangerously close to another Gaza war

The Israeli plan was first presented by Hanegbi and Mordechai at an emergency conference of donor countries in Brussels in January, a forum set to meet again on Tuesday. The officials on hand certainly won’t be happy to hear about the latest assault.

At the heart of the Israeli plan is construction for desalination, electricity and gas facilities, as well as an upgrading of the Erez industrial zone, at an estimated cost of about $1 billion. We will provide the knowhow and ease restrictions at checkpoints, but the money will come from your pockets. The world’s pockets. Not one shekel will come from our pockets. That’s the official policy.

The operation to destroy a tunnel at Rafah, March 18 2018.
IDF spokesman

Among the projects for which Israel is seeking funding: the connection of a new high-tension line that will double the electricity supply to Gaza, a natural-gas pipeline from Israel to Gaza, a waste-treatment plant, a garbage-collection site, and improvement of the Erez industrial zone.

Israeli security officials back the demand for urgent reconstruction. Senior officials have warned recently of a “total” collapse in the Strip. For example, 95 percent of Gaza’s water is undrinkable and hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of sewage flow daily into the Mediterranean, reaching Israel’s shores as well. The chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Gadi Eisenkot, has led these warnings.

And the army isn’t alone. Netanyahu himself recently told reporters that he supports easing restrictions on Gaza in the economic and humanitarian realms – funded by the international community.

Just last week, these messages were reiterated at a special meeting on Gaza at the White House, initiated by Greeenblatt, with U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and special adviser, Jared Kushner, in attendance. Also on hand were representatives of 19 countries, including Israel and Arab states. Only the Palestinian Authority did not send anyone, due to its boycott of the United States following Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Gathering water at Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip, 2016.
Khalil Hamra / AP

The event’s whole purpose was to raise foreign money for the Gaza Strip. Did the prime minister’s people denigrate it?

Certainly not. They welcomed it, in English, of course, in a statement that was all doves and olive branches: “We were pleased that today’s White House conference on Gaza was productive and we were encouraged to see many of our neighbors in attendance. We hope that their participation will lead to progress towards greater regional stability and peace with the Palestinians. We extend our sincere thanks to Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt for organizing and hosting this important event.”

After all, abroad, Dr. Netanyahu is very interested in foreign funding and in Israel, Mr. Bibi prefers other messages.