The U.S. is focusing their efforts to improve the humanitarian conditions in Gaza with a major infusion to the strip’s crippled infrastructure, but without the involvement of PA’s autocrat Abbas, since the peace plan has remained stalled due to the entrenchment of the Palestinian leadership.
With the United States’ highly-anticipated Mideast peace plan stalled amid an ongoing diplomatic freeze-out by the Palestinians, the Trump administration is shifting its focus towards efforts to improve humanitarian conditions in the impoverished Gaza Strip, The Washington Post reported Saturday.
A senior US official told The Post that Washington is considering a major infusion of development aid into the blockaded Palestinian enclave, demonstrating a commitment to Palestinian well-being that would make it more difficult for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to continue to snub peace talks.
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Ties between the White House and the Palestinian Authority have been strained since President Trump announced his decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem after recognizing the city as Israel’s capital.
Many Palestinians, who view Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, decried the unilateral move and said they no longer view the US as an impartial broker in peace negotiations with Israel.
Palestinian officials have refused to meet with their US counterparts since the controversial declaration in December 2017.
“We definitely have a Gaza focus right now because the situation is the way it is, and we want to try to help,” an official told the newspaper. “But it’s not as though we think we need to fix Gaza first before we would air the peace plan.”
Among proposals under consideration are UN-coordinated projects to improve Gaza’s electricity and water services, most likely funded by Gulf states and other international donors.
Israel has welcomed Washington’s “Gaza first” approach, a senior Israeli official told The Post, as a way to pressure both the Palestinian Authority and its rivals Hamas, who run a rival administration in the Strip.
“They know the Palestinians are not willing to consider [the larger proposal], so they are starting to put more attention on the humanitarian situation in Gaza,” the official said.
The official added, however, that Israel would demand a cessation in hostilities and that Hamas return the bodies of two fallen IDF soldiers and two captive citizens at the outset of any humanitarian proposal, and it remains unclear if Hamas would be willing to agree to those terms.
Humanitarian conditions in Gaza have steadily declined in recent years. A dispute between Hamas and the PA over electricity and fuel payments, has left Gaza’s approximately two-million residents with limited power supply and lack of drinkable water.
Both Israel and Egypt maintain a crippling blockade on the coastal territory which they say is necessary to prevent Hamas from bringing weapons and other materials that could be used to build smuggling or attack tunnels into their territory.
The US, meanwhile, slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in response to the Palestinians’ refusal to negotiate towards peace.
A visit to the region last month by Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior White House adviser tapped to spearhead the Middle East peace initiative, ended with no apparent progress towards unveiling the “deal of the century” promised by the US President.
Ahead of the visit, Abbas slammed a reported US plan to inject millions of dollars of Gulf funding into the Gaza Strip as an attempt to further divide the PA and Hamas and reduce talks with Israel to a purely humanitarian emergency.
A statement from Abbas’ office warned countries in the region against “cooperating with a move whose goal is to perpetuate the separation between Gaza and the West Bank and lead to concessions on Jerusalem and the holy sites.”
“There is no state in Gaza and there is no state without Gaza,” the statement said.
But the US rejected to The Post claims that efforts to rehabilitate Gaza would come as a prelude to establishing a Palestinian state there without the Palestinian Authority.
“That’s ludicrous,” the official said. “We are not trying to do this. We think that the solution under a peace agreement would be a united Gaza and West Bank, under one Palestinian leadership.”
Abbas, meanwhile, has stepped up efforts to show unity in the face of US pressure. Hundreds of Palestinians took part in a Fatah-organized march in Ramallah last week against the US peace proposal.
The PA leader has also reportedly been seeking to revive attempts to reconcile with Hamas and form a new national unity government in an effort to counteract the Trump administration’s recent initiatives.
Abbas’ Fatah faction has been at loggerheads with Islamist Hamas since Palestinian elections in 2006. The latest in a string of reconciliation attempts crumbled late last year. Reconciliation has been touted as a key strategy for the Palestinians to face down an increasingly hostile US administration and right-wing Israeli government.
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