Tuesday, March 20, 2018
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White House summit on Gaza aims to 'end Palestinian cause'

As a conference in Washington DC seeks to end Gaza's humanitarian crisis, residents say they have 'no expectations'.


As the White House prepares to hold a conference aimed at resolving the Gaza Strip's humanitarian crisis, Palestinians in the besieged enclave say summit is an attempt at erasing the Palestinian cause and turning it into "an aid project".

Palestinian representatives, who declined the White House's invitation to attend, were absent at the conference happening on Tuesday in Washington, DC.

However, representatives from some 20 countries, including Israel and several Arab countries, are among the attendees who will discuss Gaza's health challenges, its chronic contaminated water and electricity problem, as well as poverty and food security.

The US was expected to unveil several proposals that tackle some of the issues faced by Gaza's residents.

US President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt - who are key supporters of Israeli rightwing policies against Palestinians - will speak at the summit.

In his opening remarks, Greenblatt laid blame on Hamas, the Palestinian group which governs Gaza, saying it is "profoundly unfit" to govern the territory.

"This is about the health, safety and happiness of the people of Gaza, and of all Palestinians, Israelis and Egyptians."

Gaza residents continue to face a desperate situation because of the blockade with water and electricity shortages, as well as a lack of medicines and doctors unable to perform surgeries.

The Israeli blockade of Gaza, in its current form, has been in place since June 2007, when Israel imposed a land, sea and air blockade on the area after Hamas won elections in the enclave a year earlier.

Israel controls Gaza's airspace and territorial waters, as well as two of the three border crossing points; the third is controlled by Egypt. Both Israel and Egypt have kept their borders largely shut and are responsible for further deteriorating the already-weakened economic and humanitarian situations.

Gaza, which has seen three Israeli assaults in the last decade, is home to some two million people, many of whom participated in protests against Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital last year.

Since Trump's move, the PA has questioned the US position as an honest broker in mediating peace efforts between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

While Palestinian officials see East Jerusalem as the capital of their potential state, the move, experts have said, effectively "killed" the Oslo peace process that was based on that premise.

'Dishonest' broker

With the US now perceived as a "dishonest" broker by many Palestinians, residents of the strip believe that the conference is being held to "protect Israel" from another war with Gaza.

"This would stand in the way of Trump's plans," 29-year-old Abdulkareem Aboul Enein, said.

"I expect the results of the conference to be positive for the people of Gaza, especially since Israel is involved.

"While this may be a positive thing for Gazans, I think it may hurt the unity government and the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas."

Hamas and Fatah, the two main Palestinian political parties, signed a reconciliation agreement in October 2017, ending a decade of division that saw two parallel governments operating in Gaza and the West Bank, respectively.

The agreement to form a unity government was signed in the Egyptian capital Cairo on October 13, but efforts to implement the deal have faced obstacles.

Aboul Enein believes it was the right decision for the PA to decline the White House's invitation.

"I don't think the PA should have attended - I think none of the Palestinian officials should attend any event initiated by the US until Trump's administration revokes its policies against Palestinians," he said.

Similarly, 23-year-old Ibtihal Mohammed says the US is merely attempting to ensure that it, in the eyes of the international community, "maintains its call for peace and stability in the region."

"But unfortunately, and as usual, this is just a façade and an act that it puts on year after year," she said.

"I think the outcome of the conference will be minimal - perhaps some aid will be delivered but that won't last, especially if certain conditions are not met."

'Pardoning' Israel

In January, Trump announced the US government would be cutting more than half of its planned funding to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, a move that could prove catastrophic for millions of people in need.

Withholding $65m out of a $125m aid package earmarked for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) could hinder the agency's operations to a large extent.

For nearly 70 years, UNRWA has been the lifeline to the more than five million registered Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories and Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

And for Gaza's residents, UNRWA's support is the only constant.

As such, some Gazans see the silver lining in the latest efforts put forward by the US to end Gaza's humanitarian crisis.

Gaza-based writer Asmaa al-Ghoul said any conference tackling the "unbearable living conditions of the Gaza Strip is welcome".

"The US has done nothing in the past besides place Hamas on a global terror list, which only complicated things for the strip further," she said.

Al-Ghoul also placed blame on both Fatah and Hamas for the worsening conditions in Gaza.

"Fatah did nothing to stop the blockade and instead, its compliance elongated the siege – and Hamas failed at several attempts to reconcile and find a political solution to end the siege on Gaza," she said.

"We have no expectations"

But others insisted that the conference is a just a front, and maintain that the conference does not have the people of Gaza's best interest at heart.

"Without a doubt, I think that the conference is a front, and its objective is to serve Israel's interests," Sami Akeeleh, a 42-year-old academic researcher, said.

"They [US] want to remove blame from Israel regarding the deteriorating conditions here in Gaza."

Akeeleh said efforts are in place to pardon Israel from making compromises to ease Gaza's humanitarian situation.

"In light of Trump's Jerusalem announcement, it's like the Palestinian cause has shifted to a cluster of humanitarian crises - and this conference may be an effort to reinforce this particular discourse," Akeeleh said. 

"The US is turning the Palestinian cause into bags of aid."

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