NEW YORK – Jason Greenblatt, the U.S. special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, said on Monday that the international community must act to return the control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority.
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Speaking at a conference of donor nations to the PA, Greenblatt said that, "The time has come to stop monitoring the situation in Gaza and start changing the situation in Gaza." The conference was chaired by Norway and cosponsored by the U.S. and the European Union, and was held at the headquarters of the UN in New York.
Greenblatt harshly criticized Hamas and accused the organization of abusing the residents of Gaza. "For too long, Hamas has exploited the people of Gaza as hostages and shields, bullying them into submission. Hamas rules by the fist, instead of by improving the lives of the people it purports to govern. Hamas continues to divert money belonging to the Palestinians of Gaza – including funds provided by international donors – and uses these funds to build terror tunnels and missiles. Major electricity and water projects which could radically transform the humanitarian situation in Gaza are on hold because Hamas refuses to pay the Palestinian Authority for the services it already provides," he said.
"That’s why it’s time for the Palestinian Authority to take control of Gaza – and for the international community to take steps to help this happen," Greenblatt told the donor nations. "Relief from the suffering in Gaza can only be found when all interested parties gather together to help the Palestinian people and isolate Hamas. No group or country should interfere in this process – which would only exacerbate the problem, continue to cause suffering in Gaza and undermine any real chance for peace," Greenblatt said.
The electricity and water crises in Gaza were the focus of a large number of speeches at the annual meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee held during the UN General Assembly meetings. The statement released at the end of the conference by Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende emphasized that the donor nations to the PA expressed great concern over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
"We must address the humanitarian crisis for the population in Gaza. Their situation under the current closure is of great concern. The internal divide among Palestinian factions cannot be allowed to prevent their access to basic services like electricity, water and medical supplies," said Brende.
Even though a significant portion of the discussion was devoted to the humanitarian situation in Gaza, a large number of the representatives from the donor nations at the conference mentioned the attempts of the Trump administration to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Representatives of the donor nations expressed support for the American attempts to revive the peace process, but repeated time after time that the goal should be the establishment of an independent Palestinian state – a goal the Trump administration has never committed itself to.
"The conflict between Israel and Palestine is political. It can only be resolved through a negotiated two-state solution between the parties," said Brende in his speech at the conference.
Greenblatt also addressed the criticism from the international community concerning the Trump administration’s approach to the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. The Trump administration, as opposed to the Obama and Bush administrations before it, has refused to state its support for the two-state solution. The United States is committed to trying to reach a peace agreement between the sides and in recent months the administration has been holding meetings with leaders on both sides concerning potential steps that could lead to such an agreement.
"It is no secret that our approach to these discussions departs from some of the usual orthodoxy – for after years of well-meaning attempts to negotiate an end to this conflict, we have all learned some valuable lessons. Instead of working to impose a solution from the outside, we are giving the parties space to make their own decisions about their future. Instead of laying blame for the conflict at the feet of one party or the other, we are focused on implementing existing agreements and unlocking new areas of cooperation which benefit both Palestinians and Israelis," said Greenblatt.
A short time before Greenblatt’s speech, a senior official in the U.S. State Department said that the administration feels the changes that have occurred in recent years in the Arab world have created an opportunity to make progress in the peace process.
Brian Hooke, the director of policy planning in the State Department and a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, explained in a briefing for reporters after the meeting between Trump and Netanyahu that an atmosphere exists in the region that contributes to advancing the peace process. The Trump administration's peace initiative is only in its very early stages and it is not yet time to present an overall peace plan, added Hook.
In response to a question about the administration’s position on the two-state solution, Hook said that the U.S. is "trying to avoid bumper stickers and slogans" in its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian process. The U.S. does not want to impose a solution on the parties but wants to serve as a mediator and bring about a solution that both parties can agree to and that will be a victory for both, he added.
Trump is expected to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN on Wednesday and to continue the discussion he had with Netanyahu on Monday concerning the peace talks.