White House Kicks Off Conference on Gaza, Palestinian Authority Refuses to Participate

Hours after assassination attempt on Palestinian PM, 19 countries come together to discuss the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza

Palestinian children play outside their house in the northern Gaza Strip January 31, 2018.
\ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

WASHINGTON - Representatives from 19 countries, including Israel, gathered on Tuesday in the White House for a conference on the situation in Gaza. The event began just hours after a failed assassination attempt on Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, who arrived to Gaza to open a water treatment facility.  

The conference is taking place without any official representation from the Palestinian Authority, which is boycotting it. Among the Arab countries that sent diplomats to take part in the discussion are Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Also present are representatives of the European Union and the United Nations. Israel is being represented by Major General Yoav (Poli) Mordechai, the Coordinator of Government Actions in the Territories. 

Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump's special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, said at the beginning of the event: "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." He said that the discussion will focus on finding practical solutions to the problems that Gaza's population is facing. 

Greenblatt also said: "Over the past number of months, I have visited the Gaza border area. I have met Israelis who live in that area, and Palestinians who live in Gaza, including those who have serious health issues, businessmen trying to make a living, students desperate to succeed and others – each has a dream for a better life. I have also seen the terror attack tunnels built by Hamas, and the remnants of the rockets used to murder Israelis - all built using money belonging to the international community, the Palestinian Authority and the people of Gaza. It is essential to tour these areas and meet these people to understand this terribly complex and tragic situation."

In addition, Greenblatt denounced the assassination attempt against Hamdallah, stating that "The Prime Minister was in Gaza to inaugurate a wastewater treatment plant that some of you, international donors, financed to improve the health of the people of Gaza. This attack, once again, demonstrates that Hamas is profoundly unfit to govern Gaza. 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."

Greenblatt also called on Hamas to "return the missing IDF soldiers who were taken by Hamas, as well as the missing Israeli civilians. I hope that I can count on all of you to work with me on this important humanitarian situation as well, and the same way I encouraged you to meet with Israelis in the Gaza border area, and Palestinians from Gaza to learn their stories, I encourage you to meet these families as well."