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White House to host 'brainstorming session' on Gaza aid

A Palestinian boy drinks hot tea outside his family's house during rainy, cold weather in a slum on the outskirts of Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Friday, Jan. 5, 2018.
AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra
Conference to be fronted by Kushner; Palestinians decline participation

Officials from the administration of US President Donald Trump are planning to hold a “brainstorming session” Tuesday at the White House aimed at helping alleviate a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, a crucial step towards achieving Trump's vision for securing an “ultimate deal” on Israeli-Palestinian peace.

"Solving the situation in Gaza is vital for humanitarian reasons. Important for the security of Egypt and Israel and is a necessary step toward reaching a comprehensive peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, including Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank,” Jason Greenblatt, Trump's special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, said in a statement.

"The challenge will be determining which ideas can be realistically implemented in light of the fact that the Palestinians of Gaza continue to suffer under the authoritarian rule of Hamas," he added.

Gaza is home to roughly 1.8 million Palestinians with spotty access to electricity, potable water and food. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres described the Gaza Strip as existing in a “constant humanitarian emergency.”

YURI GRIPAS (AFP/File)

The conference on the Gaza Strip will be fronted by Jared Kushner, the embattled senior advisor to US President Donald Trump tasked with tackling Middle East affairs. The Palestinians refused an offer to participate in the deliberations.

American officials from the White House, State Department, National Security Council, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) will attend the meeting. Alongside American officials, Israel and some Arab states will also attend, the Axios website reported.

A White House official said Kushner and National Security Council staff will put forward plans "to help the people of Gaza."

Greenblatt first revealed news of a "brainstorming session" in a Washington Post opinion piece published last week, in which he skewered Hamas' "pathetic track record" of running Gaza.

In the Post op-ed, Greenblatt wrote that "we are beholden to find a path to a brighter future for the Palestinians of Gaza."

He charged that Hamas "has hijacked vast fortunes and spent it on weapons to terrorize Israelis, instead of spending it on hospitals, water, schools and the many other things so desperately needed in Gaza."

The Palestinians view the Trump administration with heavy skepticism, particularly after his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.

"The United States is well aware that the real cause of the tragedy of the Gaza Strip is the unjust Israeli siege,” Ahmad Majdalani, member of the PLO’s Executive Committee told Palestinian radio. “What is needed is a political solution to this issue, not a humanitarian."

The US summit on the humanitarian crisis comes on the heels of an effort by the Trump administration to release a new peace plan, that intends to address issues of concern, such as borders, security, refugees and the status of Jerusalem, according to the New York Times. The plan has still not been made public.

In February, Israeli Minister Ayoob Kara said that a proposal from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump would seek a Palestinian state within Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula, but not in the West Bank. The proposed Trump plan does not address a one- or two-state solution, according to the Times.

If the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip persists, there is the potential for the situation to further deteriorate. In February, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot forewarned that Israel could potentially face another war with Hamas if the humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza did not improve.

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